Superb historical information, from Roberto de Mattei.
Among the staunchest opponents of the Vatican Ostopolik, a figure of remarkable cultural and moral stature should be remembered: Father Alessio Ulisse Floridi (1930-1986).
A member of the Company of Jesus at a very young age, Father Floridi studied at the Pontifical Russian College, where he learned Russian perfectly and, in 1949, he was ordained a priest in the Byzantine Rite His hope was to be part of an underground apostolate in Russia, just like some of his confreres, but his superiors wanted him at La Civiltà Cattolica, the journal which was the pride and joy of the Company. Father Floridi became the sovietologist par excellence of this journal, collaborating with articles written from first-hand reading of newspapers, journals and documents coming [directly] from the Soviet Union. His articles rich in notes and personal comments, were read and appreciated for their accuracy by the Communists themselves, both in Italy and abroad.
The election of John XXIII and the calling of the Second Vatican Council were a turning point in the lives of the writers at La Civiltà Cattolica. In the obituary written for Father Floridi, on December 20 1986, the Jesuit journal writes that he had left La Civiltà Cattolica because the life of a writer was too “static and sedentary”. In reality, as Father Floridi informed me personally, he was abruptly liquidated for not bending to his superiors’ impositions. They had asked him to apply the St. Francis de Sales maxim to Communism, “a spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrel of vinegar”. The same discourse had been made to Father Giovanni Caprile (1917-1993), who, on the other hand, had accepted the suggestion, and from being an implacable critic, he became an apologist for Freemasonry.
Father Floridi recalled that the Jesuit vow of obedience was not indiscriminate, as many suppose, but simply obliges: “to go wherever His Holiness sends them among the faithful and the infidels.” (Constitution § 7). And he didn’t back off when, from high places, it was decided he should be sent as far away as possible from Villa Malta, the headquarters of La Civiltà Cattolica in Rome. So he ended up first in Brazil, among the Russian refugees, and afterwards, in the United States, where he lead a fruitful mission among Ukrainian Catholics of the Oriental Rite, without ever giving in to the new trend.
When I met him in 1977, Father Floridi was an imposing fifty-seven year old, with a black beard framing his open, jovial, good-humored face, typical of authentic “Romani de Roma ”. In 1976 he published the book Moscow and the Vatican for La Casa Matriona, afterwards translated into various languages and which is still a text of capital reference for the study of the relations between the Vatican and the Kremlin. On November 28th 1977, he gave an extensive interview to the monthly, Cristianità, which I will reproduce here in its entirety. Re-reading it, it seems to me that his historical analysis helps us understand in-depth the Ostpolitik of both yesterday and today (On the Theme of Dissent and Ostpolitik, in Cristianità, 32 (1977). Pp. 3-4).
Q. The slant of the volume you dedicated to Moscow and the Vatican is unusual. It carries as a subtitle: The Soviet Dissidents Faced with “Dialogue”. The politics of “the easing of tensions”[détente]between the Holy See and the Kremlin, appraised, that is to say, by Soviet dissent. What is the reason for your interest in “the Soviet dissidents”?
A. It’s very simple. I have continuously studied the Soviet Union and “The Soviet Man”, a man whose nature is no different from ours, despite the “unnaturalness” of the regime in which he lives. As a result I [began] to realize that there was something happening in this world, which was starting to produce a reaction.
Q. Is this reaction limited to a cultural elite or does it extend to the Soviet people? There is in fact, the suspicion that it is not a sufficiently deep-rooted phenomenon, but almost a cultural “fashion”…
A. The phenomenon is absolutely not limited to an intellectual elite. The religious dissent especially, is diffused in large segments of the population. I’m thinking, for example, of the Ukrainian and Lithuanian Catholics, the Baptists, the underground Orthodox Church, the followers of Father Dudko, or even what is happening in Poland, where dissent is growing and spreading among the workers. It should be said, however, that the reality of dissent doesn’t always coincide necessarily with the image that is projected in the West. In fact, only a certain kind of dissent is known in the West, the one which is filtered through intellectual channels. Whereas much less is known about the reality of the religious dissent of the peoples.
Q.So then, what is the judgment of the “dissidents” with regard to the “dialogue” between Moscow and the Vatican?
A. Extremely negative. The dissidents have no trust whatsoever in this dialogue of which they actually experience the consequences. They should be the beneficiaries of these politics of détente but they are in fact its victims. Let me add that it seems inconceivable to me that, from the Catholic part there is this desire to cast a shadow of diffidence and suspicion over them. I’m referring to an article by one of my Swiss confreres, Father Hotz, which appeared in La Civiltà Cattlolica and which, for that matter, was brilliantly refuted by your journal. To me it seems paradoxical that while the dissidents are entreating Western Catholics to distrust this dialogue, it is precisely the Catholics in the West who are inviting suspicion and distrust of the dissidents.
Q. What are the Kremlin’s interests in this “dialogue”?
A. Through dialogue the Soviet Union attains the Vatican’s silence. And this silence weakens the internal and external opposition to the Communist regime, thus contributing to the consolidating of the Soviet empire’s internal positions and favoring its international expansion. It’s clear that Moscow seeks support from Rome to increase its “credibility” on the international level. The more a détente is sought the more internal tensions are intensified.
Q. In your view, on the other hand, what are the motives impelling the Vatican to seek “dialogue” with the Kremlin?
A.Here the question is more complex. I’d say that we can identify at least two strategic lines. The first is diplomatic, of concordat, and aims at attaining a modus vivendi between the Vatican and the Communist State with the goal of safeguarding international “peace” as well as the Catholic ecclesial structure in the Soviet empire’s territories. The Vatican prefers, then, to ignore the underground Church, which has been conducting a heroic apostolate behind the Iron Curtain, to establish new types of relations “in the open” with the Communist authorities. This means, for example, that Catholic bishops must have the Soviet “placet” for their nomination. This strategy is under the direction of Archbishop Casaroli and his Secretariat. Casaroli himself drew up a sufficiently explicit program in his discourse on The Holy See and Europe, delivered in Milan on January 20th 1972.
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