THE TRIAL OF ARCHBISHOP CIEPLAK AND THE PETROGRAD CLERGY.
Moscow, April 10th. BEFORE saying anything about the trial of Arch- bishop Cieplak and the Petrograd clergy, I shall first say a few words on the general aspects of the case :- 1. The Bolshevik Government is determined to destroy all religion. 2. All members of the court and all the witnesses were members of the Communist Party ; in fact, the judge asked each -witness if he belonged to the Communist Party, and they all replied in the affirmative. 3. There were no witnesses for the defence.
The prosecution confined itself to proving the existence of a certain state of mind in the prisoners—namely, a dislike for the Soviet Government. It was really on this charge that the prisoners were convicted. The charges of obstructing Soviet officials in the discharge of their duty, and of failing to comply promptly with the law of separation and with the edict regarding the Church valuables, were only made to prove the existence of this state of mind. At the very outset the defence tried to have the charges of obstruction, &c., taken separately; but Krylenko objected to this, and the judges upheld his objection. Under this system of " justice," ninety per cent. of the people in Russia, and certainly ninety-nine per cent. of the foreigners here, could be condemned to death to-morrow. There was a great deal of oratory ; but, as there was no jury, and as it was clear from the beginning that the three judges had decided to condemn, this oratory was absolutely superfluous. The military display throughout the trial might also have been dispensed with, as there was not the slightest fear of the prisoners running away or of their being rescued. Four soldiers stood to attention with fixed bayonets at each of the four corners of the dock, and were relieved with great formality every hour. The relieving sentries filed in under the guidance of a captain, and, in accordance with the custom which prevailed in the old Tsarist Army, each soldier on guard whispered something into the ear of the man who relieved him. It was a routine instruction that he was not to let anyone approach the prisoners or hand anything to them, and that he must not permit any member of the audienceto approach within three paces of him. Besides the soldiers thus standing to attention in a very strained attitude, half a dozen other soldiers were generally to be seen in the vicinity of the dock, and one or two officers were always at hand. One, the commandant, sat at a table below the dais on which the court sat. He had evidently charge of all the military arrangements, and he also carried documents to and fro between the lawyers and the witnesses. Halfway down the hall sat a sentry, whose duty it was to keep back the people who had not got tickets for the upper and more privileged part of the hall. This soldier was armed with a revolver, and, when he was relieved, he always handed his revolver to the man who relieved him. Besides, there were two armed sentries at the door, two other armed sentries at the foot of the stairs leading up to the courtroom, and a number of others still further down. In America or England two or three unarmed policemen would suffice, but in Soviet Russia, which is supposed to be anti-militarist and to detest all martial display, there is more sabre-clanking than one would see in any court of justice anywhere.
As for the audience, it was nearly all Communist. On one occasion, indeed, the officer giving out tickets down- stairs declared that he would first admit those having cards of membership in Communist organizations, and would only admit non-Communists afterwards. Youths belonging to the League of Youth and to Polish Bolshevik organizations were apparently encouraged to attend the court. There were many Hebrew faces. While the Procureur was demanding six lives, a Jewish woman walked down the hall from one of the front seats, her face wreathed in smiles. She was a particularly repulsive- looking elderly woman in a low-necked dress, and, as she swept slowly past, she nodded and winked at friends on each side of her, who nodded pleasantly in return. About the same time two Polish women, overcome by the ferocious bellowing of Krylenko, left the court in tears. About a tenth of the audience was Polish; one could see that by the moisture in their eyes. The rest were in many cases smiling throughout the whole trial, and particularly when the Procureur's roars for blood became most blood- curdling. Many ladies came with opera-glasses, through which they scrutinized the condemned men as coldly as they would have scrutinized actors on the stage. When the proceedings dragged, the audience became distinctly bored ; but they cheered up visibly when the yells for blood began again. It was a clear case of blood-lust, such as was exhibited by the Roman populace at the gladia- torial combats in the Coliseum sixteen hundred years ago. There were three judges—Galkin, apparently a man of some education, and two others, a workman and a soldier. These judges showed themselves to be rather assistant prosecuting attorneys than impartial judges. They always decided against the counsel for the defence. They frequently cross-examined with the object of helping the Procureur. They invariably emphasized the points unfavourable for the defence, and frequently summed up for the prosecution the testimony which seemed incriminating. They did not always seem to be attending to what was going on. They sometimes smoked cigarettes, though there were large printed notices, " Smoking Strictly Prohibited," hung round the walls.
The first witness was Smirnov, a weedy, hollow-chested youth of twenty-four, who described himself as an official of the Petrograd Soviet. He had been entrusted with the delicate and important work of closing the Catholic churches in Petrograd, and his testimony was a resume of the petty incidents recounted in the Act of Accusation. At the evening session, Smimov, questioned by several of the priests, contradicted himself, but Krylenko came to his rescue by attacking the priest who had dared to cross-examine the witness. The following is a verbatim report of this attack, which was afterwards repeated in the case of every other priest in the dock-:- " /Cry/en/co r Did you teach religion to persons under age ? Priest : Yes, whenever I was asked to do so.
Krylenko : Did you not know that the Soviet Law forbids the teaching of religion to persons under 18 ?
Priest : If the parents or other authorized persons ask me to teach religion to children, I always do so. .Krylenko : Even if you know it is forbidden Priest : Yes.
Krylenko : Did you know of the Soviet decree of 1918 national- izing Church property, and of the decree ordering sacred vessels to be confiscated for famine relief purposes ?
Priest : I did, in a general way. But there are other laws, those of God and of the Catholic Church. . . . And the law to teach religion is divine.
Krylenko : We care not about any other law. There is no law
here but Soviet law. When that law comes into conflict with any other law, you must choose which you will obey.
Priest : I will obey the law of God and of my conscience. Krylenko (angrily) Your conscience does not interest me in the least.
Priest : But it is of very great importance to me. The Judge (severely, to the Priest) : Your conscience has nothing to do with this trial. (The Judge then reads from the Bolshevik Code the law forbidding religious teaching to minors, and, shutting the book, says, in a decisive tone, ' That is the law.') Kryktako : Are you aware that all sermons must be submitted to the censor ? Have you ever preached in church without first submitting your sermons to the Government censor ?
Krylenko : Did you continue saying Mass after the Petrograd churches had been closed ?
Priest : Yes.
Krylenko : Where ? When ? Before whom Priest : Quite frequently. In my private room. Sometimes I said Mass in a deserted orphanage underneath my lodgings. There were, on such occasions, 100 or 150 present."
There was no evidence brought forward to prove the charges of political propaganda. The priest charged with " falling demonstratively on his knees " said that, as he could not prevent the confiscation of the sacred vessels. he knelt down to pray. " That was a counter-revolu- tionary act I " cried Krylenko sternly.
Next day one of the priests admitted to preventing the officials opening the Tabernacle. He said that the Host was in it at the time, but the judges could not under- stand him, and he had to explain at some length. Then the workman-judge hinted that the priest's reluctance to allow an examination of the ciborium was due to the fact that, besides the consecrated Host, it contained jewellery. Father Chodniewicz, as this priest was called, explained what a sin it would be for a priest to allow the Host to be profaned, but Judge Galkin interrupted him by saying impatiently, " We don't care how you sin against religion. Our only concern is whether you break or not the law of the Soviet."
During Thursday, the second day of the trial, Monsignor Butkevich was questioned closely and with much hostility. It was evident that the prosecution had a particular animus against him as one of the leaders of the clergy, but the Monsignor pointed out that much of the evidence adduced against him was in reality against Archbishop Ropp, who was not in Russia. The court replied that it made no difference ; both he and Ropp had.advocated open hoitility to the Soviet Government. One of the charges was that the Catholics had been ordered by Archbishop Ropp to change their attitude from " active " to " passive " resistance ; but Mgr. B. pointed out that, as was explained further on in the Polish document from which the judge was reading, the phrase " active resistance " meant the presenting of petitions to the Soviet authorities, the protesting in legal form, &c. The Prosecutor had then to admit that he had mistrans- lated the Polish text. On this and the next two days attempts were made to show that Mgr. B. had shown Polish tendencies and supported the Polish Govern- ment. Thus, a telegram signed by Ropp, Butkevich and Zielinsky, expressing satisfaction at the opening of the Polish Mission in Moscow, after the War, was described by Krylenko as a ease of criminal communi- cation with a Foreign Power, though obviously the telegram had no political meaning whatsoever. Another charge was that Mgr. B. had received money from Poland. Mgr. B. did not deny this ; on the contrary, he admitted that he had received much money from Poland for the support of Russian orphans rescued from the streets of Petrograd and placed in orphanages. Mgr. B. pointed out that he had added to these funds much of his own private fortune.
The first examination of the Archbishop was begun by Krylenko at ten on Thursday night, this late hour being selected by the Procureur because the principal prisoner, an old man, of nearly seventy, was obviously tired out after a long day of nervous tension. A tele- gram sent by the Archbishop to a priest in Jarolava .was first taken up. This telegram read :—" Illegal demand. Don't present an inventory of the Church goods." Krylenko declared it was a counter-revolu- tionary act, and the Archbishop said that, according to Canon Law, the demand was illegal. A circular letter which he sent to the faithful was cited as political pro- paganda, though it contained nothing but the soundest Christian teaching on the need of religious teaching for the young in these dark and unsettled days.
The judges were in favour of an adjournment, but Krylenko, a strong, well-fed man of forty-three or forty- four years of age, was for continuing, all the more because he saw how exhausted the Archbishop was, and probably expected to extract some valuable admission from him while in that state of semi-collapse. On the first day of the trial Krylenko had even proposed, at eleven p.m., that they should have some food and begin again at midnight, continuing all the night through. He himself has one of the finest houses in Moscow. The Archbishop, on the contrary, had to come a long way every day from the Butyrka Prison and to return to the Butyrka after the session had finished.
On Friday-, March 23rd, a copy of the last edition of the new code of Canon Law was brought into court, and Krylenko asked the Archbishop which law he would obey. The Archbishop said that he would obey the law of God. Then Krylenko tried to prove that the prisoner had had political dealings with the Polish Government. !.` Do you depend on Warsaw ? " asked Krylenko sud- denly. " No ; on Rome alone ! " replied the other, _quick as a flash. " What, then, do you mean by this ? " shouted Krylenko, with an air of great triumph, waving a letter which Bolshevik spies had intercepted. .There was excitement in court. The Communists in the front seats grinned at one another knowingly. The sentries also grinned, thereby showing that their Com- munist masters take more care to teach them Marxism than the Tsar did to teach them Christianity. Then the judge took the letter and began :—" Polski Nunciatura, Warsaw. . . . " going on to read the contents of a letter, not of any particular importance in itself, from the Apostolic Nuncio, Warsaw.
" Archbishop : Not Polish' but Apostolic' Nuncio. The Apostolic Nuncio in Warsaw is an Italian, the diplomatic repre- sentative of His Holiness in Poland, and has nothmg to do with Polish politics. Krylenko : Oh, not Polish, is he ? How did you manage to correspond with him ? Archbishop : M. Chicherin, the People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs, has kindly placed some of the facilities of his Commissariat at our disposal, for litters."
This day a communication signed " Ganetsky " for M. Chicherin was read. It stated that the Riga Treaty, or at least those paragraphs in that Treaty which guaranteed religious freedom to Poles in Russia, was no longer valid because certain Orthodox Russians were being persecuted in Poland. The ironical nature of this argument will be _readily appreciated when one reflects on the merciless per- secution of Orthodox clergy, culminating, in the trial of the Patriarch, now being conducted by the Soviet Govern- ment in Russia. The Exarch of the Uniate or Russo- Roman Church was likewise subjected this day to severe questioning as to his religious beliefs and activities. He made a spirited defence of his faith, and declared that no persecution could force him to violate the clear dictates of conscience. . - Saturday, March 24th, the attack was concentrated on -Mgr. Butkevich. This priest, the only one who eventually met death, was a plump, fresh-coloured man of less than medium height, and a very calm delivery. In speaking, he used no gestures, hardly moving even his lips, and he spoke in a low voice, inaudible at the other end of the hall. The evidence produced during the trial had proved him to be a good man of business, as he required to be, having all the administration of a diocese extending over Russia, but it did not prove him to be dishonest or self-seeking or an intriguer.
At 6.10 p.m. on Saturday evening the Procureur began his final speech of accusation. It was a violent attack on religion in general and on the Catholic Church in particular. " The Catholic Church," he declared " has always exploited the working classes." When he de- manded the Archbishop's death, he said, " All the Jesuitical duplicity with which you have defended yourself will not save you from the death penalty. No Pope in the Vatican can save you now." He pronounced these words in a tone of horrible glee, and, when he de- manded Mgr. Butkevich's death, he repeated ominously, " No Pope in the Vatican can save you." As the long oration proceeded, the Red Procureur worked himself into a fury of anti-religious hatred :- "'Your religion,' he yelled, ' I spit on it, as I do on all religions, on Orthodox, Jewish, Mohammedan, and the rest.'
' There is no law but the Soviet law,' he yelled, at another stage, and by that law you must die.' "
Some of those present, who were familiar with the New Testament, were strangely reminded by this last declara- tion of St. John (chapter xix. 7) :—" We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he made himself the Son of God." Krylenko demanded the death sentence not only for the Archbishop and the Mgr., but also for four of the priests. " For the Exarch Fedorov," he said, " I ask ten years' imprisonment. He is judged not only for what he has done, but for what he can do." What the Procureur meant by this is not clear. Perhaps he meant the Union of the Eastern and Western Churches, to which great work the Exarch has devoted his life. Fedorov was, in many respects, the most picturesque figure in the court. Among the shaven Roman priests, with their close-fitting soutanes and close-cropped hair, he seemed out of place with his flowing robes, long hair and long beard. A Russian of the Russians, born in Petrograd, he studied first in Switzerland and then for seven years in the Papal College at Rome.
The Procureur's yells for blood were greeted with loud applause by the Communists who packed the hall. Then the two lawyers for the defence made a courageous defence of the priests. The leading lawyer, Mr. Pushkin, of Petrograd, began by charging the Pro- cureur with violating one of the Soviet's own laws by the ferocity he had shown in a court of justice ; but this only brought a smile to the faces of the judges and a sneer from Krylenko. Krylenko's sneers and smiles were a horrible feature of the whole case. When Mgr. Butkevich was saying his last words before sentence, Krylenko could not forbear from smiling and jeering at him. During these speeches the audience showed some impatience at the death sentences not being pronounced and the thing finished with. A large camera was mounted on a tripod before the prisoners while they were saying their last words, and the judge did not order the photo- grapher out of the building, for he was the official photo- grapher. The crowd in the hall having become very large towards the end, the doors were opened to let in some fresh air, and with the fresh air floated in sounds of music and laughter from an adjoining hall, where a Saturday night entertainment and cabaret was in pro- gress. The session ended at 1.10 a.m. on Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday, March 25th.—At noon on Palm Sunday the court was convened. The Bolshevik newspapers had been publishing-- most unfair accounts of the trial, accounts in which only the charges were mentioned, but never a word of the answers. The Pravda stated that one of the priests, when being arrested, had burned some -letters to a girl, though there was not a word about this in the evidence. Finally the priests were called upon to say their last words. The Bishop first rose, and in a calm and dignified voice denied that he had organized any political society for counter-revolutionary purposes. He protested that he, in common with all Catholics, gave -ready obedience to the civil power in all things not .manifestly in opposition to the divine law.
" I have done no wrong," he said, " to the Soviet Government, but have ever taught and practised the same truths which the Catholic Church has taught and practised for nearly two thousand years. That Church has never taught evil, but always good. To-day I stand before temporal judges : to-morrow, perhaps, I may stand before the Eternal Judge ; and my only prayer is that the temporal judges will be just and the Eternal Judge will be merciful."
Monsignor Maletsky followed. He said that he was the son of a rich gentleman—a bold confession to make to a court which holds that a gentleman must necessarily be an exploiter of the poor ; and he spoke with pride and with warm praise of the piety and uprightness of his father. He had been forty years a priest, and had spent all his life, all his force and all his private fortune on rescuing children from the streets and placing them in the orphanages he had founded.
Mgr. Butkevich gave, in his even tones, a complete refutation, one by one, of all the charges against him. Edward Yunevich, a young priest of twenty-five, made a very different kind of oration. He told of the promise of Bolshevism and of its failure. He described how glad he, a young Russian student—for he is a White Russian, not Polish—had been when he heard the shots which announced the downfall of the Tsar ; but how soon and how completely he had been disillusioned. The Tsars had persecuted the Catholic Church, but the Bolsheviks were worse than the Tsars. , He recounted the anti- religious activities of the Government and ended by saying, " With joy I obeyed the summons to appear before the revolutionary tribunal and with joy I will go from hence. You cannot destroy the ideals and principles of my faith, for which I am ready to suffer imprisonment or to die."
At exactly ten minutes past midnight the sentences were announced. The final scene will not soon be for- gotten by those who witnessed it. The few Polish women who had succeeded in gaining admission threw themselves on their knees with cries of horror and anguish that pierced the stillness of that cold night, and might well have pierced even the heart of Krylenko and the judges. The prisoners, who had, like everybody else, stood up to hear the sentence read, were quite un- moved ; and hearing the shrieks of the women, the Archbishop turned towards them and raised his hand in a last episcopal benediction. Then the Red soldiers closed in around him and hurried him from the court while other Reds cleared the hall at the point of the bayonet. FRANCIS MCCULLAGH (Captain).