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Archdiocese of Mohileff

Latin Catholic archdiocese and ecclesiastical province in Russia

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Mohileff, Archdiocese of (MOHYLOVIENSIS), Latin Catholic archdiocese and ecclesiastical province in Russia. For the few Catholics in Russia before the partition of Poland, some mission stations sufficed. The Jesuits, who came in ambassadorial suites, labored in Moscow from 1648, and in 1691 built the first Catholic church there. The free exercise of the Catholic religion, granted in 1706 by Peter the Great, was also allowed by his immediate successors, on condition that the missionaries did not attempt to secure converts. The Capuchins, Franciscans, and Dominicans also labored among the immigrant Catholics with fruitful results. When the Jesuits were suppressed in 1773, many of them found a refuge in Russia. However, no special diocese for Catholics was erected. The partitions of Poland brought under Russian sway many hundred thousand Catholics, whose treatment was in striking contrast to that meted out to the Uniats. While Uniate churches and monasteries were confiscated and delivered to the Orthodox, and such Uniats as refused to join the Orthodox Church were subjected to flogging, imprisonment, and confiscation of property, policy and shrewdness led the empress to treat the Latin Church very differently. Wishing to attach it to herself, she entrusted the Franciscans with the parishes of St. Petersburg and the neighborhood, permitted the foundation of schools, and released churches and schools from all taxes.

As in the first partition of Poland none of the old Polish sees fell to Russia, the empress decided to found a diocese for her Latin Catholic subjects, and to exclude all foreign priests from Russia. Without consulting the pope, she erected the Diocese of White Russia with Mohileff as its see (1772), and appointed as first bishop Stanislaus Siestrzencewicz Bohusz, Auxiliary Bishop of Vilna (1773). At first Pius VI refused to recognize this see, mainly on account of the empress’s arbitrary action and her persecution of the Uniats, but finally appointed the bishop vicar Apostolic of the new diocese. In 1782 Catharine arbitrarily raised the bishopric to an archdiocese. After some negotiations, the pope recognized the new Archdiocese of Mohileff by the Bull “Onerosa pastoralis officii” of April 15, 1783, which reserved to the pope the foundation of other dioceses in the territory of the archdiocese, extending from the Baltic to the Pacific Ocean. At the second partition of Poland (1793) five Latin sees fell to Russia, Kamenetz, Kieff, Livonia, Lutzk, and Vilna. Although Catharine had promised in the Treaty of Grodno (1793) to maintain the status quo as regards the Catholic Church, she arbitrarily suppressed these dioceses and founded two new ones in places with hardly any Catholics. Part of the property of the suppressed bishoprics was confiscated by the State and the rest given to favorites of the empress.

Catharine’s son and successor, Paul I, began, directly after his accession, negotiations with Pius VI, with a view to reorganizing the Latin and Uniat Churches. Four of the five suppressed dioceses (Kamenetz, Vilna, Lutzk, and Livonia, the last under the title of Samogitia) were restored, and the new Diocese of Minsk was founded to replace Kieff. Part of the confiscated property was restored to the Church. The four old dioceses, with the new Diocese of Minsk, were made suffragans of Mohileff, which now became a proper ecclesiastical province. Pius VI confirmed this arrangement on November 15, 1798, by the Bull “Maximis undique pressi”, which forms the substantial basis of the constitution of the Latin Church in Russia today. The Archdiocese of Mohileff did not escape the persecutions to which both the Latin and Uniat Churches were almost constantly exposed, especially during the reigns of Nicholas I and Alexander II (see Russia). In the hope of weakening the Catholic religion, which it hated and barely tolerated, the Government regularly selected aged or compliant men for Mohileff, leaving the pope no option but to confirm its choice. The first archbishop, Siestrzencewicz (b. 1730; d. December 1, 1826), was one of its most pliable tools. Sprung from a noble but impoverished family of Lithuanian Calvinists, Siestrzencewicz, after serving in the army, became acquainted with Bishop Massalki of Vilna, and through his influence entered the Catholic Church and became a priest. Massalki, who never recognized Siestrzencewicz’s lack of character, made him a canon and Auxiliary Bishop of Vilna.

Ambitious, uninfluenced by motives of honor or conscientious scruples, and greedy for power, Siestrzencewicz’s sole aim was to curry favor with the secular authorities and thus secure despotic power over the Catholic Church in Russia. To limit as far as possible the power of his clergy, he persuaded Tsar Paul I to establish the “College of the Roman Catholic Church“, to decide, as final court of appeal, all important matters concerning the Catholic dioceses. Its decisions had to receive the approval of the ruling senate, and it was furthermore declared the duty of the clergy to submit unconditionally to the will of the emperor in all matters, secular or ecclesiastical. The presiding officer of the college was Siestrzencewicz, who now established an absolute ecclesiastical despotism, appointing to the council only unworthy and subservient men. He granted unlawful divorces for money, induced Alexander I, Paul’s successor, to expel the nuncio (who had reported to Rome the archbishop’s unscrupulous conduct), and did not enter the feeblest protest against the expulsion of the Jesuits from the capital in 1815, and from Russia in 1820. Casper Casimir Kolumna Cieciszewski (b. 1745), Bishop of Lutzk, succeeded Siestrzencewicz (February 28, 1827; d. April 16, 1831). His great age prevented him from doing much in face of the series of oppressive measures of Nicholas I, a fanatical adherent of the Orthodox Church. These measures which were intended to reduce the Catholic Church to a condition of servitude, and if possible to exterminate it completely in Russia, were furthered by the practice of leaving the archdiocese vacant for long periods e.g. after the death of Cieciszewski and of his successor, Ignaz Ludwig Pawlowski (1841-42; b. 1775).

An expostulatory address presented by Pope Gregory XVI to the tsar during his visit to Rome in 1845 led to a Concordat, ratified by Russia in 1848 and promulgated by Pius IX, in accordance with which the Diocese of Tiraspol, with Saratoff as its see, was founded for the Catholic colonists in Southern Russia and made a suffragan of Mohileff. In December, 1848, Casimir Dmochowski (b. 1772; d. January 11, 1851) was appointed archbishop. He was succeeded by Ignaz Holowifiski (1851-5) and Wenceslaus Zylinski (1856-63), a tool of the government. Persecution, suppression, and confiscation continued even after the Concordat, especially under Alexander II. The Diocese of Kamenetz was arbitrarily suppressed in 1866, and Minsk has been vacant since 1869. Under Nicholas II free exercise of religion was granted in 1905, while the edicts of toleration of April 17 and October 17, 1905, weakened in some measure the privileged position of the Orthodox Church. These alleviations have, however, been since whittled down by the arbitrary conduct-of subordinate officials, acting with the tacit approval of the government. The recent archbishops are: Antonius Fialkowski (1871-83); Alexander Casimir Dziewaltowski Gintowt (1883-9); Simon Martin Kozlowski (1891-9); Boles-law Hieronymous Klopotowski (1901-03); George Joseph Elesaus a Slupfiff Szembek (1903-5); Appolinaris Wnukowski (1909), and Vincentius Klucziiski (appointed June 5, 1910).

II. Statistics. The suffragans of Mohileff are: Samogitia, Lutzk-Zhitomir, Vilna, and Tiraspol. From 1866 Kamenetz has been administered by the Bishop of Lutzk, and from 1869 Minsk by the archbishop. The ecclesiastical province is the largest in the world, including three-fourths of European (the ecclesiastical province of Warsaw is excluded) and the whole of Asiatic Russia (5,450,400 sq. miles). According to the diocesan statistics for 1910 the archdiocese contains 28 deaneries, 245 parish churches, 399 priests, 1,023,347 Catholics. The administrators of thirty-four other parishes and chapels are immediately under the jurisdiction of the archbishop. Among these the most important are: Chernigoff (10,600), Tashkent (15,000); and in Siberia: Krasnoyarsk (13,-000), Tomsk (10,000), Vladivostok (10,500), etc. The see of the archdiocese is St. Petersburg. The archbishop presides over the Roman Catholic Collegium, which regulates the relations between the respective dioceses and the Department of Public Worship, and administers the property of the Catholic Church. The Metropolitan Curia consists of a secretary and four other members; the archdiocesan chapter of a provost, dean, archdeacon, and six canons; the General Consistory of an official (secular administrator for the bishop), vice-official, three assessors, visitor of monasteries, Defensor matrimoniorum, and twelve lay members. The Roman Catholic ecclesiastical academy at St. Petersburg has a rector, spiritual director, sixteen clerical and seven secular professors, and 58 students. The seminary has 2 provisors, a rector, spiritual director, inspector, 14 clerical and 5 secular professors, 33 theological students, 59 philosophical, and 31 in the preparatory course. There are no statistics as to the monasteries of the diocese. From 1908 a Catholic monthly has been published at St. Petersburg.


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