Opponents of Ostpolitik

De Mattei – Opponents of Ostpolitik: [Part 1] Monsignor Pavol Maria Hnilica (1921-2006)

Roberto de Mattei
Corrispondenza Romana
February 21, 2018
Pope Francis‘ political collaboration with Communist China has direct precedents in the Ostopolitik of John XXIII and Paul VI.  But yesterday, just as today, Ostoplitik had strong opponents who deserve to be remembered. One of these was the Slovakian Bishop Pavol Hnilica (1926-2006), whom I’d like to recall, based on my own personal memories and by referring to a precise study dedicated to his figure, to be published shortly by Professor Emilia Hrabovec, to whom I express my gratiude for allowing me to consult and quote from her manuscript.


In the 1960s when Vatican diplomacy began to put Ostpolitik into action, there were two Churches in Czechoslovakia, like there are today in China. One was the “patriotic” Church represented by priests under the Communist regime; the other was the “underground” Church faithful to Rome and its Magisterium.  Monsignor Pavol Hnilica, originally from Unatin, near Bratislava, after entering the Jesuits, was ordained a priest secretly (1950) and consecrated bishop (1951) by Monsignor Robert Pobozny (1890-1972), Bishop of Roznava.  In this way he was able to consecrate 27 year old Ján Chryzostom Korec (1924-2015) bishop (and future cardinal) who, after exercising his priesthood in secret for nine years, was arrested and sentenced to twelve years in prison.
 
In December 1951, when Monsignor Hnilica was forced to flee his country and go to Rome, Pius XII approved fully of they way the Church in Czechoslovakia, was proceeding, confirming the validity of the secret consecrations and rejecting any collusion with the Communist Regime. In his Radio Message of December 23rd 1956, the Pope affirmed«To what purpose, for that matter, is there in having discussions without a common language, or how is it possible to come to an agreement, if ways diverge, if from one side absolute values are being disregarded and denied, therefore rendering any “coexistence in the truth“  workable  
 
After the death of Pius XII, in October 1958, the climate changed and Agostino Casaroli became the main protagonist of the Holy See’s eastern policies, promoted by John XXIII, but carried into effect by Paul VI. During those years, Monsignor Hnilica, had the opportunity to meet Pope Montini frequently and presented him various memorandums in which he cautioned him against having illusions, warning him that the Communist regimes had not renounced their plan to liquidate the Church but had accepted dialogue with the Holy See only to obtain unilateral advantages, thanks to which they would recover credibility inside and outside their Countries, without ceasing their anti-religious politics.  «Hnilica – writes Emilia Hrabovec – advised not settling for cosmetic concessions, asking for the liberation and rehabilitation of all the bishops, religious and lay faithful still in prison, and the effective recognition of freedom to profess the faith and never to consent to the removal of repressed bishops which would be ‘ the worst humiliation for them personally and for the entire martyred Church, in the face of traitors, enemies and the general public opinion.’ The exiled Bishop feared that negotiations conducted without the most heroic part of the episcopate [and arriving] at a closed agreement with no relevant concessions, would have caused in Catholics – especially the best, who with vigour and fidelity had resisted oppression  – disorientation and the sensation of being abandoned even by the ecclesiastical authorities.

While the Second Vatican Council was in progress, on May 13th 1964, Paul VI made the rank of Monsignor Hnilica as bishop public – until then kept secret. This new status allowed the Slovakian Bishop to take part in the last session of the Council, where he intervened by associatimg himself with the Council Fathers who had asked for the condemnation of Communism.  Monsignor Hnilica declared in the auditorium that the schema of Gaudium et Spes said so little about atheism that it “was the same as  saying nothing at all”. And added that a great part of the Church was suffering “under the oppression of militant atheism, but that this is not apparent in the schema which however wants to address the Church of today”. “History will rightly accuse us of cowardliness and blindness for this silence,” the speaker continued, recalling that he was not speaking abstractly, as he had been in a work-concentration camp with 700 priests and religious. “I’m speaking from direct experience, and for those priests and religious I got to know in prison and with whom I bore the burdens and dangers for the Church.” » (AS, IV/2, pp. 629-631).

At that time, Monsignor Hnilica had numerous meetings with Paul VI, seeking in vain to dissuade him from “Ostpolitik”. In February 1965, the Archbishop of Prague, Josef Beran (1888-1969) was freed and came to Rome where Paul VI made him a cardinal. Monsignor Hnilica warned the Pope that the presumed success of Vatican diplomacy was instead a success for the Communist regime, which, with the exile of the Archbishop, had rid itself of an increasingly unpleasant international problem, with no fear of anything from the new Prague administrator, considered a timid member of the Movement of  Clergy for Peace. 

Cardinal Korec, after his liberation from the chains of Communism, recalls “Our hope was in the underground Church, which silently collaborated with priests in the parishes and formed the young fit for sacrifice: professors, engineers, doctors, disposed to becoming priests. These people worked in silence among the young and families; they published magazines and books in secret. In reality, the Ostpolitik sold our activity in exchange for vague promises and Communist uncertainties. The underground Church was our great hope. And, instead, they slashed its wrists, they disgusted thousands of boys and girls, mothers and fathers and many hidden priests ready to sacrifice themselves. […] It was a catastrophe for us, almost as if they had abandoned us, swept us away.  I obeyed.  However, it was the most painful time in my my life.  The Communists, in this way, had the public pastoral activity of the Church in their hands.” (Interview to Il Giornale, July 28 2000).

In the meantime, the Holy See, under heavy pressure from the Prague government, began to curb the Slavic Bishop’s activities and, in 1971, even asked him to leave Rome and move overseas. As Hrabovec reports, what touched the Bisop was the accusation of being an obstacle to the negotiations, the implicit reason for the persistant persecution of the Church, in addition to acting against the will of the Pope. Monsignor Hnilica said he was ready to leave Rome, but only if the Pontiff or the Superior General of his order had ordered him explicitly to do so.  Since such an order from these two authorities never came, Hnilica remained in the Eternal City and continued with his activities, even if contacts with the Holy See ceased.

The years of Ostpolitk were also those of historical compromise. When many thought that the persecutory Communist system was a closed chapter, and the Italian Communist Party was celebrating electoral victories previously unknown, «the untiring Bishop sought to persuade his public that the Communist regimes had only changed their tactics, by choosing more refined methods, without receding even one inch from their anti-religious and anti-human programme, and that the Church was obliged in conscience not to settle with the Communist system and its legality, but to continue denouncing its crimes and the dangers it represented».

As again Hrabovec recalls, «with the evangelical radicality of a profoundly religious person, Hnilica was convinced that in the age of “a final decision for the Truth or against the Truth, for God or against God”, neutrality was impossible and those who did not side with the Truth, became the accomplice of Falsehood and thus co-responsible for the spreading of Evil.  In this spirit, Hnilica, bitterly criticized Western policies of accomodation and compromises in the negotiations with the Communist regimes; the weakness and indifference of Western Christians focussed too much on themselves, too intent on maintaining their own material well-being and too little disposed in taking interest and engaging themselves [in aid] for their brothers and sisters behind the Iron Curtain and the defence of their own Christian values.  Recalling the famous expression by Pius XI in the 1930s, Hnilica, denounced the silence of politics, the media and public opinion – even Catholic – with regard to the Communist regime and the persecution of Christians Behind The Curtain, as “A Conspiracy of Silence” , noting, that while it was once customary to speak of the “Church of Silence” behind the Iron Curtain, now it would be more appropriate to use this name to define the Church(es) of the West.”

Monsignor Pavol Hnilica was a profoundly good man, but at times ingenuous. When I met him in 1976, he was always accompanied by his secretary Witold Laskowski, an aristocratic Pole, a polyglot of impeccable manners and who, in his facial features and massive figure looked surprisingly like Winston Churchill.  Laskowski had emigrated to Italy in the Twenties, had been part of General Anders‘ army and had devoted his life to the fight against Communism. He was a type of “guardian angel for Monsignor Hnilica, as he helped him thwart the manouvres of the Communist Secret Services who had infiltrated his group, making use not only of a lot of agents, but also of the help from the Italian Communist Party.  If Laskowski had been alive, Monsignor Hnilica would not have been involved in a nasty bit of business in the 90s, when he was persuaded by the scheming Freemason, Flavio Carboni, to pay money in order to obtain documents which would have proved the Vatican’s innocence in the bankruptcy of the Banco Ambrosiano.

Monsignor Hnilica was an ardent devotee of Our Lady of Fatima, convinced that this apparition had been one of God’s greatest interventions in human history, since the time of the Apostles. In all of the relations he had with the Pontiffs, he always insisted that the Consacration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary be made as requested by Our Lady on July 13th 1917.  John Paul II, after having been dramatically wounded on May 13th 1981, attributed a miraculous protection to Our Lady and was impelled to study the message at a deeper level. Consequently, while he was convalescing at the Policlinico, he asked Monsignor Hnilica for a complete documentation of Fatima. Then, On May 13th 1982, The Pope went on pilgrimage to Fatima, where he entrusted and consacrated to Our Lady “Those men and nations who have particular need of this entrustment and consacration.” The following day, Sister Lucy met Monsignor Hnilica, accompanied by Don Luigi Bianchi and Wanda Poltawska.  When they asked her if she thought the consacration made by the Pontiff valid, the seer made a sign of no with her finger and then explained that the explicit consecration to Russia had been missing.

A second consacration was made by John Paul  II on March 25th 1984, in St. Peter’s Square, before the Virgin’s statue specially brought from Portugal. Not even on this occasion was Russia expressly named, but there was simply a reference «to the peoples of which You await our consacration and entrustment». The Pope had written to all the bishops of the world asking them to join him. Among the few who agreed, was Monsignor Pavol Hnilica, who, from India, where he was at the time, had managed to obtain a tourist visa for Russia, and, that same day March 25th, inside the Kremlin, hiding behind the large pages of Pravda, he pronounced the words of consacration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

On May 12th and 13th, 2000, I was with Monsignor Hnilica at Fatima, on the occasion of John Paul II’s trip for the beatification of the little shepherds, Jacinta and Francesco.  I did not share his excessive optimism for the Papacy of John Paul II, but the memory I have of him, after having known him for twenty-five years, is that of a man of great faith, who, today would have been right  beside those who are fighting against what Cardinal Zen calls «the selling-out of the Church»

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One comment on “Opponents of Ostpolitik

  1. De Mattei: Opponents of Ostpolitik – Part 2: Father Alessio Ulisse (1920-1986)
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    Roberto de Mattei
    Corrispondenza Romana
    February 28, 2018
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    Among the staunchest opponents of the Vatican Ostpolitik, a figure of remarkable cultural and moral stature should be remembered: Father Alessio Ulisse Floridi (1930-1986).
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    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.
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    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.
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    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.
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    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).
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    The Interview
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    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”?
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    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.
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    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”…
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    R. 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.
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    Q. So then, what is the judgment of the “dissidents” with regard to the “dialogue” between Moscow and the Vatican?
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    R. 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 Cattolica 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.
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    Q. What are the Kremlin’s interests in this “dialogue”?
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    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.
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    Q. In your view, on the other hand, what are the motives impelling the Vatican to seek “dialogue” with the Kremlin?
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    R. 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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    Q. You mentioned a second policy…
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    R. Yes, it’s the one I’d call “ecumenical”, which is under the direction of the Secretariat for the Unity of Christians, headed by Cardinal Willebrands. We are talking here about “ecumenical dialogue” between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Patriarchy of Moscow. It was Willebrands himself, then Secretary of the Secretariat, who “ held discussions” (during a sojourn in Moscow – September 27 – October 2 1962) about the participation of the Russian Orthodox as observers at the Second Vatican Council.
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    The Russian representatives, were, in fact, the first Orthodox observers present in Rome right from the inauguration of the Council on the evening of October 11th. In fact, at this precise moment there is an Orthodox delegation at the [Collegium] Russicum – here – as usual – on pilgrimage. An ANSA communiqué specifies that the “meetings” take place in the ambit of periodic exchange visits between the Holy See and the Russian Orthodox Church, in coincidence with the visit of a Vatican delegation to the Patriarchy of Moscow. The Second Vatican Council was, thus, the historical “turning point” in the course of relations between the Church of Rome and the Patriarchy of Moscow, characterized, up until then, by a violent anti-Catholic stance.
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    Q. In your view, what are the reasons for this turnaround?
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    R. We mustn’t forget the link of the close collaboration and direct dependence of the Patriarchy of Moscow on the Kremlin. And it’s certain that, on the part of the Kremlin, there was keen interest in blocking any eventual attempt of the Council in condemning Communism officially. There were no lack of opportunities for the Russian guests to make clear that silence on the question of Communism was a sine qua non for the continuance of their presence in Rome. The Russian Orthodox Church relaxed their “reserve” about the Council only after it appeared clear that the Council would not have condemned Communism.
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    Q. What are the “obstacles” the Holy See faces in its “ ecumenical dialogue” with the Patriarchy of Moscow?
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    R. A principal one is created today by the troublesome presence of six million Ukrainian Catholics determined to remain faithful to their religious, historical and cultural tradition. The Holy See doesn’t want to recognize the Ukrainian Patriarchy – the only way to keep the Ukrainian Catholic Church alive in the nation and abroad – because the Orthodox Church of Moscow calls for the suppression of the Ukrainian Catholics. The Vatican today has greater regard for the schismatic Metropolitan Bishops Nikodim and Pimen than for the Catholic Patriarch Slipyi.
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    Q. Why this close relationship between the Kremlin and the Patriarchy of Moscow?
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    R. The Patriarchy of Moscow carries out two main functions. The first, internal, is as a filter function, a buffer. It consists of keeping the faithful subject to the Communist regime; the second, external, consists in convincing the heads of the other Christian Churches that Communism is in the end not as bad as it is depicted, and in crediting it, on the contrary, for its “effort” towards peace in the world. Significant, in this regard, is the function carried out by the Orthodox Church of Moscow inside the World Council of Churches which has refused to support the peaceful Soviet dissidents, whereas it doesn’t withhold its support of the “dissidents” – for the most part terrorists – in other Western countries.
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    Q. Don’t you think that the Kremlin considers the developments of its relations with the Vatican in a similar perspective?
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    R. Certainly. In Communist countries where a diplomatic relationship or a concordat is established, the governing authorities give their consent to the nomination of the bishops, on the condition that these accept all of Soviet law, including, evidently, the part regarding religion. In this way the government unloads the odious burden of having to respect iniquitous laws onto the ecclesiastic authorities. Today a zealous priest who teaches catechism is often punished by his bishop, before he is by the civil authorities.
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    Q. How do the faithful react to this dramatic situation?
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    R. The faithful behind the Curtain, find themselves faced with real crises of conscience. Generally they solve them, by choosing the hard but courageous road of resistance to the ecclesiastic authorities. This is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the phenomenon: the spreading of dissent from the civil sphere against the ecclesiastic sphere. It is happening in Hungary, in Czechoslovakia and in Lithuania. More than a hundred Lithuanian priests have asked the Holy Father to stay without a bishop rather than betraying the mandate of Christ.
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    Q. Do you also consider a modus vivendi between the Soviet State and the Vatican impossible?
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    R. I fear that the Vatican has forgotten something confirmed also by the dissidents at the Sacharov conferences, which is that the Soviet State wants the destruction of every religion and hence the Catholic religion too. I don’t see, then, what elements there could be to base a modus vivendi between the Catholic Church and atheistic Communism.
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    Q. What do you think of the thesis that says a hardening of the Vatican might put international peace at risk?
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    R. We have always been taught since childhood what is contained in the Catechism: that God should be placed before everything else and that it would be better for the world to perish, rather than commit a sin, an offense against God. A nuclear catastrophe, then would be less grave than a single mortal sin. This faith seems to be shrinking in the ecclesiastic authorities, obsessed with a search for peace at any cost. The salvation of human lives seems preferable to them than the violation of God’s rights. This is a very grave problem and the solution to it rests with the theologians, the bishops and the Pope. To them I pose this interrogative. This stance, which makes its own, the teaching of St. Peter “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts, 5, 29). justifies, I believe religious dissent.
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    Father Alessio Ulisse Floridi died prematurely on November 7th 1986, in the Regina Apostolorum clinic of Albano (Rome), after unexpected complications following surgery. The nuns at the clinic were edified by how he faced his illness. Today we call on him as a ‘witness to the prosecution’ against “the sell-out” of the Chinese Church to the Communist regime by Pope Francis and Cardinal Parolin.

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