Konstantin Budkevich

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Konstantin Budkevich.

Konstanty Romuald Budkiewicz (Latvian: Konstantīns Romualds Budkēvičs, Russian: Константин Ромуальд Будкевич) (June 19, 1867 - March 31 or April 1, 1923) was a Roman Catholic priest executed by the OGPU for organizing Nonviolent resistance against the First Soviet anti-religious campaign.[1] He remains under investigation for possible Sainthood. His current title is Servant of God.

Early life[edit]

Budkevich was born June 19, 1867 to a large Polish family of Szlachta descent in Zubry manor near the town of Krāslava in modern Latvia. He completed his studies at the Saint Petersburg Roman Catholic Theological Academy, where he earned a doctorate in theology. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1893 and taught in Pskov and, from 1896, in Vilnius.[2]

Saint Petersburg[edit]

In 1903, he served the parish of St. Catherine on Nevsky Prospect in St. Petersburg, becoming pastor there in 1908. At the time, St. Petersburg was the center of the Empire's largest Polish community outside of Congress Poland and Father Budkiewicz desired to prevent the children of his parish from the anti-Polish and anti-Catholic propaganda of the State-run school system. Therefore, despite "manifold difficulties", he maintained a Polish language parochial school attached to St. Catherine's parish.[3]

Following the February Revolution, then Archbishop Eduard von der Ropp, decreed that all his priests would take a role in organizing a Christian Democratic Party to participate in the planned Russian Constituent Assembly. In this, the Archbishop was opposed by Mgr. Budkiewicz and by Auxiliary Bishop Jan Cieplak, who both opposed any politicization of the Catholic religion.

Red October and its aftermath[edit]

In 1918, he became vicar-general to Bishop Jan Cieplak.

According to Francis MacCullagh,

"The Bolsheviks were not long in power before they realized that this polite and gentle-mannered Monsignor was the backbone of all the legitimate resistance offered to some of their impossible decrees by the Catholic clergy of Petrograd. They therefore persecuted him so persistantly [sic] that disguised in lay clothes, had for a time to carry out his work from a place of concealment. Then came a period of calm, but, towards the end of 1922, the Petrograd Reds lost all patience and determined to have Mgr. Budkiewicz's blood at all costs. They had their way, but, as we shall see later, they had not the satisfaction of seeing their victim falter or even lose colour when the sentence of death was passed on him."[4]

The Cieplak Trial[edit]

He was arrested March 13, 1923 in connection with the case brought against the Catholic clergy, with Archbishop Cieplak at their head. The GPU feared that Archbishop Cieplak was planning to unite the Orthodox who followed Patriarch Tikhon with the Catholic Church. As Patriarch Tikhon was under house arrest on false charges of "anti-Soviet and counterrevolutionary activities", this "conspiracy" implicated Cieplak, Mgr. Budkiewicz, (his Vicar General), and Byzantine Rite Exarch Leonid Feodorov in Anti-Soviet agitation.[5]

According to Father Christopher Lawrence Zugger,

"The Bolsheviks had already orchestrated several 'show trials.' The Cheka had staged the 'Trial of the St. Petersburg Combat Organization'; its successor, the new GPU, the 'Trial of the Socialist Revolutionaries.' In these and other such farces, defendants were inevitably sentenced to death or to long prison terms in the north. The Cieplak show trial is a prime example of Bolshevik revolutionary justice at this time. Normal judicial procedures did not restrict revolutionary tribunals at all; in fact, the prosecutor N.V. Krylenko, stated that the courts could trample upon the rights of classes other than the proletariat. Appeals from the courts went not to a higher court, but to political committees. Western observers found the setting -- the grand ballroom of a former Noblemen's Club, with painted cherubs on the ceiling -- singularly inappropriate for such a solemn event. Neither judges nor prosecutors were required to have a legal background, only a proper 'revolutionary' one. That the prominent 'No Smoking' signs were ignored by the judges themselves did not bode well for legalities." [6]

New York Herald correspondent Francis McCullagh, who was present at the trial, later described its fourth day as follows:

Krylenko, who began to speak at 6:10 PM, was moderate enough at first, but quickly launched into an attack on religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular. "The Catholic Church", he declared, "has always exploited the working classes." When he demanded 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." ...As the long oration proceeded, the Red Procurator 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 here but Soviet Law," he yelled at another stage, "and by that law you must die."[7]

Also according to McCullagh,

"My first glace at Mgr. Budkiewicz showed me clearly why the Bolsheviks were so infuriated with him that nothing but his death would satisfy them. Not only was he immovable himself, but (in the opinion of the Bolsheviks) he made others unmovable. Then his matter was, for a Slav, curiously cold and impassive. In speaking, he used no gestures, and did not move his body in the slightest; but in private life he was extremely humorous. Circumstances compelled him to restrain himself, but he conveyed, somehow, the impression of having it in him to pierce Bolshevism with a satire keener than a rapier; and it surely is one of the ironies of life that while Leninism is being dealt with almost exclusively by non-Russians who do not know much about it, or by Russians whose absence abroad has made them equally ignorant, this accomplished man, who knew Red Russia through and through, should first have been prevented by his position from telling all he knew about it, and should then have had his brains blown out by an official assassin."[8]

On Palm Sunday, 1923, Archbishop Cieplak and Monsignor Budkiewicz were sentenced to death. The other fifteen defendants were sentenced to long terms in the GULAG. In the aftermath of sentencing, all were returned to their cells in Moscow's Butyrka prison.


According to Father Christopher Lawrence Zugger, "The Vatican, Germany, Poland, Great Britain, and the United States undertook frantic efforts to save the Archbishop and his chancellor. In Moscow, the ministers from the Polish, British, Czechoslovak, and Italian missions appealed 'on the grounds of humanity,' and Poland offered to exchange any prisoner to save the archbishop and the monsignor. Finally, on March 29, the Archbishop's sentence was commuted to ten years in prison, ... but the Monsignor was not to be spared. Again, there were appeals from foreign powers, from Western Socialists and Church leaders alike. These appeals were for naught: Pravda editorialized on March 30 that the tribunal was defending the rights of the workers, who had been oppressed by the bourgeouis system for centuries with the aid of priests. Pro-Communist foreigners who intervened for the two men were also condemned as 'compromisers with the priestly servants of the bourgeoisie.'"[9]

According to Father Francis Rutkowski, who was imprisoned with Mgr. Budkiewicz,

The days between March 25th and March 31st, until he was taken to a special cell, passed as if nothing special were likely to befall him. On Good Friday, March 30th, fellow prisoners read in the newspaper how the Archbishop's sentence had been commuted and how the Monsignor's sentence had been carried out. At this time, the Monsignor was not in the cell. When he returned, his fellow prisoners did not tell him at first that he had been refused grace; after a while, they told him and showed him the paper. Then he quickly said that it was not necessary to hide the fact from him, but that he was ready for everything. When on the invitation of the Archbishop, Mgr. Malecki privately suggested to Mgr. Budkiewicz that he might prepare for death, he answered that he was completely at peace, ready for everything, that he was little understood, and that God alone knew how he had offered himself for all his faults. On saying these last words, with tears in his eyes, he totally and completely surrendered himself to the Divine Will. On Holy Saturday, March 31st, about ten o'clock, he was taken from our cell to No. 42, which was used for solitary confinement. He quietly said goodbye to us all, forseeing that he would see us no more. That same evening, he sent back a Russian book which he had taken with him as he left us. He had written in it that he was alone in No. 42, that it was clean and warm there. Some secular prisoners who were with us, Russians and non-Catholics, and who had continually observed his behavior, wondered with great admiration at him because he was so peaceful; they called him happy because he suffered and died for a good cause. One of the prisoners who lived on the same corridor as Mgr. Budkiewicz told us how in the evening of March 31st, he bathed and had tea. Around half past eleven at night, two men came, told him to take his things and led him to an automobile waiting in the yard. He answered that they did not give him peace even at night. He himself was completely at peace when he said goodbye to the prisoner in the corridor, gave him cigars, and went to the automobile. According to what we read in the newspapers, he was executed during the night of March 31st, between Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. He was shot from behind, as he stepped down into the cellars of the Lubianka."[10]


After the execution of Monsignor Budkiewicz, his body was buried in a mass grave in the forests of the Sokolniki District.[11]

According to Fr. Christopher Zugger, "On Easter Sunday, the world was told that the Monsignor was still alive, and Pope Pius XI publicly prayed at St. Peter's that the Soviets would spare his life. Moscow officials told foreign ministers and reporters that the Monsignor's sentence was just, and that the Soviet Union was a sovereign nation that would accept no interference. In reply to an appeal from the rabbis of New York City to spare Budkiewicz's life, Pravda wrote a blistering editorial against 'Jewish bankers who rule the world' and bluntly warned that the Soviets would kill Jewish opponents of the Revolution as well. Only on April 4 did the truth finally emerge: the Monsignor had already been in the grave for three days. When the news came to Rome, Pope Pius fell to his knees and wept as he prayed for the priest's soul. To make matters worse, Cardinal Gasparri had just finished reading a note from the Soviets saying that 'everything was proceeding satisfactorily' when he was handed the telegram announcing the execution."[12]

News of the Monsignor's execution caused turmoil in France, whose Catholic population deplored the incident and saw it as an example of the police state tactics of the new Soviet Union.[13]

On 7 April 1923, a Roman Catholic requiem mass was offered for Monsignor Budkiewicz at St. Catherine's Cathedral in St. Petersburg. Several foreign diplomats were in attendance.[14]

On 10 April 1923, Soviet Foreign Commissar Georgy Chicherin wrote a letter to fellow Politburo member Joseph Stalin, in which he described the political fallout from the death of Monsignor Budkiewicz. In America, France, and the United Kingdom, efforts to gain diplomatic recognition for the USSR had suffered a major setback. In Westminster, Labour MPs had been flooded by petitions "demanding the defense of Cieplak and Budkiewicz", by "worker's organizations", "dying socialists", and "professionalists". In the United States, Republican Senator William Borah had been about to discuss possible recognition of the USSR with U.S. Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes. Due to the Monsignor's execution, the meeting had been cancelled and the Senator had been forced to indefinitely postpone the founding of a committee to press for diplomatic negotiations. Chicherin explained that the outside world saw the continuing anti-religious campaign "as nothing other than naked religious persecution." Chicherin expressed fear that, if Russian Orthodox Patriarch Tikhon were also sentenced to death, the news would, "worsen much further our international position in all our relations." He concluded by proposing "the rejection in advance of the death sentence on Tikhon". [15]

Captain Francis McCullagh published the full text of the trial within a book entitled The Bolshevik Persecution of Christianity, which was swiftly translated into French, German and Spanish.

Constantine Budkiewicz's cause for sainthood was opened in 2003 and remains under investigation. His current title is Servant of God. At St. Catherine's Cathedral, his stole is preserved as a relic. A street in Warsaw is also named for him.[16]

In popular culture[edit]

In 1924, Polish poetess Kazimiera Iłłakowiczówna published an anthology of poems in honor of Mgr. Budkiewicz's life and death. Modeled after the traditional ballads of the Polish peasantry, the collection was titled Opowieść o moskiewskim męczeństwie ("The Story of the Moscow Martyr").[17]


"Our Church forbids us to make political speeches. For us to take any part in politics is to fall away from our Christian ideals. We defend ourselves only when it is our Christian teaching that is attacked. We distinguish between the parties on the side of the Government. We distinguish between the parties and the State. We draw a clear distinction between the social aims of Communism and its other tendencies, between the Communist theory and those principles with challenge the Christian faith. Christianity regards Communism only from a religious standpoint. It does not matter under what social order, under what form of Government we live. The Roman Catholic clergy are not concerned with the social system. The only thing that concerns them is religion."[18]

— Monsignor Budkiewicz shortly before being sentenced to death

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Website of St. Catherine's Catholic Church in St. Petersburg <http://www.catherine.spb.ru/page.phtml?query=bio_bk>. Accessed March 14, 2009.
  2. ^ Catholic Newmartyrs of Russia, [1]. Accessed March 14, 2009.
  3. ^ "Mgr. Budkiewicz", The Tablet, May 5, 1923. Page 5.
  4. ^ The Bolshevik Persecution of Christianity, page 134.
  5. ^ Edward E. Roslof, Red Priests: Renovationism, Russian Orthodoxy, & Revolution, 1905-1946 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002), 98.
  6. ^ Father Christopher Lawrence Zugger, "The Forgotten: Catholics in the Soviet Empire from Lenin through Stalin," University of Syracuse Press, 2001. Page 182.
  7. ^ Captain Francis McCullagh, The Bolshevik Persecution of Christianity, E.P. Dutton and Company, 1924. Page 221.
  8. ^ Francis MacCullagh, "The Bolsevik Persecution of Christianity," page 131.
  9. ^ Zugger (2001), pages 180-181.
  10. ^ Fr. Joseph Ledit, S.J., Archbishop John Baptist Cieplak, pages 103-104
  11. ^ MacCullagh (1924), pages 280-281.
  12. ^ Father Christopher Lawrence Zugger, The Forgotten: Catholics in the Soviet Empire from Lenin through Stalin University of Syracuse Press, 2001. Pages 187-188 ISBN 9780815606796
  13. ^ "Execution Causes Stir in France", The New York Times. April 6, 1923. Retrieved March 11, 2011. Page 1.
  14. ^ The Bolshevik Persecution of Christianity, pages 280-281.
  15. ^ Felix Corley (1996), Religion in the Soviet Union: An Archival Reader, New York University Press. Pages 35-37.
  16. ^ St. Catherine's Catholic Church website
  17. ^ "A New Polish Martyrology", The Tablet, 12 April 1924. Page 4.
  18. ^ The Bolshevik Persecution of Christianity, pages 257-258

External links[edit]