Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Eastern European Affairs (Bohlen)82

[The paragraph here omitted summarized telegram 2385, July 1, printed supra.]

The establishment of this Council is an organizational move to provide a central authority for coordinating the religious policy of the Soviet Government in regard to religious groups other than the Greek Orthodox. Although, in itself, it does not indicate what policy will be pursued towards these groups, it does indicate that they will receive a greater degree of recognition than heretofore accorded, and is in line with the more tolerant attitude adopted towards religion since the outbreak of the Soviet-German war and perhaps it should be considered in connection with the assurances given by Stalin to Father Orlemanski concerning the Catholic Church. The fact, however, that this governmental body is set up to deal with religions other than the Greek Orthodox Church, underlines the special and privileged position which the latter church will have in the Soviet Union.

Although all religious activities including that of the Orthodox Church will continue to be carefully controlled by the Soviet state and forced to conform with general Soviet policy, a distinction will be made in favor of the Greek Orthodox faith which has virtually been recognized as the State religion and unquestionably will be utilized in that guise as a political instrument of the Soviet State. Other [Page 1217] religions will be even more carefully circumscribed and controlled and will not be permitted to develop to a point where they might threaten the position of the official Orthodox Church.83

The creation of this Council for religious cults at this time is undoubtedly related with the Polish question and is probably designed to provide machinery to handle questions involving the Catholic population of eastern Poland which the Soviet Government intends to incorporate in the Soviet Union.84

C. E. Bohlen
  1. Addressed to the Secretary of State and to the Director of the Office of European Affairs, James Clement Dunn.
  2. On July 7, Mr. W. O. Lewis, the General Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, conversed with Mr. George M. Abbott of the Division of Eastern European Affairs on the significance of recent religious developments in the Soviet Union. In a memorandum of the conversation, Mr. Abbott wrote: “He appeared to be chiefly concerned that the improved position of the Russian Orthodox Church would eventually lead to the persecution of the Baptists by that church in the same manner as before the Soviet revolution.” Mr. Lewis indicated also that if he were able to visit the Soviet Union and obtain information that Soviet policy “had changed for the better, he believed it would be a very important factor in building up good will for the Soviet Union in the United States among the 11,000,000 Baptists.” (861.404/7–744)
  3. For correspondence on the interest of the United States in the problems of the re-establishment of Polish-Soviet relations, see vol. iii, pp. 1216 ff.