With war looming, will Kiev have a Catholic patriarch?

As the prospect of another Russian invasion of Ukraine becomes a reality, the Vatican office that oversees the Eastern Catholic Churches is considering a request that the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church be given “patriarchal” status.

This decision would highlight the historical and contemporary importance of the largest Eastern Catholic Church in the Catholic Communion.

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk. The pillar file photo.

During a plenary session of the Vatican Congregation for the Eastern Churches held last week, Bishop Borys Gudziak, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, presented a report on the possibility of establishing new patriarchates among the 22 Eastern Catholic Churches in communion with Rome, the archieparchy announced last week.

Sources close to the Vatican congregation said The pillar that after Gudziak’s presentation, members of the congregation were to discuss the prospect of elevating the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church to the rank of “Patriarchal Church” – the highest possible canonical status for an Eastern Catholic, or by right, Church.

It is not yet clear whether the congregation will recommend to Pope Francis a change in status for the Ukrainian Catholic Church, which comprises nearly 4.5 million Catholics, and which is currently led by a “major archbishop” rather than a patriarch.

But in the run-up to a Russian invasion, the appointment of a patriarch for the Ukrainian Church would be a “great moral support” in Ukrainian society, according to Anatolii Babynskyi, a church historian at the Ukrainian Catholic University of Lviv. .

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A moral assessment

Babynsky said The pillar this week that “the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and its leaders enjoy wide confidence in Ukrainian society. Likewise, Pope Francis has great confidence in Ukrainian society. He is considered a moral leader of the world and Ukrainian society expects words of support from him.

“People want to hear a moral assessment of the phenomenon when a nation has become a victim, losing thousands of lives, just because someone decided to build the Soviet Union 2.0 or tries to distract Russians from internal issues of their country,” Babynskyi added.

And even though Catholics are a minority in the country, many Ukrainians expect that kind of assessment from Pope Francis, the historian said.

“The pope talks a lot about the need for justice in the world. That is why many in Ukraine do not understand why he does not give a moral assessment of what is happening. Russia is destroying all possible international agreements and principles, pointing a gun to the head of Ukraine and wanting to make the whole world play by its rules.

One way to offer that assessment in symbolism would be to accede to the Ukrainian Catholic Church’s longstanding request for a patriarch, Babynskyi said.

In practice, there are few differences between an Eastern Catholic patriarch and a “major archbishop”, such as Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, who heads the Ukrainian Catholic Church. While the election of a major archbishop by the synod of bishops of an eastern church must be confirmed by the pope, and a patriarch does not require such confirmation, there are few other notable distinctions.

But the title of “patriarch” is old, used since the first centuries of the Church. While the term is used more commonly today in Orthodoxy, not Catholicism, in Eastern Catholic churches the term denotes respect and authority.

“For our tradition, it is natural to have a patriarch as primate of the local Church,” Babynskyi said, explaining why many Ukrainian Catholics hoped to see the Church recognize the Metropolitan Archbishop of Kyiv as patriarch.

The story

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church traces its origins to the 1590s, when several Eastern European Orthodox bishops declared their intention to be unified in communion with Rome.

If the Pope decides to change the status of the Ukrainian Church, he will respond to a hope of many Ukrainian Catholics since shortly after the Union of Brest-Litovsk in 1596, which officially launched Eastern Catholicism on Ukrainian territory.

The idea of ​​establishing a Catholic patriarch in Ukraine was discussed a few years later.

The idea was initiated when newly unified Ukrainian Catholic bishops engaged in ecumenical dialogue with bishops who were still part of the Orthodox communion, many of whom feared that the Latin Catholic Church did not respect their history and customs.

Both parties to this dialogue “agreed that the establishment of the patriarchate in Kyiv recognized by Rome would be a good solution to restore the unity of the Church of Kyiv,” Babynskyi said. The pillar.

But eventually the ecumenical dialogue came to an end, and with him the discussion of a patriarch almost came to an end. The idea resurfaced in the 1800s and was seriously considered by Popes Pius IX and Leo XIII, “but due to various political problems” it was ultimately not implemented, according to the story.

It resurfaced briefly in the early 20th century. And then, at the time of Vatican II, it almost happened.

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was illegal in the Soviet Union, and its de facto leader, Ukrainian Archbishop Josyf Slipyj, spent 18 years in Siberian labor camps.

But Slipyj was released by the Soviet authorities in 1963 and traveled to Rome to attend the Second Vatican Council. There he asked for a Catholic patriarch to be recognized in Ukraine. Many council fathers supported the idea and Pope Paul VI was said to have been open to it.

But in 1969, the pope decided that recognition would be impossible. According to Babynskyi, the fact that the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is illegal in Ukraine was a factor, as was “the protest of the Russian Church, with which the Vatican has had an ecumenical dialogue since the 1960s”.

The pope instead recognized Slipyj with a new term, “major archbishop” instead.

But the problem has not gone away.

“After the proclamation of Ukrainian independence in 1991, the question of patriarchy was constantly raised by Ukrainian bishops, and in 2002 the synod of bishops again addressed the pope. At that time, the territorial problem was solved. However, the idea of ​​a Greek-Catholic patriarchate again provoked protests from Moscow, which threatened Rome with suspending ecumenical dialogue. A Vatican official said at the time that the Ukrainian patriarchy would be a “disaster for ecumenism.” And until today, this is the only reason why this patriarchy has not been proclaimed,” Babynskyi explained.

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Ecumenical implications

Babynsky said The pillar that there are “some reservations” about the recognition of a Ukrainian patriarchate within the Ukrainian Church. But the most influential factor is the Vatican’s preoccupation with ecumenism with the Orthodox Churches, particularly the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow, whom Pope Francis has made a center of ecumenical efforts.

Some theologians, both in Catholic and Orthodox circles, say that only the dioceses held to be founded by the apostles were usually recognized as patriarchates.

But “I cannot imagine that in the case of a hypothetical union of the Orthodox Church with Rome, someone will ask the question that the Russian, Serbian or Bulgarian Churches cannot have the status of patriarchate because they do not have an apostolic origin,” Babynsky said.

“After all, there is the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate. The Armenian Church is one of the oldest, but it did not appear in apostolic times. If we consider this question by rejecting various political aspects, patriarchy is only one of the stages in the development of any Eastern Church. This does not only apply to Ukraine. Sooner or later, the issue of patriarchy will arise in India, where the Syro-Malabar Church is growing dynamically,” he added.

Babynskyi said the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, to which most Ukrainian Orthodox belong, “has no reservations about the patriarchy of the UGCC. They see this as an internal affair of the Greek Catholic Church.

For ecumenical relations with the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, considered the “first among equals” among the Orthodox patriarchs, “this question can be resolved through dialogue…dialogue and understanding are possible because there is an opportunity to exchange in a purely ecclesiastical framework”. , theological plan.

With the Patriarch of Moscow, however, things would be more difficult.

“With the Moscow Patriarchate, the dialogue goes beyond theology,” Babynskyi said. The pillar.

“I can give a simple example. The Moscow Patriarchate maintains good relations with Maronites and other Eastern Catholics in Lebanon and Syria. In 2013, the Maronite Patriarch visited Moscow, and during a visit to Lebanon in 2011, Patriarch Cyril of Moscow met with all the Catholic Patriarchs. Why aren’t the Eastern Catholic patriarchates in other parts of the world a problem? The answer is simple. The Russian Federation and the Moscow Patriarchate regard Ukraine as their “backyard” where every Christian in the East should be Russian — which is why Mr. Putin says Ukrainians and Russians are one people — and belonging to the Patriarchate of Moscow… Thus, the ecumenical dialogue between the The Vatican and Moscow have become hostages of Russian neo-imperialism.

“As long as the Patriarchate of Moscow is a tool of Russian state policy, it will be futile to try to convince the Patriarchate of Moscow that the Greek-Catholic Patriarchate of Ukraine is in no way a threat to ecumenical dialogue. In their eyes, this undermines their claims to political and ecclesiastical dominance in Eastern Europe,” he added.

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“Unity with Peter’s Successor”

The Vatican has not indicated whether Pope Francis would recognize an Eastern Catholic Patriarch in Kyiv.

But for Babynskyi, the move would be powerful.

“It is essential that our faithful scattered throughout the world have a spiritual and visible connection with the center of the Church in Kyiv. It would be natural for our tradition for the leader of such a global community to bear the title of patriarch,” he said.

But whatever the pope does, Babynskyi said, Ukrainian Catholics have proven in history that they are willing to suffer for their faith and for unity with the bishop of Rome.

“Ukrainian Catholics resisted Soviet persecution and did not break unity with Rome, so why should they do it today? Unity with the Successor of Peter is part of our identity, and it has a theological basis, not a political calculation.

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