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Some in the Vatican are concerned about Kyiv's plans in religious sphere

Some in the Vatican are concerned about Kyiv's plans in religious sphere

Recently, the statements of the Roman Catholic Archbishop-Metropolitan Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki of Lviv on the issues of language and church caused sharp criticism in Ukraine. However, in addition to the obvious national and political dimensions, this situation also has a purely ecclesiastical aspect.

And this is evidenced by the reaction of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) to the statements of the Catholic hierarch, which are ambiguous from the point of view of the militarized national consciousness of the Ukrainians. Namely, the OCU’s silence, except for the two short comments of archbishop Yevstratiy (Zorya) with criticism of "certain Vatican circles", whose order was allegedly executed by the archbishop Mieczyslaw. These comments were placed under the widespread post of syncellus for monastics of the Lviv Archdiocese of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (UGCC) hieromonk Yustyn (Boyko).

While the UGCC’s response is rather "stock" and demonstrative, the OCU also deciphered the true message of the Catholic hierarch's statements and, being directly related to the actual object of his criticism – the Ukrainian authorities, wisely decided not to answer directly, pretending that they had nothing to do with it. And in general, this is also partly true, since the claims of the Holy See are not to the OCU as such, but to the Office of Ukrainian President Zelensky. Why get into a conflict if you can give the Greek Catholic hieromonk an opportunity to scold the cardinal of the RCC for ignoring the "fact and influence" of the newly created "Pomisna" (i.e. "Local") church!..

The fact is that in reality the Holy See is not so much concerned about the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (in communion with Moscow Patriarchate) and the status of the Russian language (moreover, it is interested in weakening Russian influence on Ukrainian Orthodoxy), however, too active actions of OCU supporters and the state apparatus cause fears in the Vatican that the OCU will take a dominant role in the religious space of Ukraine and the future United Ukrainian Church (first – of the Eastern rite, and later – common to both rites).

Ukrainian Catholics cannot participate in the fight against the UOC on an equal basis with the OCU. And not because they are "non-Orthodox" (at least His Beatitude Sviatoslav (Shevchuk) claimed just the opposite, that the UGCC is quite an Orthodox Church of St. Volodymyr’s Baptism), and not because they do not want to "get their hands dirty". Firstly, taking into account the depth of their experience, like the Brest Union, they advocate a more peaceful, gentle and in the long term more effective unification of churches, and secondly, the active participation of Greek Catholics in the fight against the UOC, such as the change of canonical subordination of communities or the return of historical churches in the western regions of Ukraine, will cause misunderstanding from the OCU and, especially, the Ukrainian authorities, threatening to cause conflict. That is because the majority in Ukraine is at least nominally Orthodox. And because even if it would be possible to negotiate with the OCU, the President's Office still resolutely assigns the dominant role in the Local Church to the hierarchy of the OCU, which is more familiar, easy to handle and is believed to be "on their side".

Here are some examples of why we are talking about the competition of patriotic Ukrainian confessions and the fixation of the ruling political power in Ukraine on the OCU.
Some in the Vatican are concerned about Kyiv's plans in religious sphere The difficulties in the relationship between the OCU and the UGCC are evidenced, for example, by situations related to the transition of clerics, for example, father Ivan Garat, who transferred to the "Kyivan Patriarchate" (the OCU’s predecessor) in 2012 and, when trying to return from the OCU to the UGCC in May 2021, was anathematized by Greek Catholic  Archbishop-Metropolitan Ihor Wozniak of Lviv for falling into "schism". This move of the UGCC caused bewilderment of the local OCU hierarch Metropolitan Dymytry (Rudyuk) and a storm of criticism from religious scholars sympathetic to the latter (for example, Yuri Chernomorets).

There also emerge manipulative anti-Catholic publication, even from rather high-ranking OCU representatives, while its hierarchy doesn’t express any public denials of them. For example, the Apostolic Nunciature in Ukraine itself had to respond to an article by the "priest" of the Chernivtsi diocese of the OCU, Serhiy Gorbik. The self-positioning of the OCU as the sole heiress of the St. Volodymyr’s Baptism is also noticeable in the official statements of its Primate, made both in 2022, regarding the expected visit of Pope Francis to Kyiv, and in 2018, concerning the significance of the historical Cathedral of St. Sofia in Kyiv for the Ukrainian people. These statements sound as if there are simply no other churches in Ukraine or they exist "as an exception" on the OCU’s canonical territory.

Another illustrative story from the village of Krakovets, Lviv region, on the transition of a Greek Catholic priest to the OCU, has already affected the whole local community and raised the question of the temple’s ownership. There, the head of the Greek Catholic parish father Ivan Kashchuk dared to minister with his son, a cleric of the OCU, for which he was suspended from service, and subsequently changed jurisdiction himself. At the same time, although the administration refused to register the community of the OCU due to the interfaith conflict that had developed in the village, the court reversed this decision, that is, in fact, it sided with the OCU. 

The officials’ having a soft spot on the OCU, even in Galicia with its significant Greek Catholic presence, is also eloquently evidenced by the outcome of resolving the dispute over the temple in the village of Snovychy, Lviv region. Back in 1993, by ordinance of the representative of the President of Ukraine in the region, the religious building was transferred to the UGCC community for free use, but community of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC), which joined the OCU in 2019, flatly refused to comply with this order. And what was decided at the general meeting of residents, which was attended by representatives of the regional administration and the UGCC curia? No, it wasn’t decided to enforce the ordinance, but to get off with a promise to provide the Greek Catholic community a plot of land and assist in the construction of a new church! Without any trial, as if it doesn't matter that legally UGCC parish has the rights to the temple.

It should be noticed that such an attitude towards the UGCC was even under the "founding father" of the OCU, ex-president Poroshenko. For example, the attitude to the role of the UGCC in the spiritual care of military personnel was completely disdainful or at least neglectful, despite a sufficient number of Greek Catholic priests, including those who actively want to carry out chaplaincy, their good training and high patriotism. It is not for nothing that in 2020 the share of UGCC clergy among military chaplains was three times higher than the share of Greek Catholic believers among the population of the country. However, back in February 2019, representatives of the UGCC (unlike the OCU) were not even invited to a meeting in the Presidential Administration on the draft law on military chaplaincy. Of course, Ukrainian officials had to apologize for such "forgetfulness".

Therefore, now the Vatican needs the UOC precisely as a counterweight to the OCU. That is, in fact, the statements of Roman Catholic Archbishop Mieczyslaw are aimed at protecting the interests of the UGCC, as the first in line among of all Catholic structures in Ukraine to enter the future United Local Ukrainian Church. It is not for nothing that the official resources of the UGCC did not express any concern about his statements, and the post of hieromonk Yustyn was distributed only in the media not officially affiliated with the UGCC. The hierarch spoke not in favor of the UOC, but to curb the influence of the OCU, mainly through giving the Ukrainian authorities a signal about the concern and dissatisfaction of the Holy See with the plans of the Office of President of Ukraine to "push" the UGCC under the OCU. While maintaining the obvious focus of all religious centers on the creation of United Local Ukrainian Church, which is entirely within the framework of common long-term ecumenical aspirations.

What conclusions did the Ukrainian government draw from the Vatican's signal and how is it going to react? So far, apparently, there are not even any signs that this message was "heard" on the Bankova [street]. Apart from several attempts, accompanied by violence and extraordinary aggression, by the supporters of the OCU to gain access to the churches of the UOC (however, this could also be a coincidence).

Therefore, the issue of protecting the values and initiatives proposed by the Apostolic Capital, including by expanding the presence and influence of faithful Catholics in the Ukrainian elites to facilitate mutual understanding between Kyiv and the Vatican and promote the successful implementation of humanitarian projects aimed at aiding the Ukrainian people and facilitating their sustainable development, remains an urgent task for the Holy See.

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