Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
February 16, 2004
Let the Ukrainian bishops decide
The Orthodox's Ecumenical Patriarch Batholomew of Constantinople is a nice man, a moderate with an ecumenical openness. Yet, Patriarch Bartholomew delivered some blistering comments in a November letter to Pope John Paul about the Ukrainian Catholic Church's desire to have its head recognized as a patriarch (WCR, Feb. 9).
Patriarch Bartholomew's comments were a broadside that became public shortly before Cardinal Walter Kasper's Feb. 16 visit to the Orthodox partriarchate in Moscow. In brief, he argued that the establishment of a Ukrainian Catholic patriarchate would create hostility between the Orthodox and Roman Catholics and would destroy attempts at theological dialogue between the two churches.
He may be right, simply because the Orthodox would be hostile to such a move and they might well shut down all theological dialogue. And that would put on the back burner Pope John Paul's hopes for a speedy end to the centuries-old schism between East and West.
The reality, however, is that the restoration of communion is likely a long time away. There are too many fanatical elements among the Orthodox today to allow communion to happen and communion will never happen unless there is vast scaling back of the claim of the papacy to universal jurisdiction.
But is the fact that the Orthodox would be upset by the recognition of a Ukrainian Catholic patriarch a good enough reason to prevent the establishment of such a patriarchate?
The Ukrainian Catholic Church is the largest of all the Eastern rites in union with Rome. It is the most vibrant of all churches in the East - either Catholic or Orthodox. It has its own traditions and institutions and, since the fall of Soviet communism, it has established a unified, functioning, public hierarchy.
It has a legitimate, clear claim to have its own patriarch.
The Orthodox, meanwhile, will never accept the establishment of a Ukrainian Catholic patriarch. In the Orthodox view, Rome should give the Ukrainian Catholics back to Orthodoxy - whatever that might mean.
Once a patriarchate is established, the Orthodox will claim that this is proof Rome is trying to steal away the followers of Orthodoxy.
That claim, made numerous times already, is false.
In a recent interview with John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter, Jesuit Father Robert Taft, the leading expert on Orthodoxy in the Catholic world, urged that once the Ukrainian Catholic bishops are unanimously in favour of establishing a patriarchate (as they likely already are), they should do it.
It is not up to Rome to name the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church (Cardinal Lubomyr Husar) a patriarch. The Ukrainian Catholic bishops should do it and then ask Rome to recognize him as such.
Rome is understandably loath to take such a step because it would upset the Orthodox. Nevertheless, it is a move whose time has come.
Taft makes the point that the Orthodox have established metropolitans and bishops all over what has traditionally been the Catholic world.
It should thus be willing to accept the right of Catholics in Russia to have their own bishops and the right of Ukrainian Catholics to have a patriarch.
That such willingness is not in the cards is simply no reason to deny the Ukrainian Catholic Church the dignity and rights of having their own patriarch.
The next move is up to the Ukrainian Catholic bishops. They should take it when they see fit.
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