For several decades, Ukrainian Greek Catholics have cultivated the dream of getting their own Patriarchate, a status enjoyed by six other Eastern Churches in union with Rome.
This goal has often been expressed in diaspora communities and in Ukraine itself as soon as the Ukrainian Greek Catholics emerged from their clandestine existence in late 1989. But Rome continues to be very reluctant to grant such a status to the Eastern rite Catholics in Ukraine, although it is the largest uniate group (between 4 and 5 millions faithful). Ukrainian expert Victor Jelenski, editor of the Russian language Internet journal Religija i obscestvo (Religion and Society), has recently published a good overview of current developments, translated in the December issue of the Swiss monthly Glaube in der 2. Welt.
Not only does Rome not grant the requested status, but it is also not willing to extend the jurisdiction of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (heavily present in Galicia, or Western Ukraine) to the Central and Eastern parts of the country — a move which would inevitably be seen as a major provocation by the Moscow Patriarchate and other Orthodox Churches. The issue of relations with the Moscow Patriarchate no doubt is a major factor explaining Rome’s reluctance.
Not every Ukrainian Catholic is pressing for the Church to get a Patriarchal status, Jelinski remarks. But nationalist-minded Catholic circles consider it as a major goal from a nation-building perspective. The creation of a Catholic Ukrainian Patriarchate would have consequences beyond the borders of Ukraine (such as in the Ukrainian populations in Poland and Slovakia). The issue of the borders of an Ukrainian Greek Catholic jurisdiction constitutes indeed one of the major hurdles from the perspective of Rome.
In addition, Rome wouldn’t like to encourage unbridled nationalism, both from a religious and political perspective. More generally, Catholic Ukrainian aspirations raise once again the various problems related to the status of Eastern Catholic groups within the Roman Church (limiting their missionary work to their own people, etc.).
Ukrainian Greek Catholic activists will however continue to press for Patriarchal status. The first stone for the future patriarchal cathedral was laid in late October 2002 — not in Galicia, but in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. And in the first semester of 2002, no less than 36 new Greek Catholic parishes were founded in Ukraine outside of Galicia.
(Glaube in der 2. Welt, Birmensdorferstrasse 52, 8004 Zurich, Switzerland.)
— By Jean Francois Mayer