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Ukrainian Catholic leader: many feel ‘betrayed’ by joint statement of Pope, Russian patriarch

February 15, 2016

In a lengthy interview, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) said that the joint declaration of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill showed two parties operating on “completely different planes … pursuing different goals.”

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the head of the largest of the Eastern Catholic churches in full communion with the Holy See, warned against criticism of Pope Francis:

I found myself experiencing authentic admiration, respect, and a certain reverential awe for the humility of Pope Francis, a true “suffering servant of God,” who seeks one thing: to bear witness to the Gospel of Christ before humankind today, to be in the world, but remain of Christ, to have courage to be “not of this world.” Thus, I would invite all not to rush in judging him, not to remain on the reality level of those who expect only politics from this meeting and want to exploit a humble pope for their human plans at all costs. If we don’t enter into the spiritual reality of the Holy Father and do not discern together with him the action of the Holy Spirit, we shall remain imprisoned by the prince of this world and his followers.

“Speaking of the signed text of the Joint Declaration, in general it is positive,” he continued. “However, the points which concern Ukraine in general and specifically the UGCC raised more questions than answers.”

Turning to these points, the Major Archbishop offered strong criticism of Cardinal Kurt Koch, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity:

It is hard to imagine a weaker team than the one that drafted this text. The mentioned Pontifical Council is competent in theological matters in relations with various Christian Churches and communities, but is no expert in matters of international politics, especially in delicate matters such as Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Thus, the intended character of the document was beyond their capabilities … I would note that, as the Head of our Church, I am an official member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, nominated already by Pope Benedict. However, no one invited me to express my thoughts and so, essentially, as had already happened previously, they spoke about us without us, without giving us a voice.

In paragraph 25, said the Major Archbishop, the Russian Orthodox “no longer seem to object to our right to exist.” However, paragraph 26, which discussed the war in Ukraine, “is the most controversial”:

The very word “conflict” is obscure here and seems to suggest to the reader that we have a “civil conflict” rather than external aggression by a neighboring state. Today, it is widely recognized that if soldiers were not sent from Russia onto Ukrainian soil and did not supply heavy weapons, if the Russian Orthodox Church, instead of blessing the idea of “Russkiy mir” (“the Russian world”) supported Ukraine gaining control over its own borders, there would be neither any annexation of Crimea nor would there be any war at all.

The Major Archbishop concluded:

Undoubtedly, this text has caused deep disappointment among many faithful of our Church and among conscientious citizens of Ukraine. Today, many contacted me about this and said that they feel betrayed by the Vatican, disappointed by the half-truth nature of this document, and even see it as indirect support by the Apostolic See for Russian aggression against Ukraine. I can certainly understand those feelings.

Nonetheless, I encourage our faithful not to dramatize this Declaration and not to exaggerate its importance for Church life. We have experienced more than one such statement, and will survive this one as well. We need to remember that our unity and full communion with the Holy Father, the Successor of the Apostle Peter, is not the result of political agreement or diplomatic compromise, or the clarity of a Joint Declaration text. This unity and communion with the Peter of today is a matter of our faith … It is for this unity with the Apostolic See that our Church’s twentieth-century Martyrs and Confessors of Faith gave up their lives, sealing it with their blood.

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Show 2 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: mckmailbox5418 - Feb. 16, 2016 10:20 AM ET USA

    As with his actions regarding Cuba, Pope Francis is confusing and dividing people again.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Feb. 15, 2016 1:16 PM ET USA

    "It is for this unity with the Apostolic See that our Church’s twentieth-century Martyrs and Confessors of Faith gave up their lives, sealing it with their blood." Everybody wants to "admire it (the blood)" but very few are eager to shed it...!