The Greek Catholics in Ukraine From the Frying Pan into the Fire

March 10, 2019

The Primate of the Greek Catholic Church of Ukraine visited the pope emeritus on February 26, 2019. Benedict XVI assured him of his “daily prayers for peace in Ukraine,” at a time when the tension between Moscow and Kiev is weighing heavily upon the Ukrainian Church.

Sviatoslav Shevchuk was elected Patriarch of Kiev and Galicia in 2011. As such, he is the leader of the Greek Catholic Church which was reunited with Rome by the Union of Brest in 1596. Benedict XVI, who will celebrate his 92nd birthday on April 16, received him in the Mater Ecclesiae house at the Vatican. “He is very lucid and keeps up to date on everything,” declared Patriarch Schevchuk after their meeting.

“I pray every day for Ukraine,” for the war in this country is “a great tragedy,” the pope emeritus told the Ukrainian prelate.

He offered Joseph Ratzinger his latest interview-book with Paolo Asolan, a professor at the Lateran, Dimmi la verità (Tell Me the Truth).

This visit came at an important moment in the history of the Ukrainian Church. Ever since December 15, 2018, Ukraine has had an autocephalous Orthodox Church independent of the Church of Moscow and recognized by the Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople.

The leaders of the Ukrainian and Muscovite obediences are fighting tooth and nail to win over—or hold on to, as the case may be—as many faithful as possible, since each parish, at least in theory, is free to choose its patriarchate. 

Caught in this vice, things are getting harder for the Greek Catholic Church that does not wish to pay for this power struggle between Kiev and Moscow.

Moreover, Roman support for the Ukrainian Church is weak. Pope Francis insisted in February 2016 and in May 2018 that “the Churches that are united in Rome must be respected, but Uniatism as a path of unity is not valid today.” 

Remarks like that are felt as dagger blows in the back of the Ukrainian Church which, with her five million faithful, remains the largest of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches.