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Ukrainian Greek-Catholics in Russia restricted

Vatican Plays Uniate Card

Fate of Ukrainian Greek Catholics in Russia in limbo

Jul. 5, 2005 (Russia Religion News), Nadezhda Kevorkova, Gazeta, 5 July 2005, tr. P.D. Steeves

© 2005

The Vatican renounced a centuries-old attempt to establish in Russia a Russian Catholic church of the Byzantine (Orthodox) rite. The Moscow patriarchate was informed of this by the representative of the Vatican in the capital of Russia, Archbishop Antonio Mennini. At the same time 1,500,000 Ukrainian Uniates who are citizens of the Russian federation are being deprived of elemental rights of confession of their faith.

The removal of one of the substantial impediments for reconciliation of the Vatican and Moscow: the Vatican has refused to support Russian Uniates (Orthodox believers who recognize the pramacy of the Roman pope). It is they who during the past fifteen years the Moscow patriarchate has considered the Vatican's main instrument in converting Orthodox persons to "latinism."

The Uniate churches were created by the Vatican on territories of all Orthodox churches. In Russia such a structure also existed from 1917 to 1930, and it was resurrected in 1990. The Russian Uniates differ in no way from Orthodox believers except that in the liturgy they commemorate the Roman pope as head of the church.

Last week the official site of the Moscow patriarchate made public excerpts of a letter from the representative of the Holy See to the Russian federation, Archbishop Antonio Mennini. It said that the creation of the exarchate of the Russian Catholic church of Byzantine rite did not have "juridical basis" on the part of the Vatican, and that activists operating in Russia in the name of the exarchate would have "several measures of canonical procedure" applied to them. [See "Disputes between Uniates and Catholics in Russia"]

Menini's letter reenforced June agreements reached at the time of the visit to Moscow by  the chief papal negotiator, Cardinal Walter Kasper. Cardinal Kasper assured the Moscow patriarchate back then that "the Holy See opposes decisively the creation of parallel hierarchical Greek Catholic structures in Russia." At the same time the cardinal indicated that "there are Greek Catholics in Russia, but bishops of the Latin rite should oversee their pastoral care." [See "High Vatican official in Moscow for talks"]

Whereas "Russian Uniates," who have become the topic of serious ecclesiastical correspondence, constitute barely a couple of hundred persons and there are no more than 300,000 Catholics in Russia, the Greek Catholics that have been assigned by the cardinal to "Latin care" constitute, by various estimates, from 500,000 to 1,500,000. These are citizens of Russia, living mainly in Siberia, the North, and the Far East, working in the petroleum industry. Ethnically they are western Ukrainians, descendants of exiles of the tsarist and soviet periods. "They are strong, invigorated, sober, with large families and many children, excellent workers, firm in their western Uniate faith, and dependent on no one. Hitherto they have been able to worship only in their own homes, and priests attend them on great feast days and secretly," Sergei Filatov told Gazeta; he is the director of the "Encyclopedia of Religious Life of Russia" project.

The pastoral care for this enormous, isolated flock has been worked out by Catholic Bishop Joseph Werth. At his administrative center located in Novosibirsk, Gazeta was told that they still have managed to register only three Ukrainian Greek Catholic parishes throughout all of western Siberia, where the flock numbers 400,000 persons (in all of RF five Uniate parishes have been registered). In Surgut, Nizhnevartovsk, Khanty-Mansiisk, Karalyma, and Kopeisk the authorities have refused them registration under any guise. According to workers in the headquarters, it is very difficult to invite priests from Ukraine to Siberia; so far they have managed to bring only two.

"The rights of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic church should be protected by the full weight of Russian legislation," Maksim Shevchenko, driector of the Center for the Strategic Study of Religion and Politics in the Modern World, told Gazeta. "Whereas Russian Uniates are the pure result of proselytism on the part of Rome, Ukrainian Greek Catholics are the representatives of a legal church that united millions of believers in western Ukraine."

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Last modified on Thursday December 22, 2005 at 10:08 PM EST