Letter to the editor — re: Ukrainian Catholic Church

It is a pity that the «Catholic Herald» has again fallen victim to inaccurate information regarding the recent events in the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Great Britain.

The issue of January 28, carried an article entitled: «Slipyj sends unauthorized priests in». The three priests in question were described as having «incurred automatic suspension» and pastoral services were said to be «invalid», because they «completely by-passed Bishop Hornyak, the Apostolic Exarch in Great Britain».

As one of the «unauthorized priests» I feel that a reply is needed outlining some of the facts and problems involved.

When I arrived in London from Rome I visited Bishop Hornyak, and, also in the presence of his two secretaries, we discussed at length the difficult situation of our Church in Britain. He was, therefore, not «completely by-passed». Furthermore, I informed Bishop Hornyak that I, together with two other Ukrainian priests from Rome, had come to Britain on requests of many Ukrainian communities in England for pastoral work over the Ukrainian festive season. I suggested to the Bishop that he accept our services as needed pastoral assistance, in the spirit of Chrismas good-will.

However, when this suggestion was declined, I informed the Bishop that we would, nevertheless, engage in pastoral work by the authority of Cardinal Slipyj, who as Primate of the Ukrainian Catholic Church has patriarchal rights and is regarded by the Ukrainian faithful as Patriarch.

Having said this I want to clarify the reasons for my conviction to act as I did.

1. When our Metropolitan Archbishop was released in 1963 after 18 years in Soviet concentration camps, he was welcomed in Rome by Pope John XXIII, and by the whole assembly of the Second Vatican Council as a heroic confessor of the faith. Soon thereafter he was confirmed in the rank of «Archbishop-Major» by the Sacred Congregation for the Eastern Churches.

2. Vatican II solemnly stated that the rights and privileges of an Archbishop-Major are equal to those of the Eastern Patriarchates (cf. Decree on the Eastern Catholic Churches, No. 10).

3. When Pope Paul VI elevated our Archbishop-Major to the Cardinalate in February 1965, he had this to say to our pilgrims in Rome:

«You, my Ukrainian sons, are scattered throughout the world, but We are well aware how staunchly you preserve your traditions, and the diligence with which you endeavor to keep your beautiful rite, your language, your culture. By this elevation of your Metropolitan in the eyes of the Church in the world We wished to give you an authoritative leader on whom you can rely, and on whom you can trust implicitly… We hoped to give you, Ukrainians, a high spokesman for your unity, to establish a strong center for your religious and national life.»

It is with profound gratitude to the Pope that we accepted his paternal words as indicating that Cardinal Slipyj is to become the real head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, with given authority needed to be leader, spokesman and a center.

4. Being mindful of the solemn undertakings and guarantees granted by the Holy See concerning the autonomous and synodal government of the Ukrainian Catholic Church when she was re-united with Rome (Union of Brest 1596), and having regard to equally solemn pronouncements of Vatican II as to the rights and obligation to return and to reestablish the ancient traditions of Eastern Christianity, Cardinal Slipyj as Archbishop-Major of a particular Church, began to act in this capacity. He bound the Ukrainian Hierarchy, clergy and faithful to the Conciliar Decree on the Eastern Churches; he initiated translations and publications of our liturgical books; he founded the Ukrainian Catholic University of St. Clement, built St. Sophia’s Cathedral and established a Ukrainian parish in Rome, as well as a new Studits monastery in Castelgandolfo. He also convoked 7 Archiepiscopal synods of the Ukrainian Hierarchy. In addition he made 4 pastoral visitations of our eparchies, exarchates and parishes throughout the free world, during which he was honored and acclaimed by the Ukrainians as their Patriarch.

5. After the consecration of St. Sophia by the Pope in 1969, the Ukrainian Hierarchy of 18 bishops met for the fourth synod in Rome. They unanimously decided to introduce into the Ukrainian Catholic Church the traditional patriarchal structure, asking the Holy Father for approval and recognition.

6. As the result of the «Ost-Politik» and the ecumenical ventures with the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow, the Vatican initiated a negative response to the above efforts of our Hierarchy, declaring as invalid the Archiepiscopal synods, refusing the patriarchal petitions, limiting the jurisdiction of our Archbishop-Major to his «Home-Metropolia» only, and advising our bishops not to consider themselves under his jurisdictional authority.

7. In spite of these prohibitions, refusals and dividing intimations, our bishops appealed in their pastoral letter of July 1974 to our faithful to assemble in Rome for the Holy Year pilgrimage in order to unite ourselves around our Patriarch» and jointly work for the spiritual good of our Church and nation. With wholehearted response Ukrainians came in thousands for that pilgrimage and manifestly «united themselves around-their Patriarch». Unfortunately, some bishops, being under pressure, hesitated and began to follow the line indicated by the Vatican. Among them was Bishop Hornyak who later initiated his open opposition to the work and efforts of Cardinal Slipyj on the ground of «defending canon law».

8. Before dealing with the consequences of Bishop Hornyak’s rigid legalistic attitudes, it would be worthwhile to mention that an Italian Jesuit priest, Fr. Ulisse A. Floridi, in his recent documentary: «Detente versus dissent», quoted the following statement made by German Jesuit, Fr. Wilhelm De Vries who, as professor of Ecclesiastical History at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, has written several outstanding books on Eastern Christianity. Says Fr. De Vries:

«The fact must be stressed that patriarchates grew from below and were not founded by any decree from above, for example, by the decree of an ecumenical council or of a pope. The origin of the patriarchates is to be sought in prescriptive right or custom simply ratified by the councils and recognized by the popes… It is very important for Ukrainians to recognize that custom creates the right. Ukrainians must create a custom and the custom will create their right», (cf. Italian edition, p. 314).

9. And so the Ukrainians began to create that custom a patriarchal tradition. Among many other expressions they began to mention cur Archbishop-Major as Patriarch in their liturgical functions, they began to sing in their churches an additional hymn, invoking divine blessing on our Patriarch, our Church and nation, and they organized special collections for the patriarchal purposes. This was all forbidden by Bishop Hornyak, while other bishops took a more understanding and a pastoral stand. Naturally, the Ukrainians in Britain began to question Bishop Hornyak’s negative attitudes.

10. The tense situation in Britain worsened when some our priests, followed the Bishop’s line, began a campaign of abuses, provoking frustrated people to demonstrate. The British Catholic and secular press began to receive from Bishop Hornyak’s office misleading statements with unfounded insinuations against Cardinal Slipyj and our patriarchal organizations, accusing the Cardinal of his disloyalty to the Pope, and even of his plans to establish a «national» or «patriarchal» Ukrainian Church, under his sole leadership.

11. To this campaign the Cardinal’s office in Rome responded with the declaration of August 1976, in which the following was stated: «All efforts, sermons, appeals and pastoral letters of His Beatitude have absolutely nothing in common with the fantastic conjectures that he wished to create some sort of an independent, national Church… We are and we remain a Ukrainian Catholic Particular Church in Union with the Universal Church, the Pope of Rome. A very harmful and false assertion has been made, namely that realization of a patriarchate will lead us into schism. This is a gross insult and injustice to His Beatitude and to all those who for the past three centuries have striven for its attainment. To reproach His Beatitude with intention of schism is to negate and destroy the work of all his life, his incredible sufferings and his long and cruel imprisonment, precisely for his loyalty to the See of Peter…There never has been any question concerning Christ’s teaching on the Primacy of Peter in the Ukrainian Church…»

12. Such and other similar explanations and assurances found little response among the opponents of our patriarchal tradition. However, to our consolation, the work and vision of Cardinal Slipyj is being better understood and duly appreciated by many of our foreign friends. For example:

In the Polish monthly magazine «Kultura» (Culture) of Paris, its Roman correspondent wrote in December 1975:

«We support the efforts of our Ukrainian brethren for a formal recognition by the Holy See of a patriarchal status for their Church of the Eastern Catholic Rite… In this matter the decisive factors should be moral and pastoral… A patriarchate is due to the Ukrainian Catholics who have sacrificed so many victims, including a martyr’s death for thousands of their confessors for their fidelity to union with the Apostolic See… We are convinced that the day will come in which procrastination, based on mistaken political accounts, will retreat in favor of justice…»

And when, last December, Cardinal Slipyj was observing the 60th anniversary of his priestly ordination, the Vice-Dean of the College of Cardinals Cardinal Seper, in his greeting, said:

«The martyrdom of the Ukrainian Catholic Church is so nobly represented by Cardinal Slipyj whom we not only honor, but in his person we recognize the sufferings of the whole Church and nation. Being a symbol of his persecuted Church he is rightly in regard of the whole Christian world: and in Rome he is the most popular among the Cardinals… This Church and her confessors are being persecuted for the loyalty to the Roman Apostolic See… and we have profound respect to the whole Ukrainian nation…»

13. Bishop Hornyak was also invited to these anniversary celebrations in Rome, yet he did not come. One might say that a blessed opportunity was lost for him to join in talks with other bishops which might have led, through an exchange of views, to a desired reconciliation within our Church.

On that occasion the other Bishops held, over three days, their important conversations which resulted in the putting forward various petitions which Cardinal Slipyj, on behalf of eighteen Ukrainian bishops, presented to the Pope during an audience granted to them.

14. As a result of policy of Bishop Hornyak a vast majority of Ukrainian Catholic in Britain have lost confidence and respect for their spiritual leaders. When some of our churches were closed down, without a reasonable explanation, when our London Cathedral began to be «protected» by the Metropolitan Police, and when some of our faithful were forbidden to enter the Cathedral, it is no wonder that defection from services in many Ukrainian churches throughout the land was manifested.

15. And when the Christian festivities of Easter, Christmas and Epiphany came, our people in Britain, being deeply religious and profoundly attached to their traditional liturgical rites, turned, and their spiritual distress, for pastoral help from Cardinal Slipyj. Could he refuse their requests, knowing that in the circumstances many of them might be deprived of these services and annual sacraments? So three Ukrainian Catholic priests arrived from Rome to look after the spiritual needs of the people who wanted them.

Now, Bishop Hornyak has informed the British press that all these needed pastoral services were «invalid». Pastorally, in order to reassure the faithful, mention should, however, be made that in situations of this kind the questioned validity of the sacraments received, by the people in good faith, is supplied by Christ, Our Lord.

As to the specific charge of having been, with my two fellow-priests, suspended from priestly functions, I wish to repeat that in my pastoral work in Britain I was acting in the light of my conscience and according to the principle that «the salvation of souls is a supreme law. Also I am convinced that in these post-conciliar times union with Rome is not servitude, but brotherhood, and that the government in Church should not be by constraint but willingly, not by lording it over one’s charges, but by becoming from the heart an example to them.

And finally, let me mention that on Sunday, October 10, 1976, over five thousand Ukrainian faithful from all over Britain demonstrated in front of the Apostolic Delegation in London, requesting that their grievances and petitions be forwarded to the Pope.

One hopes and prays that an urgent examination of the real causes and consequences of this prolonged and painful dispute will be made by the Roman authorities in order to produce an happy solution for the benefit of all concerned, so that a better unified Catholic Church can more fully engage itself in ecumenical endeavors.

Fr. Mykola Matyczak