Ukrainian Catholics upset over ordination instructions

«The Long Island Catholic», Nov. 15, 1984.

Pittsburgh (RNS) — Some Ukrainian Catholics in North America are in an uproar over what are believed to be secret instructions from the Holy See that call into question the Liturgy of the ordination of some of their Church’s married priests.

According to several reports, the document also prohibits the use of the title ‘patriarch’ for the head of the Ukrainian Church.

The Vatican’s head of the Congregation for Eastern Churches allegedly issued a statement Sept. 17 that says the Ukrainian Catholic Church’s married clergy ordained since 1963 are to be suspended and that the leader of the church cannot be called ”patriarch.”

It also states, according to sources, that many Ukrainian Catholic Church parishe are infiltrated with Ukrainian ”pseudopatriotism” and need to become more religious in their activities.

Three Ukrainian bishops in the United States queried about the letter said they did not receive it nor have they seen a copy. But in a brief telephone interview from Rome Nov. 7 with this reporter, the secretary of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, Archbishop Myroslaw Marusyn, discussed the issues in the letter without specifically confirming its existence.

The letter was sent two weeks after the death In Rome of Cardinal Josyf Slipyj, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. He took the title of patriarch, though it was never officially conferred by the Holy See. He also ordained more than 40 married men as priests. Slipyj was allowed to leave Ukraine for Rome in 1963. At that time he had spent 18 years in Soviet labor camps because he refused to give up his allegiance to the pope. The demand to break ties with the Holy See was made by Soviet leader Josef Stalin of all the Ukrainian clergy after World War II. Most of the Ukrainian Catholic hierarchy perished in the labor camps.

The Rev. Wasyl Dzydzora, a married priest who retired as pastor of St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church in Pittsburgh two years ago, described the news as ”bitter.” He is the only married priest here.

«It’s a stupidity of Rome. They allowed married priests before. Why not now?» He has not seen the letter.

Thomas A. Bird, an expert who has studied the situation for some 20 years, said Vatican recognition of a patriarchate for the church would signify Rome’s acceptance of Ukrainian Catholics as a separate entity. Bird is a professor at Queen’s College, New York City.

“If the letter was marked ‘top secret’ then the bishops would not admit receiving it. They have done that before,” said Michael Tymiak, president of the Ukrainian Patriarchal Society of Pittsburgh. It is one of dozens of such societies around the world lobbying for a patriarchate.

The controversial statement was signed by Cardinal Wladislaw Rubin and Archbishop Marusyn. Rubin is the head and Marusyn is the secretary of the Congregation which oversees all of the Eastern Catholic Churches from Rome.

Told by telephone yesterday that the Nov. 5 issues of Newsweek magazine had discussed the ”secret instructions” and asked specifically if he had written the letter, Archbishop Marusyn said: “No one has a right to publish letters sent from the Vatican. ”

He said that the married men who were ordained as priests since 1963 are considered in a state of automatic suspension and that their cases would be reviewed individually. «We are trying to help them. We only want the good,» he said.

He also confirmed that the current head of the church, Major Archbishop Myroslav Lubachivsky, must not be referred to as patriarch.

«If you were here in Rome I could tell you more. But I cannot on the telephone,» Marusyn said and hung up.

Although Archbishop Marusyn would not clarify the suspension issue, he apparently was not talking about all married men ordained since 1963, but the four priests currently with the Diocese of Toronto. The three were ordained by Auxiliary Bishop Michael Rusnak in the mid-1970s and the fourth was ordained in 1970 by Toronto Bishop Isidore Borecky.

All the others were ordained by Archbishop Slipyj in Rome as priests of Western Ukraine, though they never served there. In that way, Archbishop Slipyj got around the ban on married priests in the West.

Bishop Basil Losten of Stamford, Conn., scoffed at the idea that his Church’s married clergy could be suspended. ”We have canon law.”

As for the pseudo patriotism charge, Bishop Losten said it is unlikely that Pope John Paul II would chastise anyone for patriotism. «He is a super patriot when it comes to being a Pole.»

The Ukrainian Catholic Church follows the Byzantine Rite, retaining the liturgies of Eastern Orthodoxy, but accepts papal authority. When it re-united with Rome in 1596 it worked out a written agreement that it could have a married clergy.

But when married Ukrainian priests began arriving in the United States and Canada at the turn of the century, opposition developed from Latin Rite bishops.

Bird said Irish bishops in the United States started writing to the Vatican to complain. They said married priests were ”causing chaos among our people.”

In 1929 the Vatican decreed that no more married men could be ordained as priests in North America but the practice was not stopped in Ukraine. So many Ukrainian churches and Ukrainian Catholics switched to the Orthodox Church at the time that the Orthodox created two new dioceses in the United States, Mr. Bird said.

It is ironic, Mr. Bird added, that Episcopal priests with families are being ordained into the Catholic Church today, as are married Lutheran ministers in Germany, but married Ukrainian priests are in jeopardy.

With church members scattered around the world there have been many petitions from Ukrainian Catholics asking the Vatican to create a patriarchate, such as the Armenians and the Melchites have. This would give the church more unity, self-government and help it to preserve its traditions, they believe.

Critics of the patriarchal movement say the title would just be symbolic.

There is also the problem of a partriarchal seat.

Since the Soviet government will not permit a patriarch to reside in Ukraine, he wold be a patriarch in exile.

This is something many Ukrainians believe the Vatican doesn’t want to push. “It wants dialogue with the Soviets and closer relations with the Russian Orthodox Church. We are a stumbling block, ” said a young married priest who did not want his name used.

The Vatican has alrady ”sabotaged” the Ukrainian Church, the priest said, by appointing as its leader Major Archbishop Myroslav Lubachivsky.

The priest described Archbishop Lubachivsky as a quiet, scholarly man who will do exactly what the Vatican wants. He is very different from the feisty Archbishop Slipyj, the priest said.

Archbishop Slipyj was not consulted by the Holy See when Archbishop Lubachivsky was appointed to be his successor, a process that another Pittsburgh priest said «completely short-circuited the Ukrainian bishops’ right to choose their leader.»

Bishop Borecky called the story circulated by Newsweek ”unbelievable” and a ”great injustice to the Holy Father.” But according to a priest with very good sources in Toronto, it was Bishop Borecky who was the recipient of the letter.

As the rumors continue circulating the Vatican will need to come out with a clarification. Said an editor of a Ukrainian newspaper in New Jersey: ”If Ukrainian Catholics believe the letter is official the Vatican will have a revolution on its hands. ”