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Ukrainian Archbishop and Catholic-Orthodox Relations

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Cardinal Lubomyr Husar of Kiev-Halych, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, waves as he leaves a news conference in Kiev on 10 February. Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation of Cardinal Husar, on 10 February, about two weeks before his 78th birthday. The cardinal, who as major archbishop of the Eastern Catholic Church could have served for life, is almost blind and asked to retire. (Photo: CNS/Konstantin Chernichkin, Reuters) 

11 Feb 2011 – by Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The election of a new archbishop for a church with 6.5 million Catholics could hold the key to determining if or when Pope Benedict XVI may meet Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.

Vatican officials are watching the Ukrainian Catholic Church’s leadership with keen interest, but without the degree of anxiety for its ecumenical implications that would have been present even five years ago.

Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation of Cardinal Lubomyr Husar of Kiev-Halych, head of the Ukrainian church, Feb. 10, about two weeks before his 78th birthday. The cardinal, who as major archbishop of the Eastern Catholic church could have served for life, is almost blind and asked to retire.

The 45 Ukrainian Catholic bishops from Ukraine and other countries of Europe, North and South America and Australia must meet within two months to elect a successor; Pope Benedict must assent to the election before the new major archbishop can be installed.

The Ukrainian Catholic Church is the largest of the Eastern churches in full communion with Rome, and it is pivotal in ecumenical relations.

When Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian Catholic Church was forcibly united with the Russian Orthodox Church and became illegal. During 45 years under communist rule, the push for Ukrainian independence and the demand for religious freedom for Ukrainian Catholics often went in hand in hand. The growth of Ukrainian democracy after independence in 1991 occurred at the same time as the church was being rebuilt.

However, the return of religious freedom meant that many Christians who were worshipping as Orthodox decided to return to their Ukrainian Catholic roots. Church properties that had been confiscated by the government or given by the government to the Orthodox were re-claimed by Ukrainian Catholics in situations that occasionally included violence between Catholics and Orthodox.

Basically since 1991 the Russian Orthodox, previously a prime force in search for Catholic-Orthodox unity, have said they could not agree to a meeting between the Russian Orthodox patriarch and the pope until Catholic-Orthodox tensions in Ukraine are resolved.

A Vatican official knowledgeable about the ecumenical situation in Ukraine told Catholic News Service Feb. 10 that Catholic-Orthodox relations are “rather calm right now, but every once in a while the tensions return.”

The real concern is about tensions between different Orthodox churches in Ukraine and how that is being influenced by the year-old government of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a member of the Orthodox Church in communion with the Russian Orthodox’s Moscow patriarchate and a politician who has promised to strengthen political and economic ties with Russia.

His support for the Orthodox in communion with Moscow appears to have fueled long-standing tensions between Orthodox loyal to Moscow and those who support an independent Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

“Problems within the Orthodox Church have visibly worsened with the political change” of Yanukovych’s election and may prove more dangerous than Catholic-Orthodox tensions, the Vatican official said. “It hurts more when brothers fight than when cousins do,” he said.





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