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Ukrainian Archbishop and Catholic-Orthodox Relations

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) 

In the past couple of years, he said, ecumenically “there have been no important steps forward, but no big steps backward either.”

Observers credit Cardinal Husar’s leadership with being a key reason Catholic-Orthodox tensions have not worsened, and they also praise his efforts to champion the rights and dignity of the Eastern Catholic churches in an overwhelmingly Latin-rite church.

Father Borys Gudziak, rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, said Yanukovych’s policies have plunged Ukraine into a “political crisis” and many people were shocked that Cardinal Husar, “the most respected moral authority in the country,” would resign at such a time.

“From an ecclesial point of view, it seems the government is moving toward a state-church model like in Russia,” Father Gudziak said. Yanukovych has met repeatedly with the leaders of the Orthodox in union with Moscow, and the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church has “expressed concern over the government-assisted transfer of three parishes from its jurisdiction” to the jurisdiction of the church united with Moscow, he said. From his point of view, he said, the Ukrainian Catholic Church needs to elect a successor to Cardinal Husar who can articulate compelling reasons for faith, keep Ukrainian Catholics united and promote Christian unity, “a topic to which Cardinal Husar has devoted some of his most eloquent statements and his best energy.”

“Thanks to Cardinal Husar’s work, there is good harmony in the synod and among religious orders, and the number of priests has returned to its pre-World War II total — 2,500 priests just in Ukraine,” he said.

Father Gudziak said that no matter who the synod chooses to lead the church, the leader will face the challenge of getting all Ukrainian Catholics to take personal responsibility for the church and its mission rather than giving in to “a syndrome of ‘waiting for Moses,’ of shirking responsibility and thinking, ‘Let the big guy do it.’”

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