In Ukraine, A "Major" Exit
Several years back now, walking away from a meeting with Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, a reporter asked an aide to the head of the 4.5 million-member Ukrainian Greek-Catholic church if the de facto patriarch had a retirement age like his Western counterparts.
"No," the cleric replied. "He's our father -- he serves for life."
A homespun, grandfatherly, particularly candid figure elected in early 2001 to succeed Cardinal Myroslav Lubachivsky -- the hierarch of liberation who returned the church's base to its native soil after decades of Roman exile -- the now 77 year-old major archbishop (above) has experienced years of difficult health, most prominently a failing eyesight that's forced him to perform the church's intricate rites from memory (a task he's pulled off so impeccably you'd never know the difference).
Now, though, having seen Ukraine's largest Catholic body through a revolution, hosted a papal visit, restored the patriarchal seat to the cradle of Russian Christianity at Kiev, and guided both the challenges of rebuilding at home alongside bolstering the life of an extensive worldwide diaspora, a local report says that, almost exactly a decade since he took the reins of the global church's largest Eastern fold, Husar's resignation will be accepted by the Holy See tomorrow:
“The pope accepted the resignation which the most blessed has requested for a long time because of his health,” a source within the Ukrainian Catholic Church told the Kyiv Post.Beyond the above report, the monastic hierarch has called a press conference for tomorrow afternoon to address "current events and changes in the life of the UGCC."
The source requested anonymity since an official announcement about the resignation is expected on Feb.10.
The 77-year-old cardinal has headed Ukrainian Catholics since 2001. Even though the title of the primate is for life, Husar has asked the pope to accept his resignation for several years because of his failing health.
A naturalized US citizen who lived in Connecticut for several years of the church's exile, Husar was the lone head of a sui iuris Eastern church to participate in the Conclave of 2005.
According to the norms of the Code of Canons for the Eastern churches, the resignation would trigger a meeting of the Synod of the Ukrainian church -- comprising its global body of bishops -- to elect a new major archbishop, which must begin within a month.
The post dating to the years following the 1596 Union of Brest -- when Orthodox leaders in current-day Ukraine and Slovakia entered full communion with Rome -- a chief hierarch of the UGCC hasn't left office in life since 1882. It wasn't until 1963, however, that the Holy See accorded full recognition of the primatial standing of the seat currently held by Husar when the Vatican elevated the Ukrainian church's mother-eparchy to a "major archbishopric," the first post to receive the quasi-patriarchal distinction (one since extended to the lead jurisdictions of three other Eastern churches).
While the resignations of Eastern chiefs are generally rare (and, like the Pope in the West, barely referenced in the canon law governing the sui iuris folds), speculation over recent weeks has indicated that the leader of the second-largest Oriental branch in communion with Rome -- 90 year-old Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir, patriarch of the Beirut-based Maronite church since 1986 -- was likewise moving to retire.
Just in the last 24 hours, reports from Lebanon have relayed that, even with Sfeir's resignation still to be formally accepted by Rome, the Synod for his successor's election has already been set for 8 March.