Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Priority 1: The Patriarchate

Fresh off his upset win to head global Catholicism's second-largest branch, the new chief of the Ukrainian church has hit the ground running... even if, at 40, time's very much on his side.

On leaving this morning for his first meetings in Rome as leader of the dominant Eastern church in communion with the Holy See, Major-Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev revealed his intent to move on the most delicate aspect of his fold's relations with the Vatican right out of the box, announcing that he'll push for Pope Benedict's formal designation of the UGCC as a patriarchate.

"We're really going to tell of how our church is developing and that each developing church [becomes] a patriarchate," the hierarch -- accompanied by his four metropolitans -- said to the local press.

"A patriarchate is a period in the completion of the development of a church."

Shevchuk added his thought that the last two decades since the much-persecuted UGCC emerged from its clandestine existence under Communist rule had comprised a sufficient span of development.

As history goes, it's been a half-century since Rome was first petitioned to grant the patriarchal title to the church's then-head, Cardinal Josef Slipyj. Instead, Pope Paul VI responded by devising the rank of "major-archbishop," which grants all the prerogatives of an Eastern patriarch to the head of a self-governing church in full communion, just without the title itself. Four other Eastern mother-sees have since been designated major-archbishoprics, two of them in India.

While, in practice, the UGCC clergy and faithful predominantly refer to their leader as "patriarch" -- and, even when the post's holder is a cardinal, employ the Eastern rank's traditional style of "His Beatitude" -- Rome's formal concession on the status has been stalled due to one or another external factor over the decades since 1963. Most recently, the calls have been turned aside in the years following Ukrainian independence so as not to exacerbate tensions with the country's considerable Orthodox churches, whose leaderships have often clashed with the UGCC over the former's accusations of Catholic "proselytism" on what the Orthodox claim is their "canonical territory."

In a 2006 interview, the now-retired major-archbishop, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, said that, shortly after his election, B16 "encouraged" the Ukrainians "to keep working on" the question of the patriarchate. At the time, Husar had just accomplished the return of the church's home-base to the capital, "where we had been driven from 200 years before," and the temporary Greek-Catholic chapel built to accommodate the move had already been torched.

In a significant sign of improving ties, however, the patriarchs of two of Ukraine's three Orthodox communities (including the local branch tied to Moscow) and a leading hierarch of the other were on hand for Sunday's enthronement of Shevchuk in the church's new seat, Kiev's still-rising Cathedral of the Resurrection. The delegations' presence was said to be unprecedented.

Where the Rome talks will go is anyone's guess... still, what's been said before bears repeating -- by choosing their youngest member to enjoy a decades-long reign, the Ukrainian Synod made its man a force to be reckoned with.

Not to mention that, among seven other languages, he's fluent in Italian... and German, too.

PHOTO: Getty