Kiev’s culture minister has sent an official letter threatening the Byzantine (Greek) Catholic Church in Ukraine with revoking its status as an official religion if its priests persist in taking part in the demonstrations being held in the maidan, the square demonstrators have occupied in support of Ukraine gaining EU membership. This is the first time such a threat has been made
against the Greek Catholic Church, since Ukraine regained its independence from the communist USSR.
The Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church returned to full communion with the Catholic Church following the Union of Brest in 1596 that brought millions of Ukrainians and Belarus out of schism dating back to 1056 AD.
The Church has suffered a great deal as a result of its filial loyalty to Rome. After the World War II, dictator Josef Stalin decreed its elimination and bishops, priests and faithful faced persecution and martyrdom under the communist regime. Millions were starved, imprisoned, sent to work prisons in Siberia, were “liquidated” as enemies of the state and party, or somehow successfully emigrated to places like the US, Canada, South America and elsewhere.
The deputy Minister of Culture, Timofy Kokhan, signed and sent the letter on 3 January. Among other things, the letter says “there are frequent reports in the Ukrainian media about the religious activities of representatives of the Greek Catholic Church in Kiev’s Independence Square [ESH note: known as the maidan], in the month of December last year and at the start of 2014. These activities are a violation of Ukrainian law on the freedom of conscience and religious gatherings … Failure to observe the principles set out in article 16 of Ukrainian law, regarding the freedom of conscience and religious gatherings, may result in the magistrature ordering the termination of the afore mentioned religious activities.” The letter was published on the Ukrainska Pravda website, the communist party’s chief communication organ.
The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has issued a statement following a threat from the Ukrainian government to deprive the Church of legal status.
The threat appears to be an attempt to pressure the Church after it offered pastoral support to Ukrainians taking part in protests against the government in December.
The head of the Ukrainian Byzantine Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, said in the statement that the Church is not directly involved in the political process but that it cannot stand aside when the faithful ask for spiritual care. His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk (born 5 May 1970, Ukrainian Cyrillic spelling: Святосла́в Шевчу́к) is the Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Byzantine Greek Catholic Church since 25 March 2011.
Pope Francis has expressed his support for the Ukrainian people. In a letter dated 23 December, Vatican Secretary of State, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, assured the “beloved Ukrainian people” of the Holy Father’s “prayers for peace and harmony.”
Here is Archbishop Shevchuk’s statement which was published in English.
ESH pledges his solidarity with his Slavic Eastern Rite Catholic brethren in Ukraine, along with prayers and acts of reparation for this outrage by the increasingly totalitarian government in Ukraine.