December 26, 2014

A future after 50? The first half-century of the Ukrainian Catholic patriarchal movement



Does a movement dedicated to recreating a Church institution that arose in the middle ages have a future in the 21st century? And if by some miracle it does, how can it understand that institution, present it to the general public and win support in today’s world?

Those are the challenges that face the Ukrainian patriarchal movement after 50 years. For if the first impetus for this movement was the arrival of the widely revered Soviet captive, Metropolitan Josyf Slipyj, in Italy in 1963, and his appearance at the Second Vatican Council later that year, the beginnings of the patriarchal movement in North America can be traced to 1964. Fifty years later, the movement’s achievements are ambiguous. On the one hand, neither the pope of Rome nor a council of the Catholic bishops has recognized the Ukrainian Catholic Church as one of the patriarchal Eastern Catholic Churches. On the other hand, Ukrainian Catholic bishops, clergy and laity generally recognize the major archbishop who heads their church as a patriarch.

This article will seek to trace the path of the movement from the initial call for a patriarchate to the current re-evaluation of this concept. We will  not attempt to explain the patriarchate in theological terms (a vast subject that would require a separate article by a specialist), but simply to outline its main features.

The Ukrainian patriarchal movement is dedicated to the establishment, recognition and development of a patriarchal structure for the Ukrainian Catholic Church. As in other Eastern Churches (both Catholic and Orthodox), such a structure would involve not only recognition of the head of the particular Church as patriarch, but also a conciliar form of governance and considerable internal autonomy (Code of Canons title IV, Canons 55-150). Paradoxically, while this movement can be seen as a lay challenge to episcopal and curial power, it is dedicated to reviving tradition and strengthening Church authority.

There is no tradition of a patriarchate in the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. The idea was raised, however, in the 16th and especially in the 17th century when, in the wake of the 1596 Union of Brest, both Uniates and Orthodox attempted a reconciliation through the creation of a joint patriarchate. A Greek-Catholic patriarchate was proposed in Austrian Ukraine in the 1840s.

As a form of lay activism, the Ukrainian Catholic patriarchal movement traces its roots to the Ruthenian Orthodox church brotherhoods active in Poland-Lithuania during the 16th and 17th centuries. These “bratstva” challenged their bishops, appealing to the patriarch of Constantinople, and agitated for Church reform. They also resisted the union with Rome. Despite its anti-union stance, the early modern church brotherhood served as a model for the patriarchal movement.

With the liquidation of the union in Russia after the Polish partitions in the late 18th century, Ruthenian Uniates remained only in Austria, which in 1806-1807 had revived the Metropolitanate of Halych as a successor to that of Kyiv. This “Greek-Catholic” Church became associated with the 19th century Ruthenian revival, which took on a Ukrainian identity at the turn of the 20th century and persisted into the interwar period, when Galicia was under the Second Polish Republic. During this time a number of Catholic organizations such as the student group Obnova and Catholic Action were formed. The example of Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky (1865-1944), a supporter of the Byzantine orientation in the Greek-Catholic Church and the de facto leader of the Ukrainian national movement, contributed to the formation of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic lay mentality.

Meanwhile, large numbers of Greek-Catholics from Austrian Galicia and Hungarian Transcarpathia – and after World War I, from what had become Poland and Czechoslovakia – had emigrated to North America, many settling as farmers in Canada, or miners and industrial workers in the United States. The laity contributed from their meager savings to acquiring property and building churches. In the United States after 1924, Bishop Constantine Bohachevsky’s incorporation of church properties into the eparchy provoked considerable resistance from both clergy and parishioners, some of whom transferred to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Lay concerns about church property persisted, eventually contributing to the founding of the Saint Sophia societies in the 1970s.

Large numbers of Ukrainian Greek-Catholics displaced by Soviet occupation at the end of World War II settled in Western Europe, or went on to emigrate to North and South America and Australia in the early 1950s.2 Meanwhile, in Soviet western Ukraine the 1946 “Synod” of Lviv liquidated their Church, joining its faithful to the state-sponsored and state-controlled Russian Orthodox Church. It was this “third wave” of the Ukrainian diaspora that, committed to preserve in the emigration what was lost or threatened in the homeland, created the patriarchal movement.

Mobilizing the movement

The immediate predecessor to the Ukrainian patriarchal movement was the Ukrainian Christian Movement formed in Brussels, Belgium, on an ecumenical basis in 1955. The patriarchal movement, however, was sparked in February 1963 by the arrival in Rome of Metropolitan Slipyj, who had spent nearly 18 years in prison and internal exile in the wake of the Soviet liquidation of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church.

On October 11, 1963, at the second session of the Second Vatican Council, Archbishop Slipyj called for creation of a Ukrainian Catholic Patriarchate. In this he was supported by all the Ukrainian Catholic bishops present at the Council. His speech was greeted with a standing ovation, but no formal decision followed. Metropolitan Slipyj was appointed major archbishop in December 1963, which gave him legal powers equivalent to those of a patriarch.3

In June 1964 the church historian Nicholas Chubaty published a series of articles in the Ukrainian Catholic newspaper Ameryka setting out the historical bases for creation of a patriarchate. Meanwhile, however, it was reported that the Ukrainian Catholic metropolitan of Philadelphia and two bishops had withdrawn their support for Archbishop Slipyj’s call for a patriarchate. In early August 1964, on Prof. Chubatyi’s advice, an initiative group was formed in New York and set up a National Committee for the Creation of a Patriarchate of Kyiv and Halych. The first task of the group was to organize the collection of signatures on petitions for a patriarchate, which were then sent to Rome.

In September 1964 Metropolitan Ambrose Senyshyn, OSBM, publicly opposed this action. Together with Bishops Jaroslaw Gabro of Chicago and Joseph Schmondiuk of Stamford, Conn., he issued a declaration stating that they had never given anyone permission to collect signatures. On two occasions in September the metropolitan orally condemned the initiative, warning against “Bolshevik agents” pretending to work for the good of the church.

In October, the Church’s press bureau in Rome announced that the Conference of Ukrainian Bishops had decided to continue efforts for the creation of a patriarchate. It was later reported that Bishop Gabro had withdrawn his earlier statement, and that he now supported the collection of petitions by the laity, directing, however, that they should be sent to Rome by way of his episcopal ordinariate in Chicago.

In an interview published in Svoboda on November 20, 1964, Bishop Schmondiuk clarified that he supported the patriarchate, but did not approve of the method and approach of the lay committee. The committee received support, however, from Metropolitan Maxim Hermaniuk of Canada and from Archbishop Ivan Buchko of Western Europe, as well as from Metropolitan Josyf himself. They were joined by Bishop Ivan Prashko of Australia.4

At a meeting of laity in New York on October 4, 1964, it was stressed that the actions of the Committee for the Patriarchate proceeded from the spontaneous desire of Ukrainians and were not inspired by the Church authorities. Indeed, in that year several committees for the defense of the rite and traditions of the Ukrainian Catholic Church arose in Chicago, Cleveland and Toronto. Their aim was to oppose the assimilation and Latinization of their faithful by their own hierarchy, which in turn was allegedly pressured by the Roman Curia and the Latin-rite hierarchies of Canada and the United States. At the same time, these committees joined the general movement for establishment of a Ukrainian Catholic Patriarchate of Kyiv and Halych. This entailed supporting the personal jurisdiction of Cardinal Slipyj, as patriarch, over all members of his Church throughout the world.

Although the movement originated in the U.S. diaspora, it encountered less resistance in Canada. There, a large and relatively influential Ukrainian emigration beginning in the late 19th century had been replenished during the 1920s and 1930s. Retaining its language and customs was easier in the rural prairie environment of the western provinces. At the same time, Church leaders were less inclined to introduce Latinizing innovations like the Gregorian calendar, and more supportive of the patriarchal idea, than in the United States. Hence, the movement in Canada was marked by less strife and hardening of positions.

The patriarchal movement received a decisive impetus on November 21, 1964, when, at the Second Vatican Council, the Decree on the Catholic Churches of the Eastern Rite declared that the patriarchate is a venerable institution, defined the Eastern patriarch (No. 7), specified patriarchal rights and privileges and called for their restoration (No. 9), and  declared that the council “ardently desires that new patriarchates should be erected where there is need, to be established either by an ecumenical council or by the Roman pontiff” (No. 11). In doing so, the council cited earlier precedent, particularly the motu proprio of Pope Pius XII “Cleri Sanctitati” of June 2, 1957.

The decree also declared that the Eastern Churches are equal in dignity to the Western Church (No. 3) and have the right and duty to rule themselves in accord with their own discipline (No. 5). It called on Eastern Catholics to deepen their knowledge of their own church traditions, and to revive and preserve them (No. 6)(The Sixteen Documents, 219-231). Nearly a year later, on November 18, 1965, the council promulgated the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, which naturally provided further support for the patriarchal movement.

In 1965 the Society for a Patriarchal Order of the UCC in the U.S.A. (known from 1979 as the Ukrainian Patriarchal Society) was formed, with headquarters in New York (later Philadelphia and Detroit), adopting a charter on April 23, 1966. Pamphlets, bulletins and books on church topics began to appear without prior episcopal approval. On April 24, 1966, an article in Shliakh (The Way), the official newspaper of the Philadelphia Metropolitanate, condemned the patriarchal movement. While acknowledging that a patriarchate was a splendid idea, the anonymous author warned that Communist agents were using it to fool the laity and attack the hierarchy. Comparing the patriarchal activists to the Viet Cong, he contrasted them with a list of individuals and institutions that had made generous donations for the construction of the new cathedral in Philadelphia.

The patriarchal movement spread from North America to other countries of the diaspora, notably Australia, Belgium, France, Germany and Great Britain. On November 13, 1967, 200 participants from 11 countries took part in a World Conference of Ukrainian Laity in New York. On April 10, 1971, a European Association of Patriarchal Societies was formed at a conference in Louvain. In that same month, the World Patriarchal Society invited Bishop Prashko of Australia to be its spiritual patron, and he accepted.

The movement received new encouragement when in 1968 Cardinal Slipyj5 traveled to North and South America, Australia and New Zealand. In Chicago the parish of Ss. Volodymyr and Olha –  the first “patriarchal” parish – came directly under his authority, bypassing the bishop. Similar parishes followed in Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.

A World Federation for the Erection of the Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Catholic Church was formed in July 1969, only to be dissolved when on December 28-29, 1974, a Ukrainian World Patriarchal Federation (UPSO) was organized in Washington. It included the patriarchal societies of the United States, Australia, Argentina, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany and Great Britain, as well as other organizations. Although full membership statistics are not available, from the available documentation it would appear that with the exception of Great Britain, the movement did not gain nearly as many members in Europe, Latin America or Australia as it did in the United States and Canada.

Patriarch by acclamation

In the meantime, it became apparent that despite Cardinal Slipyj’s repeated requests, Rome would not recognize a patriarchate anytime soon. On July 7, 1971, Pope Paul VI wrote to him that a patriarchate could not be established, at least not at the present time. The main reason was canonical: he did not exercise jurisdiction on his Church’s territory. The major archbishop maintained, however, that establishment by Rome was not necessary, for in the Eastern Church patriarchates arose as a manifestation of a church’s maturity and capacity for autonomous existence.6  In March of 1975, he signed two circular letters as “Patriarch and Cardinal.” Pope Paul VI warned him not to use the patriarchal title, for that would constitute an attempted fait accompli in a canonical matter. On July 10-15, 1975, some 4,000 to 5,000 Ukrainian pilgrims, mostly from North America and Western Europe, converged on  Rome for the observances of the Holy Year. On July 12 at a pontifical liturgy at St. Peter’s celebrated by Cardinal Slipyj and 14 bishops, and attended by some 4,000 faithful, three priests acclaimed him as patriarch, one of them using the full title of Kyiv-Halych and All Rus’. From this point on, both Metropolitan Josyf and his followers treated the Patriarchate as established, and sought only recognition from the Holy See. Although the accession of Pope John Paul II in October 1978 promised a more favorable reception for his efforts, and brought an end to the Ostpolitik of previous pontificates, Metropolitan Josyf died on September 7, 1984, without papal confirmation of the patriarchate.

In the following years, changes in the USSR prompted a resurgence of the Ukrainian “catacomb Church.” During the observances of the Millennium of the Baptism of Rus’ in July 1988, a congress of lay delegates from the diaspora met in Rome. Some of them joined the pilgrims at Częstochowa, Poland, in September of that year, where they were able to meet their counterparts from Ukraine. The legalization of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in 1989-1991, permitting the return of Major Archbishop and Metropolitan Myroslav Ivan Lubachivsky to Ukraine on March 30 (Holy Saturday), 1991, appeared to remove the final canonical obstacle to Vatican recognition of a Ukrainian Catholic patriarchate (Code of Canons canon 146, sec. 1).

Meanwhile, in the diaspora the patriarchal movement was fading as activists grew old and passed away. The membership of the movement appears to have been limited largely to the two generations born in western Ukraine between about 1915 and 1940, coming of age between the 1930s and, in the diaspora, the early 1960s. As the younger generation showed little interest in the patriarchal cause, some members of the movement concluded that its future must lie in Ukraine. Attempts were made to transplant the movement. Thus, in August 1992 a World Congress of Laity took place in Lviv, and diaspora laity participated in the Patriarchal Councils of 1996 and 1998. In 2002 the journal Patriiarkhat was transferred to Lviv, to be edited and published by a young and innovative group connected with the Ukrainian Catholic University.

The election by the Ukrainian bishops of Archimandrite Lubomyr Husar as successor to Cardinal Lubachivsky on January 25, 2001, was a victory for the patriarchal movement, inasmuch as Father Husar had long supported it. On June 23 of that year Pope John Paul II arrived in Kyiv, and on June 27 he beatified 27 martyrs and the founder of the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate in Lviv. It was believed by some that during his visit, the pope would proclaim a Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Patriarchate. However, given the adamant opposition of the Moscow Patriarchate and other Orthodox Churches, and repeated Russian Orthodox threats to break off ecumenical dialogue, there was little surprise when recognition failed to materialize.

On February 10, 2011, Major Archbishop Lubomyr announced his resignation due to old age and infirmity, and on March 23 the 40-year-old Bishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk was elected in his place.

The first decade of the 21st century saw further changes in the patriarchal movement. With the passing of its president, Wasyl Kolodchin, on August 14, 2006, the Ukrainian Patriarchal World Federation practically ceased to exist.  On October 5, 2013, the Ukrainian Patriarchal Society in the U.S.A. adopted new by-laws, which eliminated the elaborate system of membership and local branches in favor of a board of seven directors.

In a sense this streamlined form, while prompted by dwindling membership and activity, pointed to the fact that lay activism was no longer the province of a discrete organization, but of the entire laity. While the Society may concentrate on publishing the journal Patriyarkhat and organizing conferences, thus providing a degree of leadership, the patriarchal movement, as a general revival of the Church, is now a matter for all the faithful.

1 A previous version of this paper was presented at the 88th meeting of the American Catholic Historical Association on January 4, 2008, in Washington, DC.

2 Between 1947 and 1957, some 80,000 Ukrainians emigrated to the United States from Austria and Germany, and another 30,000 to Canada, and 20,000 to Australia and New Zealand. Encyclopedia of Ukraine‚ Vol. 1 (Toronto, 1984) p. 823. Another source states that more than 80,000 emigrated to the United States between 1948 and 1952, mostly from the western part of Ukraine. Only 45 percent of these were “peasants.” The rest were skilled laborers, tradesmen and professionals. Markus, Daria p. 379. Most of them were Greek-Catholics. They joined an emigration that had originated in the 1870s and was almost entirely of rural origin. In 1990, the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the U.S. had some 250,000 members organized in 198 parishes. Id. 384.

3 See the motu proprio “Cleri Sanctitati” of  June 2, 1957, restated in the Decree on the Catholic Churches of the Eastern Rite, No. 10, and in the CCEC Title V, Canon 152, which applies to both patriarchs and their churches. He could not, however, exercise these powers in his own jurisdiction; whether he could do so in exile proved to be a matter of contention.

4 “V.K.” (probably Vasyl Kachmar) states that the three bishops published their declaration in four diaspora newspapers, including Shliakh, on September 8. This may, however, be the date of the declaration rather than of its publication. No issue of Shliakh appeared on September 8, 1964, and the issue of September 6 does not carry the declaration.

5 Metropolitan Archbishop Josyf Slipyj had been named Cardinal in January 1965 and formally joined the College of Cardinals in February, though he had been a cardinal in pectore since 1960.