The new head of Ukraine’s Greek Catholic Church will have to be a team player
When I heard for the umpteenth time that His Beatitude Lubomyr Husar was deciding to resign from his post as head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (UGCC), I barely stopped myself from responding, also for the umpteenth time, “The time isn’t right.” My worries about the Church concern several aspects, starting with the external situation and the fact that there has been no clear successor lined up to replace Lubomyr Husar. Still, Cardinal Husar himself has made it very clear that he trusts the Synod of Bishops to choose the right person and that external or political circumstances cannot determine the internal life of the Church.
In the 20 years since the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church emerged from the underground, it has gone through a number of phases. The primacy of Patriarch Lubomyr helped the Church to democratize and to rebuild its internal structure. The church has matured as the local Church of its people that cares for more than just religious services. Perhaps this is precisely why His Beatitude Lubomyr is confident of the bishops’ choice: whomever they choose, the Church will continue to move in the same direction.
As to external challenges, here there are fewer reasons for optimism. The political and social situation in Ukraine is already a challenge for any Church as a moral arbiter. So far, the UGCC was an example of the right way to co-exist with a government: when necessary, you work as partners; when necessary, you criticize it, even quite sharply. Immediately, certain speeches of Cardinal Lubomyr come to mind, back in 2002, when he criticized those who were not issuing wages to their employees and in spring 2006, when he took the Verkhovna Rada to task for its activities—then-Speaker Oleksandr Moroz even wrote a letter to Rome complaining about the bishop.
In his last public statement prior to resigning, Cardinal Lubomyr once again criticized the policies of the current Administration towards the country’s confessions, focusing not on individuals but on systems and approaches. The day before that, the UGCC had turned down potential handouts from the government because of the strings that might have been attached.
The political goal of weakening the Church’s influence among voters was one of the forces behind both a lefebvrist split and the activities of the Dognal sect.1 The efforts of the latter merit particular attention, as they are being publicly and actively supported by certain of those who favor the “Russkiy mir” [Russian World] from the Russian Orthodox Church [including] one of Education Minister Tabachnyk’s aides…
The new primate of the UGCC, whoever he may be, will find it harder to withstand pressure from the government, which seems to have finally understood that unless it can control the spiritual lives of its citizens, it will be difficult to maintain total control over the life of the country and its society.
It is no surprise that attempts to reconstruct an empire have been accompanied by manipulations at the spiritual level, by inventing and imposing civilizational, pseudo-religious formulations that are largely heretical and mythologized. The protest actions of Church dignitaries against the new authoritarianism is a major problem for its inventors. The leadership of the Church among other churches in the last decade has always been at the forefront of building civil society in Ukraine, so no matter who in particular is chosen, this will have to be a team player with a strategic development plan and a vision of its place in society. And this bears no relation to what today’s government is building in Ukraine or the ideology of a “Russian World.”
For Ukrainians incarcerated in the occupied territories and in the Russian Federation itself, things could get much worse in 2018. Only serious international pressure is likely to make Moscow release these political prisoners