Ukrainian Greek Catholics: "betrayed" by "half-truths" in Francis and Kirill’s Joint Declaration
by Marta Allevato

The major archbishop of Kiev speaks of Cuba encounter: a meeting of "two parallel worlds". The Joint Declaration "generally positive" for future cooperation. Points which concern Ukraine “controversial”: the Vatican is being exploited by Russian Orthodox diplomacy. Shevchuk reiterates: the Greek-Catholic Church has never supported the war, provoked by "Russian aggression".


Moscow (AsiaNews) - The Ukrainian Greek Catholic church feels "betrayed" by the Vatican after the meeting between Pope Francis and the Patriarch of Moscow Kirill, on February 12 in Cuba.

According to the head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, the major Archbishop of Kiev, Sviatoslav Shevchuk, it was an encounter of "two parallel worlds."

"This was especially evident in the comments that followed; the two sides are on two different wavelengths, and have set different goals," Shevchuk said in an interview published on the news website of the Greek-Catholic Church.

The Moscow Patriarchate also reiterated before the historic meeting that the Greek-Catholic Church is the biggest obstacle to the rapprochement of the Russian-Orthodox and Catholics. "No common prayer, the airport as a neutral and non-ecclesiastical environment. The impression - said Shevchuk - is that there are two parallel worlds; I do not know if these two realities have intersected at all during this meeting, but according to mathematical rules two parallel lines never intersect".

The Archbishop of Kiev said he admired the Pope’s "humility", in so far as he "seeks only one thing: to witness to the Gospel of Christ to humanity today." He then urged people "not to make any rushed judgements, to avoid reading this encounter only at a political level like those who hope to exploit a humble Pope for their human plans”. "If we do not enter into the spiritual reality of the Holy Father and we do not perceive with him the actions of the Holy Spirit, we will remain trapped in the principles of this world and its followers," he added, warning that in this way "this will become a meeting that took place but never happened".

The archbishop was much harsher in his judgment of the Joint Declaration (see photo of signature). While it is admitting that it is a " generally positive text ", which "raises issues that concern both Catholic and Orthodox, and opens new prospects for cooperation", he also stressed that the points relating to Ukraine and in particular to the Greek-Catholic Church "create more questions than answers". The Joint Declaration signed in Cuba suggests that the former Soviet republic is experiencing "civil conflict and not the aggression of a neighboring country". "For a document that was supposed to be non-theological, but essentially socio-political, it is hard to imagine a team weaker than the one drafted in this text," denounced the Archbishop, referring explicitly to the Head of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Patriarchate Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion and Cardinal Koch, of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian unity. The latter, he noted, "is competent regarding the theological issues in relations with the various Churches and Christian communities, but is not an expert in international political issues, especially in sensitive issues such as the Russian aggression in Ukraine." "This has been exploited by the Department for external relations which is, first of all, the diplomatic tool of the Moscow Patriarchate," denounced Shevchuk, who then pointed out that while he is a member of the Pontifical Council for the Unity of Christians, appointed by Pope Benedict, "no one asked me to express my thoughts and, as has happened in the past, talk about us without us, without giving us a voice".

At the same time, paragraph 25 of the Joint Declaration speaks with respect of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic church recognized as a subject of relations between the Catholic Church and Orthodox. "It seems that most have no objection to our right to exist," said the Archbishop of Kiev. "In fact in order to exist and act we are not obliged to ask anyone's permission," he added. "In the past we have been accused of expansion in the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate - he said - and now our rights to take care of our people wherever they need is recognized. I assume that this applies also to the Russian Federation, where today we have the opportunity to freely and legally exist, or on the territory of the annexed Crimea, where we have been 're-registered' according to Russian legislation but in reality almost totally liquidated".

Shevchuk is most critical of the point where the joint declaration invites, "our Churches in Ukraine to work to achieve social harmony, to abstain from taking part in the conflict and not to support further development of the conflict". "Point 26 is the most controversial," he states. "One gets the impression that the Patriarchate of Moscow refuses to recognize that it is part of the conflict, which openly supports the aggression of Russia against Ukraine and blesses the military actions of Russia in Syria as a 'holy war'", he denounces. "The very expression 'conflict' here is dark and seems to suggest to the reader that there is a 'civil war', rather than an aggression by a neighboring state." "The Churches and religious organizations in Ukraine have never supported the war and have worked constantly for peace and social harmony," he added, raising: "Undoubtedly this has aroused deep disappointment among many of the faithful of our Church and between conscientious citizens of Ukraine ". "I have been contacted by many who tell me that they felt betrayed by the Vatican, let down by half-truths of the text and the indirect support of the Holy See for the aggression against Ukraine," he said. "Anyway, I encourage our faithful not to dramatize this statement and not exaggerate its importance in the life of the Church - concludes the Archbishop - We have lived through several statements and will survive even this". "The union and communion with the Holy Father, the Successor of Peter, is not the result of a political agreement or a diplomatic compromise, but it is a matter of our faith."

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