The "Unique Status" of the Ukrainian Catholic Church

There was a story yesterday in Cathnews drawing our attention to an ABC TV Lateline story “Unique Ukrainian priests escape scandal”. The Lateline report began with:

It seems not a week goes by without some devastating revelation of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church being reported in the international media. But there’s one nation where the Catholic Church has so far avoided scandal. It’s in Ukraine, where millions follow the Greek Catholic Church, a unique branch of Catholicism, which is loyal to Rome and the Pope but with one major difference. Its priests are allowed to marry and have families and its followers say that makes all the difference.

You can see where the argument is headed a mile off, can’t you? I don’t believe this story is being pushed by anyone in the Ukrainian Catholic Church, and, as I will say in just a moment, I think it would be better not to push this line for a couple of reasons. But the first comment on the Cathnews report to this story sums up the problems with it. Paul Mees of Melbourne writes:

This was an uninformed story, even by Lateline’s standards. The optional celibacy rule is hardly ‘unique’ to Ukraine or the Ukrainian Catholic Church.

Mr. Hurmont thinks he has discovered something new, but Lateline could have interviewed married Catholic priests in Australia, had it bothered to do its homework.

And as for married clergy preventing sex abuse scandals, Lateline might have interviewed Anglicans from Brisbane, Adelaide or Hobart, who could soon have put them right on that one.

Lateline failed to mention that the Ukrainian Catholic Church was an illegal organisation in Ukraine until two decades ago, i.e. the period when most of the sexual abuse that is now coming to light occurred. This report deserves an F for Journalism 101.

But there is another side to this story too. In a report this week, John Allen writes about renewed pressure being placed on the Ukrainian Catholic Church by the Service of Ukraine (SBU), the successor to the KGB. It is worth keeping an eye on this story – and keeping the Ukrainian Catholic Church in your prayers – for several reasons, one of them being that Fr. Borys Gudziak, the main character in the report, is coming here on a speaking tour later in the year.

Allen notes that there is another angle on these developments worth considering:

One reason that these developments have not galvanized much Catholic interest in the West is that the rise to power of the Yanukovich government in February more or less coincided with the explosion of the sexual abuse crisis in Germany, which quickly brought Pope Benedict XVI into the center of the storm. Tight focus on the scandals has made it difficult to tell any other Catholic story, and other stories gain traction only to the extent that they have something to say about the crisis.

In the case of Ukraine, finding a connection is actually not as much of a stretch as it might seem. In fact, the growing pressure facing Greek Catholics has implications for a key point about the Vatican’s response to the sexual abuse crisis: The question of cooperation with the police and other civil authorities.

…Such a policy [of universal mandatory reporting of sexual abuse] amounts to a no-brainer in parts of the world where the rule of law holds, and where the police enjoy basic public trust. But consider what it might mean in a place like Ukraine — where the police and security forces are often seen as corrupt and subject to political manipulation, and where Catholics in particular regard them as agents of a hostile regime trying to hobble the church. (Gudziak, for example, says he believes himself to be under regular surveillance by the SBU.)

In that context, a binding requirement under canon law of cooperation with the police could seem self-destructive.

It is something worth considering.

I would also argue that it would be self-destructive of any single part of the Catholic Church – or indeed any Christian community at all – to boast of having “avoided” the scandals (I am not saying, please note, that the Ukrainians are doing this – it is the ABC Lateline report that was ill-considered). The sad thing about this kind of abuse is not what you know, but rather what you DON’T know.

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9 Responses to The "Unique Status" of the Ukrainian Catholic Church

  1. PM says:

    Many Ukranian Catholics, like the Orthodox, also think that we Latin Rite Catholics have gone mad in what we have done to the liturgy in the last 45 years – but don’t expect the ABC or We Are Church to tell you that!

  2. cmnunis says:

    Truth be told, it is definitely a new occurence for Lateline. They’ve probably never seen an Eastern Catholic Church before.

    For a start, there are married Catholic priests of the Latin Rite in Australia. Nothing new there. Ex-Anglicans who have shown remarkable records of pastoral ministry can be dispensed of the celibacy rule (if they ask for it) and be ordained.
    And one need not go so far to talk about married clergy preventing sex abuse scandals. There are married Eastern Catholic priests in Australia as well, and of course, Eastern Orthodox priests.
    It doesn’t matter if the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Ukraine was illegal. Latin bishops were ordained underground by Ukrainian Catholic bishops in the past. In fact, the late Pope John Paul II studied for the priesthood in a clandestine seminary. Does that have any bearing at all? I don’t think so.

    For the record, a particular Eastern Rite has a dignity equal to that of the Latin Rite, and that dignity accords that rite to be governed by a Church institution. So, the Latin Church does not govern the Ukrainian-Byzantine Rite. They are in communion, but the canons and disciplines differ. Married priests are alright in the Eastern context, but the Western context deems otherwise and it is an argument that only the West alone can answer. The Ukrainians do not say that they’re better off just because they have married priests. That’s not the spirit of communion. Celibacy is not the issue here, but there are other reasons which the Church must work to find out. Lawsuit payouts is akin to sweeping the matter under the carpet and sorry won’t mean much until we find out answers.
    The rule of clerical celibacy was definitely an issue that arose in the Early Church. The Council of Elvira resolved that. However, if we were to take that seriously, deacons and even lay ministers of the Eucharist could not be married and had to be chaste after marriage. This rule did not apply to the East as the Council of Gangra (c.340 – 370AD) had this to say in Canon 4: If any one shall maintain, concerning a married presbyter, that is not lawful to partake of the oblation when he offers it, let him be anathema.
    And for the record, it is true that 4 out of the 22 Catholic Churches have opted for mandatory celibacy. However, I will disagree with Kyriakos that celibates make better priests. Celibates are in a better position to minister but they don’t have to be ordained to serve God. A monk may not be a priest, but the spiritual advice they may dish out can be helpful.

    So, what then makes a better priest? The person who wishes to be more like Christ the Word Incarnate and a person who prays. Prayer, God’s grace, and that desire to see Christ is instrumental for anyone wanting to serve God. If Jesus Christ is the inspiration, your vision and mission is taken care of.

    Finally, I will state that paedophilia is indeed a psychological problem – something which the American Psychological Association must recognise. And yes, abuse takes place amongst married couples. It also takes place amongst married clergy couples. Imagine my shock when I read of a priest’s wife being convicted of this crime.
    Sins and criminal acts like these know no denomination or religious sect. We have got to be vigilant and pray to be shaped more into the person of Christ, body and soul.

  3. Susan Peterson says:

    I have read Russian Orthodox tell the story of how priests were brought to cooperate with the KGB.
    The priest is brought in with his little son. Father refuses to sign saying he will give information. Little son is taken from his father into a separate room, but with the door cracked open, and pretty soon the priest/father hears his son crying, “Daddy, he’s hurting my finger, Daddy, make him stop!” Father signs.

    I guess this is not really a relevant comment.
    I feel positively about married priests in the Eastern tradition and see many positive benefits to this in a parish situation, from my observations of Orthodox and Anglican parishes. But under conditions of oppression, a celibate clergy can be stronger. Most people could resist far greater torture than having their fingers bent back…but who can resist when it is one’s small child?

    It was the Ukranian connection and the oppression you mentioned which made me think of this.

    The article though, is misguided. Right in my home town there was an Anglican priest -married-who was abusing teenaged boys, and when the subsequent priest heard about it and tried to get the bishop to do something, the bishop vented his ire on the reporting priest rather than the evildoer. (the reporting priest lost his church, had a heart attack, and went bankrupt A very nasty story. Meanwhile the perpetrator, now 35 years later, was arrested for doing it again. )

    Susan Peterson

    ps If you want to Google this story, the perpetrator was Fr. Ralph Johnson, the reporting priest was Fr. David Bollinger, the town is Owego, NY, in the Episcopal Diocese of Central NY.

    I forget, though, where I heard the story of the Orthodox priest and his little boy. On an Orthodox blog somewhere.

    • Schütz says:

      Given what you say, Susan, I wonder how many of the 300 priests remaining in the Ukrainian Catholic Church at the end of the Communist era were in fact celibate? I agree with you that a celibate priesthood has advantages over a married priesthood in times of persecution. I would also hazard a guess that priests under persecution are less likely to let their minds (and bodies) stray from their principal calling. I could be wrong on that.

  4. Louise says:

    What utter garbage. Everyone knows that marriage does not prevent sexual abuse of children.

    Statistically, one’s kids are safer if left alone with a Catholic priest than any other man.

    Can we start discussing the concept of married clergy based on facts, not bullshit?

    • Mike says:

      “Statistically, one’s kids are safer if left alone with a Catholic priest than any other man”

      Hi Louise, do you actually have the stats for this? Is there anyone or any organisation compiling this kind of information?

  5. Louise says:

    And why do Catholics persist in watching “our” ABC? The gov’t needs to sell the (literally) damned thing.

  6. Matthias says:

    Louise-why do all Christians persist in watching the ABC ? Perhaps it is because they are fans of Geraldine Doogue?? Or is it SONGS OF PRAISE? When tradtional hymns are sung on the latter it is great ,but then some of the modern ones are sung and I turn cold. graham kendrick has been one of Britain’s prolific hymn writers,and he ha sbeen featured quite a few times,especially when the program goes to Majorca. I saw a posting on either Orwell’s picnic or ON AN OVERGROWN PATH blog sites that said that kendrick’s music had “buggared “English Christianity. Their words not mine!!

    • Louise says:

      Who knows, Matthias? Even I will very occasionally watch something that is aired on the wretched station, but most of what they show is garbage and the little they show that is worthwhile was not actually produced by them.

      I have to listen to local ABC radio first thing in the morning (under duress) since my lord and master* likes to wake up to it. (One of those mysteries…)

      I had a shocking start to the day the other day when the announcer suggested we all pay more tax to support the wretched organisation. Couldn’t believe my ears.


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