Authorities threaten to outlaw the Catholic Church in Ukraine
Ukrainian authorities have formally warned the Ukrainian Catholic Church that it faces the risk of being deprived of it legal registration as a result of the Church’s support and prayerful communion with the peaceful protestors on the streets of the capital Kyiv (Kiev). The former Soviet state’s Ministry of Culture has written to the Head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church with a threat that Ukraine’s government will take measures to revoke the Church’s legal status if the Church’s clergy continues to lead prayers together with the protesters.
Ministry of Culture officials have since publicly announced that the letter was sent following a request from Ukraine’s security service, a direct successor of the KGB.
Ukraine is in the midst of turbulent political times since the government officially announced that it is walking away from an association agreement and trade deal with the EU instead deciding to build closer links with Russia in exchange of a loan of up to $15 billion and a hefty reduction on natural gas prices. Hundreds of thousands of protesters have taken part in generally peaceful demonstrations, which have been continuing for over 50 days already.
Violence has been used by the authorities against peaceful protestors, students and journalists. The Ukrainian Catholic Church (which is locally called the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church) has been very vocal since the protests started publicly speaking in support of Human Rights and respect for human dignity. The octogenarian retired Archbishop Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, who is in poor health and almost blind, has addressed the crowds of hundreds of thousands in Kyiv calling for respect of human dignity. Cardinal Husar is widely recognized as a key moral authority in Ukraine, a country where corruption is rampant.
Prayers with the protesters have also been offered by clergymen of a variety of Christian communities including Orthodox and Protestant, but only the Ukrainian Catholic Church has been targeted with a threat of being outlawed. There is substantiated speculation that the security services are behind the threats to the Church. The official website of the Church has also been attacked by hackers, with initial investigations showing that the attack came from neighbouring Russia.
Persecution of the Ukrainian Catholic Church was widespread during the Soviet era. After World War II, Stalin decided to deal with the threat he perceived in the Ukrainian Catholic Church by liquidating it. Bishops, priests, nuns, and lay leaders were sent to the Gulag camps, where many died as martyrs (later to be beatified by Pope John Paul II). The remainder who refused to accept their forced reabsorption into Orthodoxy went underground. Thus from 1946 until 1989, the Ukrainian Catholic Church, a community without churches or other visible religious institutions, was the largest illegal and clandestine religious body in the world, its millions of faithful worshipping in forests, where underground seminaries and other forms of religious education were also conducted. The Church officially became legalized 25 years ago in 1989 during President Gorbachov’s perestroika reforms of the USSR.
On January 13, Major Archbishop Shevchuk, Head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, held a press conference in Kyiv during which he politely but firmly rejected the government’s claims. The Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church’s “very existence,” the archbishop stated, was being threatened — and this, after it was hoped that “gone are the days when churches were ruined and the clergy who provided pastoral care to the faithful were arrested or even murdered.”
Contacts for more information or comment in English:
Bishop Hlib Lonchyna, Bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Holy Family of London
Bishop Borys Gudziak, President of the Ukrainian Catholic University
Andy Hunder, Director of the Ukrainian Institute in London, affiliated to the Ukrainian Catholic University
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