Secularism at the Ukrainian Catholic University

You cannot please both God and the world at the same time. They are utterly opposed to each other in their thoughts, their desires, and their actions.  ∼ Saint John Vianney

A fellow I know well in L’viv, who works with western European sponsors of projects aimed at improving local legal and civic management, shared with me the pressures felt by local governments to incorporate, for example, western European “gender policies” into their project proposals. At our Fulbright meeting in Kyiv, my fifteen year old daughter was exposed to an American scholar who giddily announced her “wife” would soon be visiting—something no doubt this woman believes is quite important for Ukrainians to be concerned about in the current situation.

Later in the discussion, another American woman shared an incident during which gypsies on a train had allegedly hypnotized their small group and stolen their luggage, and said—in all seriousness—that she is now learning various superstitious means by which to “protect” herself in the future. When it was my turn, I mentioned that the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) was struggling with its Catholic identity in the face of dangers posed by dignity-degrading anti-life issues (pornography, euthanasia, abortion, and homosexual “marriage,” etc.). The look of hatred in the eyes of these women would have chilled even Putin’s cold heart. Thomas Molnar warned us of this, and it is that which I contend Ukraine is woefully unprepared to tackle:

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Today, the legislatures of all previously Christian nations enact laws which erect sin into the norm, and they do so in a social climate which is either largely indifferent to the intrinsic moral issues or, indeed, accepts and promotes immoral solutions.

It is not surprising that pressures to conform to western European social engineering policies are gaining traction in Ukraine… and feeding into Putin’s “I told you so” fears. What is surprising is that UCU’s pro-life message is somewhat (although not completely) muted. Yet, upon examination, even this may not be so surprising. A priest here in L’viv shared with me his fear that UCU may, in a show of misplaced pride, think itself immune from such dangers because of its eastern theological tradition. Moreover, Fr. Petro Galadza recently lamented, “The problem of moral perversion is ubiquitous and catastrophic. The Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church (UGCC) [in the West] long ago made its peace with secularism and we see the fruits today… In many of our parishes, the operative religion is ethnicity.”

Bishop Gudziak, President of UCU, was informed more than six years ago, and a number of times since, that the Chief Development Officer of the Ukrainian Catholic Educational Foundation (UCEF, based in the United States and Canada) asserted to my wife and to me that “the Church is wrong,” and that “homosexual marriage is natural and should be permitted.” That this situation has apparently not been addressed despite the clear opposition to Catholic teaching (on at least this issue, but likely as well on other life-issues) and potential risk of the Russian Orthodox Church taking advantage of such a long-term lapse in judgment (and potential sin of omission), is troubling. Indeed, as part of a recent letter to lobby faculty at UCU regarding a scandal at the beginning of this year that rocked the university over the hiring of a temporary instructor who flaunted his homosexuality (and is known to label as “radical” and “fundamentalist” those who express concern over Marynovych’s “blurriness of truth,”) UCU Vice-Rector for Mission, Myroslav Marynovych, added fuel to the fire when he made the following false assertions:

But we must understand that at this stage we will not achieve clarity, because the very position of the Church is unclear regarding questions of sexual ethics. This was well demonstrated in an interview with Pope Francis, which left a distinct impression of vagueness. We must understand, that this vagueness does not flow from some lack of acuteness but from the fact that in this vagueness the Lord leads us to an as yet unknown truth, to an as yet unachieved synthesis. (Emphasis added)

Bishop Borys GudziakIn June, a similar scandal rocked UCU in which three teachers from the School of Journalism (including Mustafa Nayyem an MP of the Ukrainian Parliament from President Poroshenko’s Bloc) not only participated in a small “Gay Equality” parade in Kyiv, but promoted the homosexual lifestyleincluding “marriage.” (Nayyem is no stranger to controversy—he is currently accused of abusing his position as an MP—and has allegedly doctored video evidence regarding a recent clash near the southwestern Ukrainian city of Mukachevo.) Not surprisingly, western commentators were self-servingly aghast that violence broke—implying Ukraine was not doing enough to protect the marchers. Also not surprisingly, UCU’s administration not only avoided dealing with the scandal (as of this writing), but also failed to admit there even was a scandal and, according to a university administrator, employed the thinly-veiled threat of “don’t rock the boat” against those expressing concern.

Finally, almost two months after this scandal, and under pressure from local critics, as well as action by the Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk—Head of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church (see below)—UCU Rector Fr. Bohdan Prakh issued an open letter to the president, prime minister, and speaker of the Parliament requesting (among other pro-life issues) to maintain the traditional understanding of marriage as between a man and a woman in the constitution. Yet, UCU apparently doesn’t see a contradiction between this and the fact that some of their instructors openly promote homosexuality.

There is also a long-standing problem of viewing Internet pornography by students in the dorm at UCU—as confirmed to me in writing by Bishop Gudziak, and verbally by an IT representative. Pornography is a form of corruption against the dignity of women, in particular: it reduces them to objects of lust by predatory men, who, in turn, suffer from this relationship-ruining addiction. Yet, UCU’s administration does not appear to be taking serious steps to address this problem—a problem that, in addition to the pastoral concerns, should not find refuge at a university where a “Women’s Studies” program operates. On the other hand, the Women’s Studies program itself was born of controversy; it was initially pushed as a secular “Gender Studies” program—later renamed to mask its intentions (as confirmed to me by an American supporter of the program), and, according to the Head of the School of Humanities, a difficult battle was fought to contextualize the program within a Christian anthropology.

All this stands in contrast to the brave, public witness of Roman Catholic Bishop Stanislav Shyrokoradiuk, Ordinary of the Kharkiv-Zaporizhzhia Diocese, who in an open letter to President Poroshenko criticized policy shortfalls on the basis of moral and religious norms. In a follow-up radio address, Bishop Shyrokoradiuk particularly and strongly criticized permitting a “march for perversion” while hiding behind an absolutist interpretation of freedom of speech. Bishop Shyrokoradiuk is not one who falls for the blurring of good and evil, because he understands mercy is neither tolerance, nor relativism, and his faith and responsibilities as pastor hinge…

… on a simple Truth. Sin is wicked, but when recognized as sin, man can repent, seek and receive redemption. But if the worldview fails to recognize sin for what it is, or worse, celebrates the sin as some form of grotesque virtue, repentance is not sought and redemption is lost. Even more concerning, this worldview does not limit itself to a solitary sin which hurts the perpetrator alone. Instead, it eagerly embraces and encourages a multitude of other sins which visit their wicked results upon others.

From a larger perspective, in the context of the recent Gnostic-like “shadow council” of liberal western European cardinals and bishops hoping to apply pressure to change Church teaching on communion for divorced couples and homosexuality, and in the increasingly-clear positions being established as the October 2015 continuation of the Synod on the Family approaches, Bishop Borys Gudziak is keeping conspicuously silent regarding UCU professors promoting homosexuality—leading some at UCU to speculate that he is waiting until the dust of the Synod settles to clarify his position. If, on the one hand, the Synod comes down on the side of maintaining and strengthening Church teaching, Gudziak can plead he was too busy to deal with wayward professors—although his involvement behind the scenes at UCU has earned the good bishop smirks and the derisive title of “Gray Cardinal” among some faculty and staff. If, on the other hand, the Synod comes down on the side of liberalizing the Church’s teachings—even if Pope Francis doesn’t accept their decision—Bishop Gudziak can remain selectively inattentive to such scandals. Why? Because it is common knowledge at UCU that he is skittish about addressing pro-life issues in order not to risk “offending” liberal donors. Yet, this seems a risky endeavor on Bishop Gudziak’s part, given the clear position of the Head of the UGCC on life issues.

His Beatitutde Major Archbishop Sviatoslav ShevchukMajor Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, leader of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church and ten years younger than Bishop Gudziak, is unequivocal in expounding upon the Church’s position regarding homosexual behavior as a grave sin (as opposed to the inherently disordered inclination toward homosexuality) and the Church’s opposition to homosexual “marriage,” and is worth quoting at length:

In accordance with the teaching of the Church, homosexual behavior is a grave sin, which calls to Heaven for vengeance… In terms of gravity, the sin of homosexuality is comparable to that of murder … Therefore, if we are talking today about the right to have a homosexual “relationship,” then we must also talk about the right to murder. [The young patriarch … carefully distinguished between loving the sinner and hating the sin.] I don’t want to judge those persons. I am not against any person. [Homosexuals deserve support and loving pastoral care, because] the person who is living this type of life, who sins, is wounding and destroying himself. And therefore, the Church is against the sin yet protects the person and his dignity.

We are mistaken if we believe we have to opt for these diseases to attain European prosperity… Today, the EU looks like a teenager experiencing the restraints of morality, who needs a Christian education. Europe was not founded on same-sex couples, but on respect for human dignity… [Tolerant attitudes to homosexuality are] spreading in Ukrainian society… [EU requirements were based on] pseudo-values [and] different conceptions of morality.

In a context far more important than the political, what could be a greater affront to dignity than the objectification of women through pornography, or the killing of children in the womb through abortion, or the degradation of human nature through homosexual acts, or the removal of “inconvenient” life through euthanasia? These are more fundamental forms of corruption than political or financial corruption, because they directly target human beings, and lead to corruption in other spheres. How could one believe Ukraine is in any position to “contribute” to helping Europe turn around on such social issues—on the basis of its political martyrs? As opposed to any eastern European nation’s martyrs? One should query Poland’s faithful regarding how they’re standing up to western European “progressivist” pressures. This is not to dishonor or to take away from Ukraine’s martyrs—spiritually or politically—but to suggest that a certain hubris may be in play to reduce martyrdom for the faith (whose primary concern is with inner transformation) to “martyrdom” for external gain in the name of national and political justice.

There is no question that Ukrainians have suffered enormously over the centuries. Multiple wars have swept back-and-forth across their land, the population has been devastated by famines—including the 1932-33 Stalin-orchestrated “Holodomor” that appears to have claimed up to 7 million innocent lives—and they’ve experienced waves of political repressions, the suppression of Ukrainian culture and language, and the destruction of the Ukrainian Orthodox and Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Churches. It is therefore not surprising that Ukrainians remain shell-shocked, and they need not apologize or provide justification for seeking to run their own house to anyone apart from God.

That said, Richard John Neuhaus provided sobering advice, especially as it pertains to the potential of losing sight of first things, which risks subsuming faith under national aspirations—the latter of which, ideally, should be animated by the former:

We can confuse our Christian hope with political success … there is a danger that we confuse our political policy judgments with the judgments of God.

Even when, especially when, we are most intensely engaged in the battle, first things must be kept first in mind. It is not easy but it is imperative. It profits us nothing if we win all the political battles while losing our souls.


  • Alexander R. Sich

    Alexander R. Sich is Professor of Physics and Faculty Associate with the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He has twelve years of professional experience in nuclear safety and non-proliferation abroad, primarily in Ukraine. For the 2014-15 academic year, Dr. Sich was a Fulbright Teaching and Research Scholar at the Ukrainian Catholic University. He earned his doctorate in nuclear engineering from MIT and a Master’s in Soviet Studies from Harvard University and a second Master’s in philosophy from Holy Apostles College and Seminary.

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