Ukrainians React to Papal Calls for “Decentralization”

Recently, there was a positive development during an interview with Bishop Borys Gudziak (President of the Ukrainian Catholic University—UCU) by Crux regarding the issue of “decentralization,” which was proposed in a favorable light by the Holy Father during the recent Synod on the Family. Bishop Gudziak echoed the position of the Head of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church (UGCC), His Beatitude Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, who expressed his support for decentralization—with an important distinction: decentralization should not apply to “the fundamental human issues… For example, I support a devolution in terms of the selection of bishops.” On the Kasper proposal, however, Gudziak said “it would be very problematic, to put it lightly.”

In a subsequent interview, Bishop Gudziak noted that the president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, apparently would not support the removal of language from the draft of Ukraine’s new constitution that defines marriage as being exclusively between a man and woman, and that good, strong arguments must be provided to politicians to support the president’s pledge. Nonetheless, it appears UCU still has not dealt directly with three of its faculty (in the School of Journalism) who publicly promote homosexuality as “normal” and homosexual “marriage” as a “human right”—one of those faculty members being a member of Parliament. On this point, the teaching of the Universal Church, as stated by His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, is crystal clear and worth quoting at length:

In the working document the question of homosexuality was raised. However, the [Synod] Fathers immediately noted that it has no relation to the issue of the family because the life of a same-sex couple cannot be termed a marriage. And, no matter the pressure whatever international lobby may exert upon the Church, the Church—in accordance with its conscience and being faithful to the teaching of Scripture—can never change its teaching on this issue. For this reason some of the Fathers noted assertively that the issue of homosexuality must be removed from the final document, inasmuch as this issue has nothing in common with the subject of the Synod, that is, the call and role of the Christian family in the Church and the world. The issue of the distinct teaching of the Church regarding such matters of sexuality absolutely has no place here.

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On the other hand, what was discussed was the notion that the individual person, irrespective of which sin by which he or she is burdened, is and remains created in the image and likeness of God. We must always respect the person [as person] no matter their acts. We respect the sinner but assertively warn them against their sins and can never approve of their sins. This distinction was always present during the discussions of the Synod Fathers. For this reason, on the issue of homosexuality the Fathers are absolutely unanimous.

It is a great tragedy and a great moral evil to propagandize homosexuality as some kind of model for relations or even the attempt, at the legislative level, to compare such a lifestyle with the family. Such pressure is an expression of great disdain toward the family and marriage as institutions. (Emphasis added.)

It is de rigueur these days that one must rarely (if at all) speak about the objective nature of the sin (for example, inherently disordered homosexual inclinations acted out as grave sin). Rather, one must fully accept the person with the sin all but affirmed, in the “hope” that one’s non-condemnation of sin will somehow lead the sinner to repentance. I am a direct witness of a UGCC bishop taking precisely this approach regarding a person who for years clung (and continues to cling) to the notion that the Church is “wrong” about homosexual marriage … because homosexuality, this person believes, is “natural.” Predictably, that accommodationist tree bore no fruit.

Moreover, in this light, it is difficult to understand part of the Holy Father’s closing remarks—widely interpreted as a blanket castigation of those who hold to the Church’s teaching on the traditional understanding of the family, and which angered many: “[The Synod] was also about laying bare the closed hearts, which frequently hide even behind the Church’s teachings or good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families.” Clearly, there are those with superiority complexes on both sides of official Church doctrine … who, while vociferous, are relatively few in number.

Yet, is it not true that precisely because significant representatives of the clerical hierarchy either kept silent or actively shielded sexual offenders in their ranks, that only now is the Church slowly emerging from the diabolical destructiveness of the pedophilia scandals? Is it not true that fearful clerical silence in the face of the promotion of homosexuality, euthanasia, abortion, etc. has led to scandals among the faithful and a weakening of the Church’s moral stature to deal with these issues—including the weakening of the institution of the traditional family? Cardinals Kasper and Marx are examples of those who would compromise Church doctrine while hiding behind “pastoral reforms,” and who “lead” eparchies collapsing from a certain lack of Magisterial oxygen … in the context of the “radical individualism” and “sex-saturated hedonistic culture of the West.” Is this not, at least partly, the case at UCU as it struggles with its serious identity crisis?

Why is it that significant numbers of lay people and pastors have succumbed to the zeitgeist—making them unable (or unwilling?) to consider both the pastoral and doctrinal elements as crucial, that is, speaking the truth to sin, while accepting and loving the sinner precisely as a fallen human being? The unfortunate outcome is completely backwards, or as Robert Royal points out in the context of the current Synod on the Family, such an accommodationist approach grants “communion before repentance and reconciliation.” Why is it so difficult to understand that the Church’s position is not a restrictive “either … or” but an inclusive “both … and” in its doctrinal and pastoral messages? That is, why is it so difficult to hold in one’s mind—and even more difficult to proclaim—that there is no love without truth, forgiveness without acceptance of one’s fault, conversion without repentance, and mercy without reconciliation and justice?

Unfortunately, in this regard, the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Bishop of Edmonton, David Motiuk, is unabashed in his communion-before-state-of-Grace approach, as he supports offering communion to an unrepentant and highly confused transgendered man—with repentance and reconciliation at best presented as a rain check. That is, Motiuk is effectively acting against the Head of his own particular church, His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, and against Catholic teaching—both doctrinal and pastoral.

Returning to the issue of “decentralization,” there is more here than meets the eye. What many don’t realize is how deeply one of Cardinal Kasper’s particularly pernicious ideas has been absorbed by some in the UGCC … and I don’t have in mind Kasper’s mischief in the context of the recently-concluded Synod on the Family. There is a distinct possibility that the Pope will decree that bishop’s conferences take on more responsibilities previously held by the Curia in a more “decentralized church.” This is not new, and to the extent it has to do with administrative issues at the level of particular churches or countries with significant numbers of Catholics, the idea is a healthy one.

However, a demon can be found lurking in Cardinal Kasper’s disordered idea of local or particular churches being ontologically prior to the Universal Church. Kasper’s proto-schism was soundly dispatched by (then) Cardinal Ratzinger with support from Avery Cardinal Dulles, but the issue is again being given air time. The former head of the UGCC, Cardinal Lyubomyr Husar, and many Greco-Catholics sympathetic to him, generally view their faith first as Eastern Orthodox and then Catholic by association (typically stated as “in communion with Rome”). Cardinal Husar was also part of the informal “St. Gallen group” (which included Cardinal Kasper) that allegedly attempted to remove Pope Benedict XVI by from contention in the 2005 conclave.

The issue with respect to the UGCC is not whether the group acted upon their intentions, but that an association with Cardinal Kasper existed. The anti-Vatican sentiments I’ve witnessed at UCU and among some faithful in L’viv this past year was remarkable. As one example of many, just this week in following conversations on Facebook, I stumbled across a priest asserting in Ukrainian, “Moscow is not our mother, Rome is not our father.” Another priest from L’viv who I know personally (not from UCU) regards, for example, Apostolic Constitutions (say, Ex Corde Ecclesiae) and Papal Encyclicals (say, Veritatis Splendor and Fides et Ratio) as “belonging to that [Roman] church.” Regarding the latter, my point is not to expose specific individuals but to provide some insight into wide-spread sentiments.

So, the deeper and far-reaching question is: how exactly does the UGCC understand decentralization: per the Kasperian model or within the fold of the Universal Church? In the interview above, Bishop Gudziak seems to suggest a properly-balanced approach that preserves, supports, and celebrates the identities of the particular churches and the Universal Church: local governance with magisterial fidelity. His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, regarding a proper understanding of the synodal Church, is heroic in his position on the universality of the Church: “I believe that a movement toward decentralization must first and foremost be a step taken by the Holy Father and the Apostolic See to the fullness of the life of eastern Catholic churches. It is my hope that such a synodal approach will be interesting and beneficial for the [Universal] Church.” He continues: “First and foremost, faith and morals cannot be subject to decentralization—matters of faith and morals cannot be decentralized. Individual religious communities in a given country cannot have their own particular faith or morals. A sign of the catholicity of the Church is that throughout the entire world her teaching is one, she follows God’s commandments as one, and celebrates the Holy Sacraments as one.”

(Photo credit: Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk photographed by Matthew Rarey / CNA)


  • 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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