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Ukrainian Catholic archbishop expresses ‘disappointment’ at Pope-Patriarch declaration

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, leader of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, was critical of the meeting (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

A Ukrainian Catholic archbishop has expressed disappointment at the historic declaration signed between Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow on February 12 in Cuba.

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, welcomed the fact that the first meeting between a Pope and Orthodox leader in a thousand years had taken place. He said it “opens new perspectives for cooperation,” adding that one positive is that the Russian Orthodox Church “no longer seem to object to our right to exist.”

But, he said:”this text has caused deep disappointment among many faithful of our church and among conscientious citizens of Ukraine. Today, many contacted me about this and said that they feel betrayed by the Vatican, disappointed by the half-truth nature of this document, and even see it as indirect support by the Apostolic See for Russian aggression against Ukraine.”

The archbishop said the two sides “existed on two completely different planes and were pursuing different goals.” “His Holiness Pope Francis experienced this encounter primarily as a spiritual event,” while “From the Moscow patriarch, one immediately sensed that this wasn’t about any Spirit, or theology or actual religious matters.”

Speaking of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, who drew up the declaration, Archbishop Shevchuk said it was “hard to imagine a weaker team” and they had been “exploited” during the drafting process by the Russian Orthodox Department of External Affairs.

He said he had the impression the Moscow Patriarchate was either “stubbornly refusing” to admit that it is a party to the separatist war in eastern Ukraine, or that it openly supported Russia aggression.

Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill said in the declaration: “We deplore the hostility in Ukraine that has already caused many victims, inflicted innumerable wounds on peaceful inhabitants and thrown society into a deep economic and humanitarian crisis,” and called on their churches “to refrain from taking part in the confrontation and to not support any further development of the conflict.”

The Ukrainian Catholic Church, which is one of 22 Eastern churches in communion with Rome and shares a spiritual and liturgical heritage with its Orthodox counterparts, “has never supported nor promoted the war. However, we have always supported and will support the people of Ukraine. We have never been on the side of the aggressor,” Archbishop Shevchuk said.

“Our priests have never taken up arms, as opposed to what has happened on the other side. Our chaplains, as builders of peace, suffer the freezing cold together with our soldiers on the front and with their very own hands carry the wounded from the battlefield, wipe away the tears of mothers who mourn their dead children. We care for the wounded and for those who have suffered as a result of the fighting, regardless of their national origin, their religious or political beliefs,” he added.

The archbishop complained that he had not been consulted over the agreement. “They spoke about us without us, without giving us a voice… From our experience, gained over many years, we can say that when the Vatican and Moscow organise meetings or sign joint texts, it is difficult to expect something good.”

But he cautioned against Ukrainian Catholics criticising Pope Francis. “I would invite all not to rush in judging him, not to remain on the reality level of those who expect only politics from this meeting and want to exploit a humble pope for their human plans at all costs.”