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Head of Ukrainian Catholic Church skeptical of papal-Orthodox declaration

18 Feb 2016 – By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The joint declaration signed 12 February in Cuba between Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow has met with a tepid reaction from Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, Ukraine, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.

“In general it is positive,” he said in a 12 February interview with Ukrainian Father Ihor Yatsiv and translated from Ukrainian.

“In it are raised questions, which are of concern to both Catholics and Orthodox, and it opens new perspectives for cooperation. I encourage all to look for these positive elements. However, the points which concern Ukraine in general and specifically the (Ukrainian church) raised more questions than answers.”

One positive is that the Russian Orthodox “no longer seem to object to our right to exist. In reality, in order to exist and to act, we are not obliged to ask permission from anybody,” Archbishop Shevchuk said. The joint declaration says that “the ecclesial communities which emerged in these historical circumstances have the right to exist” and to do what is necessary to minister to their faithful.

On the other hand, he added, “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. I can certainly understand those feelings.”

He said, “I encourage our faithful not to dramatize this declaration and not to exaggerate its importance for church life. We have experienced more than one such statement, and will survive this one as well.”

In analyzing the first meeting in at least 1,000 years between a sitting pope and the patriarch of Orthodoxy’s largest branch, “one notices immediately, especially from their comments after the meeting, that 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,” the archbishop said. “From the Moscow patriarch, one immediately sensed that this wasn’t about any Spirit, or theology or actual religious matters.”

He added: “Did these two parallel realities intersect during this meeting? I don’t know, but according to the rules of mathematics, two parallel lines do not intersect.

“For a document that was intended to be not theological, but essentially sociopolitical, it is hard to imagine a weaker team than the one that drafted this text,” which Major Archbishop Shevchuk said was “beyond their capabilities.” He was speaking of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, responsible for drafting the declaration, and whose members, he said, were “exploited” during the drafting process by the Russian Orthodox Department of External Affairs.

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