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The Catholic Eastern Churches

Most Orthodox view these churches as an obstacle in the way of reconciliation between the Catholic and Orthodox churches. They feel that their very existence constitutes a denial by Catholics of the ecclesial reality of the Orthodox Church, and that these unions grew from efforts to split local Orthodox communities. They tend to consider Eastern Catholics either as Orthodox whose presence in the Catholic Church is an abnormal situation brought about by coercive measures, or even as Roman Catholics pretending to be Orthodox for the purpose of proselytism.

One of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, Orientalium Ecclesiarum, dealt with the Eastern Catholic churches. It affirmed their equality with the Latin church and called upon Eastern Catholics to rediscover their authentic traditions. It also affirmed that Eastern Catholics have a special vocation to foster ecumenical relations with the Orthodox.

The ecclesial life of the Eastern Catholic churches is governed in accordance with the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, which was promulgated by Pope John Paul II on October 18, 1990, and had the force of law as of October 1, 1991. According to the new Eastern Code, the Eastern Catholic churches fall into four categories: (1) Patriarchal (the Chaldean, Armenian, Coptic, Syrian, Maronite, and Melkite churches), (2) Major Archepiscopal (Ukrainian, Syro-Malabar, Romanian and Syro-Malankara Catholic churches), (3) Metropolitan sui iuris (the Ethiopian, American Ruthenian and Slovak churches), and (4) other churches sui iuris (Bulgarian, Greek, Hungarian, Italo-Albanian, Russian, Belarusan, and Albanian churches, as well as the jurisdictions in former Yugoslavia).

Each Eastern Catholic patriarchal church has the right to choose its own Patriarch. He is elected by the Synod of Bishops and is immediately proclaimed and enthroned. He subsequently requests ecclesiastical communion from the Pope. The synods of patriarchal churches also elect bishops for dioceses within the patriarchal territory from a list of candidates that have been approved by the Holy See. If the one elected has not been previously approved, he must obtain the consent of the Pope before ordination as bishop. A Major Archbishop is elected in the same manner as a Patriarch, but his election must be confirmed by the Roman Pontiff before he can be enthroned. Metropolitans are named by the Pope on the basis of a list of at least three candidates submitted by the church’ council of bishops.



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