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The Ukrainian Catholic Church

Although the exact role played by the Moscow Patriarchate in the suppression has not been clearly established, the events of 1946 poisoned the atmosphere between Ukrainian Catholics and Orthodox. All this came to the surface in the late 1980s when the new religious freedom inaugurated by Soviet President Michael Gorbachev enabled the Ukrainian Catholic Church to emerge from the catacombs.

On December 1, 1989, Ukrainian Catholic communities were given the right to register with the government. With the support of the local authorities, Ukrainian Catholics gradually began to take possession of their former churches. All this marked the beginning of a strong Ukrainian Catholic resurgence in the region. As this was happening, the Moscow Patriarchate protested that violence had been used in repossessing some churches (a claim the Catholics denied), and that Ukrainian Catholics were attempting to expand at the expense of the Orthodox. The situation was complicated by the strong presence of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in western Ukraine. While many property disputes are still unresolved, for the most part a peaceful modus vivendi had been worked out by the mid-1990s.

In the meantime, the Ukrainian Catholic Church was resuming a normal ecclesial life. On March 30, 1991, Myroslav Ivan Cardinal Lubachivsky, the exiled head of the church, was able to leave Rome and take up residence in Lviv. In May 1992 Ukrainian Catholic bishops from all over the world convened for a synod in Lviv for the first time in many decades. In August 1992 the remains of Joseph Cardinal Slipyj were translated from Rome to Lviv where he was buried next to Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky. In July 1993 four new dioceses were created in Ukraine from the territory of Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, and the Ukrainian section of the diocese of Przemysl of the Ukrainians, Poland. In April 1996 an Archepiscopal Exarchate of Kiev-Vyshhorod was established to provide pastoral care for the faithful in central and eastern Ukraine. New dioceses in Bucac, Sokal, and Stryj were set up in 2000, and Archepiscopal Exarchates were subsequently established in Donetsk-Kharkiv (2002) and Odessa-Krym (2003).

Ukrainian Greek Catholic officials believe that their church has as many as six million faithful scattered throughout Ukraine and beyond. According to official Vatican statistics, in 2006 the church within Ukraine had 2,939 parishes, 2,251 priests, and 570 seminarians. Seminaries have been set up in Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Ternopil, and Drohobych. The Lviv Theological Academy, which had been closed down by the Soviets in 1946, was reopened in September 1994. On June 29, 2002, the academy became the Ukrainian Catholic University. It was the first Catholic university on the territory of the former Soviet Union and the first university opened by an Eastern Catholic Church. The university’s history department received accreditation from the Ukrainian government in 2003, but the theology department had to await such recognition until March 2006 when the Ukrainian Ministry of Education licensed theology as an academic discipline.

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