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A look at Ukrainian Catholic Church’s fractious past, formidable future
6 March 2017, 16:24 | Society-digest | 0 | | Code for Blog | |
It is startling to consider that in the last decades of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th, Greco-Catholics in the United States were divided into five groups. The immigrants from Austrian Galicia were split between Russophiles and Ukraino-philes. The immigrants from Hungarian-ruled Transcarpathia (Zakarpattia) comprised Russophiles, Ukrainophiles and Magyarophiles. Today’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in the U.S.A. can thus be said to represent only two of five factions. Thus, while in 1914, there were an estimated 500,000 Ruthenian Catholics in the United States, in 1981 what was by then called the Ukrainian Catholic Church, even after the massive influx of politically conscious Galician Ukrainians after World War II, counted only about 245,000.
In other words, had it not been for national, regional, and cultural conflicts, there could have been a single Greco-Catholic Church in the United States at least twice as large as either today’s Ukrainian or Ruthenian (Byzantine) Catholic Church.
How this came about is the subject of the first chapter of Bohdan P. Procko’s “Ukrainian Catholics in America: A History.” The next two chapters cover the brief but foundational tenure of Bishop Soter Ortynsky(1907-1916) and the interregnum between the latter’s death and the appointment of Bishop Constantine Bohachevsky for the Ukrainian-oriented Galicians and Bukovynians in 1924. (This study does not deal with the temporary administration that the Holy See created for the Transcarpathians in 1916, which became a permanent exarchy in 1924, and its subsequent history as the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church.) The rest of the book covers the history of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic jurisdiction under Bishop (later Metropolitan) Bohachevsky and his successors. Although the succession of hierarchs is the basic organizational principle, this work devotes considerable attention to the activity of priests, monastics, and the faithful.
First published in 1982 and covering the period from the 1870s to mid-1981, Dr. Procko’s history has been somewhat revised and supplemented by the Rev. Dr. Ivan Kaszczak. In addition to a very brief final chapter covering the period 1983 to 2016, Father Kaszczak has provided a detailed 76-page time line running from 1596 to 2016. This feature alone makes the volume an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the history of the Church. He has also contributed a wealth of sometimes rare illustrative material, mostly photographs and reproductions of documents and publications, some from the Ukrainian Museum and Library of Stamford. The book contains lists and tables with useful statistics, as well as an updated bibliography and index.
In view of the Greco-Catholic Church’s historical support of the Ruthenian (later Ukrainian) national revival, some may be surprised by the success of the Russian Orthodox mission among Greco-Catholics in America in the 1890s. Financed by the tsarist treasury, the mission took advantage of the difficulties faced by the Ruthenian immigrants in order to sow pro-Russian sentiments. Since many intended to return to Austria-Hungary, this would help prepare the ground there for a future Russian annexation of “southwestern Rus’ ” (as happened in 1914). By 1901, 13 Ruthenian Catholic congregations, with a population of 6,898, had joined the Russian Orthodox Church. Among the renegade priests were Svoboda founder the Rev. Gregory Hrushka and the Rev. Alexander Dzubay, who was consecrated a Russian Orthodox bishop in 1916. (Hrushka returned to the Catholic fold in 1901, as did, eventually, Dzubay.) According to Russian Orthodox sources, by 1914 some 43,000 Ruthenians had joined the Russian Church, thus constituting over 40 percent of its membership in America.
In the United States, misunderstanding and mistreatment by some members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy was a major factor in Galician and Transcarpathian Russophilia. Back home, oppression by Polish and Hungarian Roman Catholics, respectively, had nourished an image of Orthodox Russia – which after all, shared the Ruthenians’ Byzantine rite and Church Slavonic language – as their earthly savior.
Some Americans, however, gave the Ruthenian Greco-Catholics a helping hand. Dr. Procko renders due honor to attorneys Andrew J. Shipman and William J. Kearns, as well as Roman Catholic priests J. X. Heally and Desmond A. Schmal, S.J.
In 1925-1927, Bishop Bohachevsky faced new crises. Parishioners who had bought land and built their own churches were reluctant to turn them over to the eparchy. The rise of a Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Soviet Ukraine, together with the arrival of its Archbishop John Teodorovych in February 1924, convinced many Greco-Catholics to convert. Defeat and persecution in now Polish-occupied Galicia prompted calls for a more patriotic, “national” Church. In December 1926, dissident clergy and laity formed an Independent Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in Philadelphia. Bishop Bohachevsky fought back, suspending priests and excommunicating parishioners, and finally prevailed. Fifty years later, Metropolitan Ambrose Senyshyn also faced opposition with the rise of the patriarchal movement. But as Dr. Procko points out, we should also remember his commitment to the underground Church in Ukraine, as well as his public defense of Soviet Ukrainian dissidents Valentyn Moroz and Leonid Plyushch.
Meanwhile, the character of the Greco-Catholic clergy in the United States was changing, “from primarily a married clergy of European origin, to a celibate and American-born clergy.” More recently, however, the pendulum has swung back, with married priests from Ukraine taking over American parishes. Father Kaszczak notes other changes since Vatican II: the liturgical use of Ukrainian and even English instead of Church Slavonic, the adoption of the Gregorian in place of the Julian calendar, the celebration of a more authentically Byzantine liturgy, the commemoration of the major archbishop as patriarch, and the ordination of married men.
An academic reviewer might have some nits to pick about the forms of place names and other technical matters. We hope for a future edition in which the many typographical errors will be corrected. One could also wish for more commentary on the American, and Catholic, context. This would help explain some of the Greco-Catholic Church’s ups and downs over its century and a third in the U.S. For example, its successes in the post-war period coincided with the “golden age” of American Catholicism in the 1950s and early 1960s, while its more recent difficulties could be seen as part of the decline of American Catholicism since then.
In 1981, Metropolitan Stephen Sulyk stated that the Church’s most serious problem was the shortage of priestly and religious vocations, which needed new solutions. Contrary to some predictions, the ordination of married men has not proved to be such a solution. In fact, vocations are always there, but they can only be answered in the fertile matrix of family, parish, school and society. The Ukrainian Catholic family is becoming a historical curiosity. The parish survives. As Dr. Procko recounts, Bishop Bohachevsky’s greatest achievement was his system of primary and secondary schools and two seminaries. How is it faring today?
As for society, Father Kaszczak points out certain changes since the publication of Dr. Procko’s first edition in 1982: “Many upwardly mobile families became separated from their communities and looked upon their churches as interesting reliquaries of an immigrant community. This Americanization tended to marginalize a Church that appeared to be a relic of the past.”
Indeed, while Greco-Catholic leaders invariably praise American liberty and democracy, the American socio-cultural milieu has proved corrosive. Orthodox theologian Thomas Hopko, descended from Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants, once wrote that while he was grateful for living in American society, “I also cannot imagine a way of life more insidious to Christian Orthodoxy and more potentially dangerous to human being and life.” In this perspective, the Church’s mere survival has been no mean accomplishment.
What does survival require in the future? In times of decline, merger and consolidation at least offer stopgap remedies. Do we really need three seminaries in North America for a few dozen candidate priests? If Ruthenian and Ukrainian Greco-Catholics share the same faith, rite, and (increasingly) the same English language, shouldn’t they merge?
Yet a strategy of mere survival is not enough. A new Ukrainian diaspora brings new challenges and opportunities for what has become a global church. Hence, says Father Kaszczak, “Now it is time to think globally.” Moreover, we should read the signs of Christian revival in both North America and beyond. What the Greco-Catholic Church in America needs now is not caretakers, but visionaries.
With its meticulous detail about people, places and events, this book serves as a handy reference on the history of the Greco-Catholic Church in the United States. It could also be used as the basic text for a college or seminary course. It has laid the groundwork for future, more in-depth and analytical studies. For the general reader interested in the Church’s American experience and concerned for its future, it is indispensable.
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