Saturday, May 26, 2012

Byzantine Catholics- "Obstacle to Unity"?

from First Things- 'That They May Be One'
May 25, 2012-    written by Tim Kelleher

Gathered for their ad limina, Eastern Catholic bishops from the U.S. were addressed last week by Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Leonardo Cardinal Sandri. His injunction—made not about abortion, the HHS mandate, war, wealth redistribution, or gay marriage—could have a critical influence on the Christian response to all of the above. 

Among the Cardinal’s remarks was a tersely reiterated expectation of celibacy for priests serving the Eastern Catholic Churches in diaspora—in this case the U.S. The message may not have been carried directly from the hand of Benedict but the effect has been unpleasant to say the least. 

Enter Thomas Loya, a Ruthenian Catholic priest of the Parma Ohio Eparchy, writing his eparch in response.
"In addition to being chillingly reminiscent of the demeaning attitude of the Latin Rite bishops toward the Eastern Catholic Churches during the beginning of the last century in America, the Cardinal's remarks about celibacy seem to confirm what so many Eastern Catholics in America have suspected for too long: Rome and the Latin Rite see the Eastern Catholic Churches in America as essentially inconsequential, perhaps even in the way of ecumenism between Rome and the Orthodox Churches."
The chilling reminiscence refers, in part, to an exercise in aberrant ecclesiology—more a power play—engineered by Archbishop John Ireland that resulted in an entire body of U.S. Eastern Catholics breaking communion with Rome. I’m not about to jump into the trenches on the issue of celibacy (I would rather the comments box not turn into a Mixed Martial Arts cage). I’ll simply repeat the known fact that celibacy it is not a dogma of the Church but a discipline, and that its normative status in the Latin Church is not of ancient provenance. Moreover, Loya’s point is not about celibacy per se but ecclesial integrity and mutual respect. 

What moves us onto this more sensitive landscape is his suggestion that Rome views the Eastern Catholic churches as “in the way” of relations between itself and the Orthodox Churches. I can certainly see why it would occur to him and he’s not the first to say it. For centuries, the existence of the so-called Uniate Churches has been a vexed point in those relations. 

But I wonder how much help he can realistically expect from the Eastern hierarchs. Too many Eastern Catholic bishops behave as though their mandate actually is to allow their Churches to die a slow, palliated death. 

If Loya is correct, it’s difficult to see how Cardinal Sandri’s words advance the ecumenical agenda. In fact, it would seem to do the reverse. For, what possible inducement to deepening trust could the Orthodox find in Rome’s insistence that Eastern Churches compromise their traditions the moment they hit the customs line at JFK?


  1. Agreed. Unfortunately, it goes the other way too - the handful of Western Orthodox parishes in Western Europe, North America, and Oceania that are in communion with the Orthodox Churches are often expected to accept byzantinizations of their services and churches as though the only valid way to worship and live as an Orthodox Christian were the Byzantine Rite. It seems we all have a long ways to go in learning the meaning of unity in diversity!

  2. Thank you for linking to this article and keeping up with this topic.

    I prayed for your husband today at Liturgy- God grant him many years!

  3. Many people believe that Tertullian was being ironic when he commented about Christians loving each other...

    Unfortunately, the history of Christianity is full of different groups misunderstanding each other, and also persecuting each other. And being right does not seem to make a difference.

    Yes, Byzantine Christians have persecuted other traditions - the prozymite-azymite controversy (whether one uses leaven or unleavened bread for Mass) lead to much persecution in Armenia.

    I remember standing in Church listening to an account of some of the saints involved in the Iconoclast Controversy. I remember being shocked by the misrepresentation of situation and the reported behaviour of the Orthodox protagonists.

    The rather rich history of Christians persecuting each other really should act as a warning for us all - but most of all for those who have taken the responsibility of governing the Church. Imposing disciplines onto other traditions (without strong compelling reasons) is ill considered, and certainly not within the advice of the great Western Father, St Augustine.

  4. Blah. Just blah. Have we gotten any real statement from the bishops yet? And for clarification on the comment, go here
    Do a control/command+F and search for Max.


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