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Interview
April 01, 2014
The Head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church speaks frankly about Russia, Ukraine, and the role of the Church in a time of crisis
Left: Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych speaks Feb. 25 during a Rome news conference. Right: A man passes a mural showing a map of Crimea in the Russian national colors on a street in Moscow March 25 (CNS photos)

Den’ [The Day], a newspaper in Kyiv, Ukraine, published on March 28 a 4,250-word interview by Yuri Chornomorets’ with the Head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk. Selected questions and answers are reprinted below in English translation with permission.

My personal impression is that the Pope speaks very little and very cautiously about Ukraine. Is he afraid of Russia’s wrath? Or do I have the wrong impression?

I think you have the wrong impression. Why? The Pope has said plenty about Ukraine. But obviously, he speaks in a manner that befits the Universal Pontiff. He cannot give an appraisal of specific concrete acts by the government authorities. He expresses himself as the Pastor of the Church, in the name of the People of God. [In] his remarks at the Angelus [on January 26] he very clearly outlined the nature of the internal conflict in Ukraine [then]: he said that it was a conflict between the state authorities and civil society. I think that the Pope gave a very bold, incisive analysis of all the events that we connect with Independence Square. And, on the other hand, the Pope concluded his remarks with the idea of the common good, which is a key concept of the social doctrine of the Catholic Church.

...

Patriarch Kirill and the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church refused to condemn Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Is this silence a peccadillo or a turning point in the history of Christianity?

I think that it is the sign of a definite weakness. For whenever the Church finds herself unusually close to a specific governmental institution, whenever harmonious State-Church relations turn into a sort of domination of one by the other, then, obviously, the Church becomes incapable of speaking the truth in all its fullness in specific historical circumstances. And therefore I think that this is exactly what we are seeing now.

I really wish that the [Ukrainian] Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate, the Russian Orthodox Church would truly breathe with full lung capacity in all its ecclesiastical fullness. Then it will be able to be an authentic witness to Christian truth without any political interests connected with the ideology of one government or another.

...

Are our politicians too “dirty” and our politics too “sick” for the UGCC to believe in the possibility of a true Christian democracy in Ukraine?

The UGCC believes in the possibility of Christian democracy, but it will never become part of the political process. More than once we have said that we support no political party or individual politician. But we strive to educate Christians, who would be capable of honest politics....

Today many people talk [about government reform], using the word lyustratsia [“ritual cleansing, purification”]. With great alarm I observe how this topic is being discussed in society. Unfortunately, there is a tendency to turn this political purification into a routine settling of accounts.

In order to talk about an honest purification of the moral position of a particular politician or official, it is imperative to establish moral rules, criteria, according to which this should take place. Otherwise lyustratsia may turn into a means of recklessly degrading a human being.

And here, I think, the Church has to have her say. Today we are reflecting and working on how to propose moral principles for drafting a law on political purification... which, on the one hand, would protect the dignity of the human person, and, on the other hand, would help to build a political society on the basis of honesty, transparency and openness....

...

Do you feel that the Christians of Ukraine are partly to blame for the blood that has been spilled and may be spilled in the future? ... Are we doing everything possible today for the sake of Ukraine?

If you are going to assign “blame”, that is, responsibility for all the events that Ukraine has been going through, it belongs to all of us, and in particular to Christians. We have to make a thorough examination of conscience as to whether we have done all that we can to prevent bloodshed. We Church leaders many times tried to convince people of the effectiveness of peaceful protest, and of the urgent need at particular moments to cool down the hotheads, so that there would be no bloodshed. Did we succeed? Maybe not, because blood was shed. Did Christians listen to our voice? Maybe not....

If we wanted to ask ourselves today, how I can serve Ukraine, then everyone would have to do everything perfectly at his own post. The doctor—by treating the sick, the police officer—by fighting crime, the politician—by serving his people, the ecclesiastic—by profoundly living out the Word of God that he preaches to others. Then everyone at his post, first of all demanding one hundred percent of himself, will have the moral right to demand something of someone else. Then, I think, together in the solidarity that we see now, we will be very good builders of our future. But our deeds today will someday be judged by history....

Young Andrei Sheptyts’kyi [Sheptytsky], three years after he was enthroned as the Metropolitan of Lviv, published a programmatic pastoral letter “On the Social Question”. When will there be a similar major pastoral letter by you?

Oh, thanks a lot! I think that Metropolitan Andrei Sheptyts’kyi truly was very sensitive to the social question, because he had empathy for the lives of his people. He saw the living conditions in Galicia, especially on the eve of the First World War. He saw how necessary it was on the part of the Church to fill in the gaps in various social conditions, to point out economic opportunities, so that Ukrainian villagers could truly thrive on their land. And that was right at the time when the massive emigration of Ukrainians started. Responding to the issues of that time, Metropolitan Andrei wrote his great pastoral letter....

Today social circumstances are changing so quickly, that I personally and our Synod are trying to respond to individual question and needs. For a meaningful, general, comprehensive position paper of the Church, I think that we need to wait a bit, until we can really see some new trend or development in our society. We see that what we might have said last year is already out of date; we now live in different circumstances.... Whether it will be necessary to write a pastoral letter, or to preach the social doctrine of the Catholic Church some other way, is a secondary question, but the Church has spoken and will speak up.

...

Last week Patriarch Filaret [of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Kyiv Patriarchate] issued a very harsh, honest letter in response to the aggression in Crimea. What about your response?

Our response is similar. Obviously, we are responding not just by the written word; we are trying to respond by means of our social position, especially making use of our international contacts. For we are a Church that lives in various countries throughout the world, and therefore we offer an evaluation from various standpoints.

It is an open secret that the annexation of Crimea de facto broke the whole system of international security. A month ago, when we were with Patriarch Filaret in the U.S.A. for the prayer breakfast with President Obama, together with senators and leaders from various states, we said: What is happening in Ukraine affects not only Europe but the whole world. Maybe then they looked at us as though we were cranks.... But today the world is so interconnected that the resistance movement in Ukraine then and now may reveal very deep conflicts in the international community.... And now, when I talk about this again in various European circles, and even with contacts in the United States, no one is laughing. Everyone understands now that that aggression is extraordinarily dangerous.

And today, in my opinion, it is everyone’s duty—for us in Ukraine, and for Churches at the international level, and for the whole global community—to do everything we can to prevent another war. Not just cold war, but also a war that would be a conflagration in which people died.

 
About the Author
Michael J. Miller 

Michael J. Miller translated Introduction to the Mystery of the Church by Benoit-Dominique de la Soujeole, O.P., for Catholic University of America Press.
 

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