“Head East, careless reporter!”

The Vancouver Sun has a most curious piece about the recent visit of Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church to British Columbia. For whatever reason, the reporter failed rather badly at getting the facts straight about some essential subjects:

Patriarch Shevchuk, 42, is back to Vancouver as the youngest “Catholic” bishop in the world, says his Canadian colleague, Ken Nowakowski, the Ukrainian-Catholic bishop for B.C. and Yukon.

Even though the Ukrainian Catholic Church follows Eastern Orthodox rituals and has an arms-length relationship with the Vatican, Shevchuk’s election as Ukrainian patriarch, or main archbishop, was confirmed last year by Pope Benedict XVI.

Wha….? Why the scare quotes around “Catholic”? The Patriarch is just as Catholic as the Pope. Why is that difficult to grasp? And the bit about the Ukrainian Catholic Church following “Eastern Orthodox rituals” is strange; this bit, from further on in the piece, is even worse:

Ukrainian Catholics do not follow the so-called Latin rite, but tend to blend Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Their church services generally adhere to what is called the Byzantine rite.

Come again? Anyone who has ever been to a Ukrainian Catholic parish knows there is no “blending” of “Roman Catholicism” and “Eastern Orthodoxy”, but simply Catholicism of the Byzantine or Greek variety (or “rite”, if you prefer), which, again, is just as Catholic as the Catholicism of the Western or Latin variety. Here’s a handy little chart to help with the basic breakdown. As my pastor, Fr. Richard Janowicz said about the quote: “What kind of tending, and what kind of blending?  And ‘generally adhere to what is called…’  GENERALLY?  What do they adhere to the rest of the time?”

Fr. Janowicz also took exception to this paragraph:

An official reason for the patriarch’s visit is to mark the 100th anniversary of the arrival on Canadian soil of the country’s first Ukrainian Catholic Bishop, Nykyta Budka. A fierce advocate of independence from the Vatican, Budka spent 15 years in Canada before returning to Ukraine in 1927. He died of starvation in a gulag after Soviet forces imprisoned nearly all Ukrainian Catholic bishops following the Second World War.

He notes that Bp. Budka’s Wikipedia entry (accessible even in Canada!) states that the Bishop was “appointed the Bishop for Canada on July 15, 1912, and consecrated on October 14 that year. In Canada, he became known as a strident defender of the autonomy of the Ukrainian church from the Latin hierarchy, and a fierce opponent of missionary actives amongst Ukrainian Canadian by Russian Orthodox and Protestant churches, and of secularism.” Fr. Janowiz writes:

Just as in the US, the Canadian Latin bishops were not always helpful or friendly to the Greek Catholics, and in fact, sometimes opposed them altogether.  This has absolutely nothing to do with “independence from the Vatican”….which is the reporter’s slant.

Of course, any time there is conflict within the Catholic Church—which is all of the time, for two thousand years and counting—the default angle for many reporters is the dread “Vatican” versus Take Your Pick of Heroic Persons (Even If They Haven’t Volunteered).

To be fair, the reporter’s confusion is one shared by many Catholics. As Christopher Warner wrote in his August 17th Catholic World Report essay, “Both Lungs”, far too many Catholics know little or nothing about Eastern Christianity, both Catholic and Orthodox:

Blessed John Paul II called for the Church to breathe with “both lungs,” incorporating the rich traditions of both the East and West. In 2011, Pope Benedict’s general intention for the month of November was “that the Eastern Catholic Churches and their venerable traditions may be known and esteemed as a spiritual treasure for the whole Church.” Most Roman Catholics, however, have yet to discover how this can be practically achieved.

Warner’s piece is the first of several pieces about Eastern Christianity that CWR will be publishing in the months to come. The goal is not just educational, as important as that is, but is aimed at a deeper understanding and appreciation of the real catholicity of the Church, which in turn results in a deeper, richer faith in Christ. Warner expressed this very well:

Because Eastern Catholics are a minority, they must faithfully preserve their tradition and not be tempted to “Latinize” their practices. Roman Catholics, on the other hand, should seek out some amount of liturgical and intellectual exposure to the Christian East for spiritual and cultural enrichment.

As John Paul the Great knew, in the current war against secularism, both lungs are necessary in order to provide enough “oxygen” for the spiritual battle raging in today’s world. The Eastern perspective expands the arsenal of the Western Church’s theology and prayer life. So, on the one hand, breathing with both lungs reinforces the Church Militant, but it is also an invitation to broaden one’s horizon through a beautiful encounter with Christ, who is new every morning. …

The East complements the Western need to act upon the world with missionary zeal by being more singularly focused on the liturgical and interior spiritual life of Christianity than its Roman counterpart.

Christians, East and the West, are all called to holiness and believe the same truths, but the Eastern “feminine” view is different than the analogous masculine perspective. The Eastern Church offers a different vocabulary, a unique lens on the Catholic faith through a liturgical encounter with God.

Do read his entire essay. Along similar lines, see my January 2006 This Rock article, “The Rite Not To Be Roman”.

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About Carl E. Olson 1220 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.