Thursday, December 29, 2005

From the Eastern Churches: A Change of Words, A Change of Policy

This morning's Bollettino has just been placed in the hopper -- didn't I say it'd be a busy week over there? As is usually the case, there is something of particular note.

(As a preface, this is an extremely policy-heavy and inside baseball analysis. If you're looking to start your day with a fashion show, you'll have to go somewhere else. And don't say I didn't forewarn you as you yawn.)

In recent days, as the civil year winds down, the Pope has been giving his assents to the various elections of bishops in the Eastern Rites as decided upon by the synods of the respective churches in communion with the Holy See. As opposed to the Latin Synod of Bishops, the Eastern Synods sit at least once a year and enjoy deliberative governing authority in the administration of their respective churches, an autonomy respected to varying degrees by Rome.

In terms of filling appointments in the Eastern rites, the customary practice of the last decades has been that the particular Synod meets, casts its votes, sends the names to the Congregation for the Oriental Churches in Rome which, in turn, forwards them to the Pope for his assent or confirmation, at which point the appointment is effective and ordination or installation may proceed in accord with the Canons of the Eastern Churches, which were promulgated by John Paul II in 1991.

Just yesterday, Benedict XVI green-lighted a slate of appointments recommended by the Maronite Synod, which met in late September. But today, a new formula has appeared in announcing something which the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic church already did months ago. And it signals a desired (and, some would say, seismic) devolution of even the vestiges of governance away from Rome and back to the churches on their home turf with a mutually beneficial end, unspoken for now but loudly present in this morning's subtext.

In October, the Synod of the UGCC -- led by Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, who recently transferred his major-archeparchy from Lviv to the birthplace of Russian Christianity in Kiev -- elected auxiliary bishop Ihor Vozniak of Lviv to fill the archeparchial seat there left vacant by Husar's eastward move. Vozniak was installed in Lviv in November without the traditional papal assent.

This morning, the other shoe dropped. In its announcement, the Holy See indicated that no papal assent was given -- implying, in a gesture unprecedented in recent times, that no papal assent needed to be given.

The announcement reads that Husar, "with the consent of the Synod of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and after having informed the Apostolic See, has transferred" Vozniak to the archiepiscopate of Lviv. (As always, emphases and translation are my own.)

To contrast, even Husar's own election as major archbishop in succession to (the legendary) Myroslav Ivan Lubachivsky was confirmed by John Paul one day after it took place. (Husar was then named a cardinal two days following, the "key" among seven more names added to the mega-list of 37 announced by the late Pope a week before.) Going further, when the major seat of the Ukrainian diaspora, the US archeparchy based here in Philadelphia, was to be filled in late 2000, the Synod voted but it was announced that John Paul himself had chosen Stefan Soroka as the metropolitan, as if it were just any other Latin-rite appointment -- probably no mention was made of election and assent so as not to get the Latin-rite Americans all hopped up about democratic selection of bishops, leading them to think that it was right around the corner.

"[A]fter having informed the Apostolic See, [Husar] has transferred..." -- an amazing, never-before-seen formulation. It puts a boatload of clout in the hands of the Synod which, according to this statement, now enjoys the canonical power of the consent (previously the Pope's) and the major-archbishop, who is presented as the licit authority of selection and transferral (previously the prerogative of the Synod), all without any objections from Rome.

As the Apostolic See has not of yet made any explicit statement on Husar's August assumption of the major-archeparchial seat of Kiev, in light of this morning's distanced statement (which ipso facto implied its blessing of the Kiev move), it doesn't seem like that'll be coming now.

But the bigger factor is this: Rome's sent the message that the Ukies need not wait for their consent anymore, a recusal which clears the pathway toward the UGCC's long-desired dream scenario: The declaration of the Patriarchate in Kiev. And when that comes and the fireworks begin, the Vatican's now got its leeway to say, "They're independent, they're doing what they want, we haven't tried to stop them before...."