VATICAN CITY, Feb. 22 (AP) -- He got his ring but not his title.

Like the 43 other new cardinals, Lubomyr Husar knelt Thursday before Pope John Paul II and received his golden ring as a prince of the church.

But the leader of Ukrainian Greek Catholics, who number some 5 million in Ukraine and another 1 million abroad, didn't get what he and his predecessors have sought for years -- the title of patriarch.

What may seem to some as a minor squabble over church etiquette is a major issue between the Vatican and the Eastern rite Catholics in Ukraine:

Even as they emerge from decades of persecution under the Soviets, Ukrainian Greek Catholics have become a possible obstacle in the pope's drive to improve relations with Orthodox Christians, and to cap that with a visit to Moscow.

With the pope headed to Ukraine in June, Husar insists the trip not be seen as a stepping stone to Moscow but only as a visit to John Paul's Ukrainian flock.

"It should not be a dress rehearsal for Moscow," said the gray-bearded churchman, a Ukrainian-born U.S. citizen.

The late Soviet dictator Josef Stalin forced the Ukrainian Greek Catholic church to join the state-sanctioned Russian Orthodox church in 1946. Priests and the unwilling were jailed, deported or shot and its churches given to the Orthodox.

No longer underground, the Greek Catholic church has demanded its churches be returned, leading to violence in some cases. In turn, the church in Moscow is suspicious of Catholic intentions, claiming the Vatican wants to seek converts in traditional Orthodox territory.

Not wanting to inflame passions further, a cautious Vatican has held back on conferring the title of patriarch, which, Husar said, would put him on an "equal footing" with Orthodox church leaders. It would also give his church more independence from Rome.

His title now is "major archbishop," which, he said, means little to eastern Europeans.

Husar said he is trying to persuade the Vatican to upgrade it, but not even the late Cardinal Josef Slipyj, a charismatic Ukrainian who survived 18 years in Soviet prison camps, convinced the Vatican.

The pope's visit in June is already difficult, with planners trying to organize a meeting with leaders of the three seperate Orthodox churches there -- one directly under Moscow.

Husar said he has been trying to stress that his flock is a genuine Eastern church and not what he called a "Latinized version." Like other Eastern rite churches they use an Orthodox-style liturgy but remain loyal to the pope.

Still, the Russian Orthodox have suggested the pope call off his trip, saying the time is not yet ripe. Planned meetings between the pope and the Russian Orthodox patriarch have been called off with the same reason cited.

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad