Religious Democracy

KIEV, Ukraine -- In an apparent effort to bolster its nationwide ambitions, Ukraine’s Greek Catholic Church just moved its headquarters from Lviv to Kyiv. But not everybody’s happy about that.

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexey II, warned from Moscow last week that the move was a bad idea. He intimated that it would degrade his organization’s relations with the Vatican, and create social unrest in Ukraine. Vladimir, the Kyiv Metropolitan of the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate – a man who answers to Moscow – published on his church’s Web site a weird open letter to Pope Benedict XVI demanding that the pontiff forbid the move. He also threatened social unrest if the move goes through as planned.

The problem is political, of course. Greek Catholics comprise only about 10 percent of the Ukrainian population, but they’re situated overwhelmingly in the country’s nationalist and Ukrainian-speaking west. This region has no pre-1939 ties to Russia and tends to look upon Ukraine’s gigantic northern neighbor with something less than unalloyed love. Greek Catholicism, which looks to the Pope, is the religion of the cradle of Ukrainian nationalism.

It doesn’t help that the nationalist Ukrainian Diaspora community in the West is by and large Greek Catholic. In fact, the Russian Patriarchate actually has good reason to be nervous, because the more Greek Catholic Ukraine becomes, the less tied to Russia it is likely to be.

But that’s life these days, and Patriarch Alexey, Metropolitan Vladimir and everyone else in their bunch better get used to it. Things have changed; Ukraine isn’t run from Moscow anymore, and there’s no more imposed established religion. During the Soviet era, brave Greek Catholic priests were forced to hold secret masses in the Carpathian Mountain forests – but these days, Ukraine is a developing democracy, and the Greek Catholic Church – and any other church, for that matter – can set up shop wherever it wants. If, as the Russian Orthodox Church seems to fear, the Catholics start to proselytize and win converts, tough. Let a hundred flowers bloom.

It’s both sinister and pathetic that the Russian Orthodox Church – historically the handmaiden of Russian power – thinks it has the right to dictate terms to Ukraine, not to mention boss the Pope around. Sorry Vladimir, sorry Alexey – and sorry President Vladimir Putin, while we’re at it. The days when you could pull this stuff are over. The Greek Catholics are in Kyiv, and you can’t kick them out.

Source: Kyiv Post Editorial