Disappointed Again – Ukrainians After the Havana Statement of Francis and Kirill

Fr. Peter Galadza, PhD, Ottawa.

The declaration signed in Havana by Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow on February 12 has disappointed the global Ukrainian community. Many are expressing concern that the Vatican was manipulated. That’s because while the statement has a great number of very positive aspects, these were achieved at the price of moral compromise on some key points. A particular flaw is the lack of any reference to foreign aggression in Ukraine.

Even if the statement had simply mentioned the need to abide by international law, the illegal and immoral actions of the Kremlin would have been exposed. As we all know (though some at the Vatican prefer to forget it) the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 – signed by Russia itself – guarantees Ukraine’s territorial integrity. As a result of the aggression, thousands of innocent civilians have died in Eastern Ukraine. Patriarch Kirill provided an ideological foundation for Moscow’s aggression with his idea of a “Russian World” (Russkii Mir). In the hands of Putin, the ideology has become redolent of German policy during the 1930s. And we all know what that led to.

This brings us to a key issue usually overlooked by those who presume that our concern is primarily the retention of territory. That in and of itself would be legitimate, but from a Christian moral perspective there is something much more important. It’s the principle that different ethno-national groups need to be compelled to live together in harmony within stable borders. Once ethnic groups get the idea that they can start carving up a country so that they don’t have to live with others, all hell breaks loose – and not just figuratively. The Church has always tried to get people of diverse ethnicities to at least co-exist, if not thrive together. Ironically, Ukrainian “nationalism” did not become an issue in Ukraine until Russia decided to “protect” the Russian population of Ukraine. A “nationalist” reaction was bound to ensue.

Another area of disappointment relates to the make-up of the delegation in Havana. Antonii Pakanych (Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate) was prominent in the Moscow Patriarchate’s delegation even though no one even remotely representative of Eastern Catholicism (not to mention Ukrainian Greco-Catholicism) was invited to represent the other side. In fact, Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk, a member of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, was not even asked for his input into the agreed statement. The principal author on the Catholic side was precisely that Council. Certainly when the Vatican issues statements about particular regions, it should consult with Church leaders from those regions.

There are several other dimensions of the Statement that will have to await my commentary at another time. But because some Ukrainian Catholics are posing the following question, let me respond to it here. The question is: Should Ukrainians be leaving the Catholic Church because of the Havana meeting and all that it represents? That would be a great mistake. Creating new divisions is never a good idea. Besides, Ukrainian Catholics have been through much worse. During the Soviet period we had to endure the Vatican’s Ostpolitik. Patriarch Josyf Slipyj knew the flaws of that policy better than anyone, and yet he remained committed to the Catholic Church’s universalism. Slipyj remains our guide. That’s because in the grand scheme of things, we have been well served by our union with Rome, even though there have been – and will continue to be – very disappointing moments.

Finally, lest anyone think that Ukrainians are committed to being “spoilers,” let me point out that it’s not only good that the meeting in Havana took place; such meetings should actually take place more often. But with the experience of an initial meeting that was manipulated by Moscow, we must all insist that future meetings be devoid of Kremlin mendacity. In 1989 Gorbachev’s meeting with Pope John Paul II was also disappointing in several ways, and yet it became the harbinger of great things for the Ukrainian Church. We live by that hope.