A man lights a candle in a temporary Ukrainian Catholic tent church in 2013 during anti-government protests in Kiev. Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych and other Ukrainian Catholic leaders have warned their church is being driven underground a gain, a quarter-century after it was re-legalized with the end of communist rule. CNS photo/Tatyana Zenkovich, EPA

In eastern Ukraine, church has 'returned to catacombs,' spokesman says

By  Jonathan Luxmoore, Catholic News Service
  • December 18, 2014

WARSAW, Poland - Ukrainian Catholic leaders have warned their Church is being driven underground again, a quarter-century after it was re-legalized with the end of communist rule.

"In Crimea and eastern Ukraine, we've already effectively returned to the catacombs," said Fr. Ihor Yatsiv, the Church's Kiev-based spokesman.

"It's a sad paradox that history is being repeated just as we commemorate our liberation. But after a couple of decades of freedom, we again look set to lose our freedom," he told Catholic News Service Dec. 18.

The priest spoke as Ukrainian Catholic communities in Russian-occupied Crimea approached a Jan. 1 deadline for re-registering under Russian law. He said the Byzantine Ukrainian Catholic Church had no legal status in Russia and would therefore be unable, in practice, to register.

Yatsiv said Russian and separatist forces had not officially refused to register Ukrainian Catholic parishes, but had ensured it was impossible because of the lack of legal provisions. He added that there was no effective government in separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine, where rebel groups did not recognize Ukrainian Catholics and were "imposing whatever rules and regulations they choose."

Earlier in December, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych told Austria's Kathpress news agency that Crimea's five Ukrainian Catholic parishes would find themselves "outside the law," along with the territory's Latin Catholic, Muslim and breakaway Orthodox communities.

"It's ironic we've just been celebrating the 25th anniversary of our legalization in the former Soviet Union — but our right to legal activity will soon be withdrawn in various parts of our country," Shevchuk said Dec. 12.

"There's clearly no religious liberty already in Crimea and the occupied territories of the east, and I hope the international community will deploy its resources to restoring freedoms in the affected areas," he said.

Ukrainian Catholics fled Crimea to escape arrests and property seizures after Russia annexed the region in March. Most church parishes have closed in Ukraine's war-torn Luhansk and Donetsk regions, where separatists declared an independent "New Russia" after staging local referendums last spring.

Ukraine's Catholic Caritas charity warned Dec. 11 of a "humanitarian catastrophe" this winter, with 490,000 people now registered as refugees, and 545,000 displaced abroad, mostly in Russia.

The Ukrainian Catholic Church makes up around a tenth of Ukraine's 46 million inhabitants. It was outlawed under Soviet rule from 1946 to 1989, when many clergy were imprisoned and most church properties seized by the state or transferred to Russian Orthodox possession.

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Sign up or login to your account.
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location
Type the text presented in the image below

Support The Catholic Register

Unlike many other news websites, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our site. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.