People living in shelters receive bread trays donated by members of the Donetsk People's Republic militias in Ilovaysk, Ukraine, in this Aug. 14, 2014 file photo, CNS photo/Sergei Ilnitsky, EPA

Archbishop wants G-7, Vatican to do more to ensure Ukraine's security

By  Jonathan Luxmoore, Catholic News Service
  • June 22, 2015

WARSAW, Poland - The head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church expressed concern that the world's richest countries are failing to honour a 1994 agreement that promised Ukraine security for giving up its Soviet-era nuclear weapons.

Ukrainian Catholic Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych said that the so-called G-7, a group of seven industrialized countries that shapes economic policies, offered little more than words about Ukraine's security under the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances during its June 7-8 summit in Germany.

"The G-7 countries have rightly condemned actions by Moscow and pro-Russia separatists," Archbishop Shevchuk said. "They've declared for maintaining sanctions on Russia and tightening them. But we heard nothing at the G-7's summit, unfortunately, about the obligations arising from the Budapest Memorandum on security guarantees, under which the U.S., Britain and Russia pledged to respect Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and refrain from threats of force."

In a June 16 interview with Poland's Catholic information agency, KAI, he said the 1994 security pledge had not been recognized at the summit, although Ukraine "has been attacked and needs such guarantees more than ever."

"We've heard various declarations, but we now need concrete acts of support, since this war is ruining our economy and leaving people with no means of living," Archbishop Shevchuk said.

In a June 7 declaration, G-7 leaders reiterated their condemnation of Russia's March 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimea and urged the implementation of a cease-fire, signed Feb. 12 in Minsk.

The leaders said they were prepared to step up sanctions against Russia if it continued cross-border support for separatist forces but made no mention of past guarantees to Ukraine.

However, Archbishop Shevchuk said heavy weapons had not been withdrawn from Ukraine's separatist-controlled Donetsk region, nor have steps been taken to de-escalate the conflict.

Catholics could not "passively observe" the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had spoken "openly and clearly" of wishing to "revive the Soviet Union," he said.

The archbishop said Ukrainian Catholics appreciated the Holy See's "mediating mission," as well as calls for "dialogue and peace" by Pope Francis, but added that they counted on Rome to employ "clearer terminology" about the conflict by describing it as an "act of aggression by Russia" rather than a "fratricidal war."

It was the latest criticism of the Vatican by the Ukrainian Catholic leader, who told France's Catholic La Croix daily May 7 that the Pope's pledge to stand with Ukrainians during a February "ad limina" bishops' visit had not been "matched by action."

"We understand Rome is trying to safeguard its ties with Moscow, but we also know Christ has always been on the side of those who suffer. In this conflict, it's Ukraine which is suffering -- and the Holy See, whose diplomacy is service of the Gospel, should be at our side", the archbishop told La Croix.

"We'd like to see a less ambivalent policy on Rome's part, and we've expressed this clearly. By urging respect for international law, the Holy See implicitly condemned the annexation of Crimea. But it didn't condemn it word for word."

In his KAI interview, Archbishop Shevchuk said priests were working in only three of the 12 Donetsk parishes, noting that Bishop Stephan Meniok of Donetsk had fled to Zaporizhzhya after his residence was commandeered by separatists.

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