Church Conflict Brewing in Eastern Ukraine?

(RISU) On 29 January 2002, Metro-politan Ilarion of Donetsk and Mariupol of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) ac-cused the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) of expansionism. He stated that there were no substantial grounds for the establishment of ŕ separate Donetsk and Kharkiv exarchate of the UGCC, which he considers “another step of Catholic expansionism into Orthodox Ukraine.”

In an interview for the UOC-MP press service, the Orthodox hierarch stated, “I can hardly see any objective reasons for the establishment of a new Uniate exarchate in Donbas… There are almost no Uniates here, just a small church in Donetsk and in a few villages north of our eparchy in Horlivka. As a result, we have to deal with further Catholic expansion into Orthodox Ukraine. I would also like to note that, whereas the canonical UOC-MP is always being reminded of Ukrainian sovereignty, the decisions taken by the Uniates are approved by the Pope of Rome, who resides in the Vatican.”

The Ukrainian religious information sevice RISU asked Bishop-elect Stepan Menok, exarch of Donetsk and Kharkiv of the UGCC, for his comments on the matter. The statistics the bishop-elect referred to showed that on January 1, 2001 there were 37 registered Greek Catholic parishes and another four parishes in the process of registration in seven regions of the Donetsk and Kharkiv exarchate. Twenty parishes are situated in the Donetsk region. Consequently, the bishop-elect assumed that Metropolitan Ilarion had not been acquainted with the true figures.

“We need to understand that a struggle between confessions of the Eastern rite which recognize different patriarchs will not do us any good. Attacking each other is hardly becoming of hierarchs, not to mention common parishioners,” said Bishop-elect Stepan Menok.

The head of the Department of Nationalities, Migration and Religion for the Donetsk regional administration, Henadii Kostenko, told RISU it was solely a decision of the UGCC whether or not there are grounds for the establishment of the exarchate. “Problems have existed in the past… The state should not interfere in such situations, nor should it interfere with the internal affairs of the church as a whole,” said Kostenko, assessing the relationships between Catholics and Orthodox.