ROME – Amid a broad spectrum of reactions unleashed by Fiducia Supplicans, a new Vatican document permitting non-liturgical blessings of same-sex couples, Ukraine’s Greek Catholic Church has become the first eastern communion to declare explicitly that the document does not apply outside the Latin Church.
“On the basis of canon. 1492 of the CCCC this Declaration concerns purely the Latin Church and has no legal force for the faithful of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church,” said Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Church, in a Dec. 22 statement.
Shevchuk was referring to a provision of the Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches, which states: “Laws enacted by the supreme authority of the Church, in which the passive subject is not expressly indicated, affect only the Christian faithful of the Eastern Churches insofar as they treat matters of faith or morals or declarations of divine law, or these Christian faithful are explicitly included in these laws, or they grant a favor which contains nothing contrary to the Eastern rites.”
In effect, Shevchuk said that the concept of “blessing” carries a different meaning in Eastern theology and spirituality.
“According to the liturgical practice of our Church, the blessing of a priest or bishop is a liturgical gesture that cannot be separated from the rest of the content of liturgical rites and reduced only to the circumstances and needs of private piety,” he said.
“According to the traditions of the Byzantine rite, the concept of ‘blessing’ means approval, permission or even an order regarding a certain type of actions, prayer and ascetic practices, in particular certain types of fasting and prayer,” Shevchuk said.
“It is obvious that the blessing from the priest always has an evangelistic and catechetical dimension, therefore it cannot in any way contradict the teaching of the Catholic Church about the family as a faithful, indissoluble and fruitful union of love between a man and a woman, which our Lord Jesus Christ raised to the dignity of the Holy Sacraments of Marriage,” he said.
“Pastoral prudence prompts us to avoid ambiguous gestures, statements and concepts that would distort or distort the word of God and the teachings of the Church,” said the 53-year-old Shevchuk, who has led the Greek Catholic Church since 2011.
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, numbering some six million faithful worldwide, is the largest of the 23 eastern Churches in communion with Rome. Shevchuk said his statement came in response to appeals from bishops, clergy, monastics, church movements, and individual laity of the church.
While other bishops and groups of bishops, including in African nations such as Malawi and Zambia, have expressed opposition to the content of Fiducia Supplicans or hesitance to apply it, the Greek Catholic Church becomes the first ecclesiastical jurisdiction to claim that as a legal matter, the document does not apply to them.
So far, the Vatican has not commented on Shevchuk’s declaration.
Although Shevchuk and Pope Francis are personal friends from the time that the future major archbishop spent in Buenos Aires from 2009 to 2011 as head of Greek Catholic eparchy in Argentina, this is not the first time the Ukrainian leader has voiced reservations about aspects of the pontiff’s leadership.
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Shevchuk occasionally has expressed frustration with what many Ukrainians have seen as an overly nuanced diplomatic and political line from the Vatican.
In September, for example, after Francis praised the legacy of “Great Mother Russia” in a session with Russian Catholic youth, Shevchuk said publicly that the pope’s words had caused “great pain and concern.”
On the other hand, in an interview with two Italian Catholic news outlets that appeared the same day as his declaration on Fiducia Supplicans, Shevchuk expressed gratitude for the pontiff’s repeated appeals on behalf of Ukraine.
“The continual references of the pope to martyred Ukraine are an invitation to prayer, but also a warning not to forget our people,” Shevchuk said. “Certainly, diplomacy today definitely needs a wake-up call.”