Silence on Ukraine
The first anniversary of the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine has attracted little by way of media coverage. As for the continuing conflict in the region, that too has been largely ignored of late, even though there is no sign of the fighting dying down. On the contrary, reports, though hard to come by, seem to indicate that the clashes are getting worse. The Minsk Accords, which were supposed to ensure a ceasefire, have yet to secure lasting peace.
That the British Government is not focused on this conflict, despite several statements of concern, is hardly surprising. After all, it has Tunisia and ISIS to worry about. What is troubling is the silence from the Holy See, which may be more concerned with preserving good relations with Russia and with the Russian Orthodox Church. Pope Francis has spoken of “fratricidal conflict”, as if Ukraine were in a state of civil war, rather than the victim of Russian aggression.
But it is hard to see how avoiding upsetting the Putin regime will ameliorate the situation. And where is the reciprocity in the Vatican’s relations with Russia, or with the Russian Orthodox Church for that matter?
Meanwhile, on the religious front, last week the Pope signed a decree recognising the heroic virtues of Metropolitan Archbishop Andrey Sheptytsky, who is now “Venerable” and is one step closer to canonisation.
The Venerable Andrey was leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church from 1901 until his death in 1944. He began his ministry under the Austro-
The Vatican may be too concerned with preserving good relations with Russia
Hungarian Empire, and ended it under the Soviet one. He dedicated his life to building up the Church, to good relations with other Christian communities and to dialogue with the Jewish people.
The Venerable Andrey nurtured the Ukrainian national consciousness, which was threatened by German, Russian and sometimes Polish domination. Shortly after his death, Stalin did his best to destroy the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine, which went underground as a consequence and only resurfaced with independence in 1991. That Ukraine should emerge as an independent country is in part due to the efforts of men like the Venerable Andrey. This is a history of which the world knows little, and of which even most Catholics are unaware.
The Cause of the Venerable Andrey began five decades ago, and the Pope’s decree represents something of an “unblocking” of the path to canonisation. This will be immensely cheering to Greek Catholics in the Ukraine, and all who value the unique history of that country. It may cause annoyance in certain quarters in Russia. That should not bother us overmuch.
All people of goodwill need to rally to the Ukrainian cause, for it is no more than the cause of national self-determination and the inviolability of borders and sovereignty – things that all the countries of Western Europe take for granted. What we enjoy, Ukraine should be allowed to enjoy in peace, too.
e German Church is ailing
The Catholic Church in Germany enjoys the extraordinary luxury of a “church tax”: Germans who belong to a designated church pay it around eight per cent of their income tax. As a result, the Catholic bishops of Germany received an incredible £4.6 billion in 2013. This money gives them influence in the Vatican that is quite disproportionate to the size of their flocks. Mass attendance has fallen by half since 1990, from 22 to 11 per cent of Catholics, who make up 30 per cent of the population, almost exactly the same percentage as Protestants.
This month, however, it emerged that 218,000 German Catholics opted out of the church tax in 2014; in 2013 the figure was 179,000. Cardinal Reinhard Marx, chairman of the German bishops’ conference, regards this as the sad consequence of living in “an open and pluralistic society”. He has a point; but it also indicates a pastoral failure on the part of the German Church. Even Bavaria, home of the cardinal’s own archdiocese of Munich, ceased to be majority Catholic in 2010, a development that must have pained the Bavarian Pope Emeritus.
The German Catholic Church is not in good health or spirits. Many of its churches are virtually empty on Sundays – a phenomenon that may or may not be associated with the depressing modernist style of worship it favours.
This liturgical modernism is complemented by the ultra-liberal theology of certain German bishops which, judging by last October’s synod on the family, they are keen to impose on the whole Church.
May we suggest that, instead of concentrating their efforts on accommodating Catholic teaching to societal norms, they spend their income on evangelising their own dioceses? The annual church tax windfall is growing smaller every year.
Cardinal Marx, trying to put a brave face on the latest statistics, describes German Catholicism as “a Church on the move”. Indeed it is – but not in the right direction.
CATHOLIC HERALD, JULY 24 2015 3