Sylvester Sembratovych had been a candidate for Greek-Catholic archbishop-metropolitan of Lviv in 1869 but, the following year, his more experienced uncle Josyf was nominated to the post. Sylvester subsequently served as auxiliary bishop from 1879, as apostolic administrator from 1882, and finally suceeded as metropolitan-archbishop from 1885 until his death in 1898. He assumed the administration of the Ruthenian [Ukrainian] primatial see following the enforced resignation of his uncle Josyf Sembratovych, who had been judged by church and state to be too soft on Russophilism. During this period, the Catholic Church also felt itself under seige by liberal-anticlerical politicians throughout Western Europe. In this climate of heightened political and religious tension, nephew Sylvester was given the specific madate of tempering pro-Russian sympathies among the Greek-Catholic clergy and in Ruthenian society, as it was within his influence. For this purpose, he promoted a political program of détente between the two dominant nationalities in Austrian Galicia, the Poles and the Ruthenian-Ukrainians. Known as “The New Era”, the program received considerable initial support but was eventually rejected by the majority of the Ruthenian elite, who judged it to be a continuation of their age-old political subservience to the Poles. In hindsight (1923), Sembratovych’s successor, Andrei Sheptytsky, also criticized the New Era for having further alienated the Greek-Catholic Church from the Ruthenian secular leadership. Leaving aside political evaluations, nonetheless, it is historically noteworthy to examine Sembratovych’s motivations for promoting such a program, in his own words. I have recently discovered a reference to the inauguration of the New Era, in a letter written by Sylvester Sembratovych to Cardinal Simeoni, prefect of the Sacred Congregation De Propaganda Fide, the Vatican department then in charge of the Eastern Catholic Churches. Here is a translation of the relevant passage, which maintains the original captilization:
In our Parliament of the kingdom of Galicia, which is here in Leopolis, an event took place which is linked to the good of the Church and of our Ruthenian nation: that is, a program, to be followed in the future, was brought forward by the Ruthenians, which aims to resolve the difficulties that stood in the way of the friendly relations and the political development between the two nationalities in Galicia. The program was laid out thus: We Ruthenians form a nation distinct from the Poles and the Russians; 2o we faithfully retain the catholic faith and the greek-catholic rite; 3o we will remain faithful to the emperor and to the imperial Dynasty of Austria; on the foundation of these principles we intend to benefit from constitutional rights and thus to promote the development of the political, social and economic good of our nation – keeping ourselves in friendly relations with the polish nation. This program, already suggested by me and subsequently proposed in parliament by one of the Ruthenian deputies, professor of the Lviv gymnasium Romanchuk, I have made my own and strongly supported it in the same parliament, showing the highest interest in it. I would say that this program was favorably received both within parliament and outside, with the exception of those few persons from the opposition parties who are against religion and the catholic Church. Having made themselves known, they can now be more carefully evaded. Of late, this program has also been well received by the other three Ruthenian Bishops and generally by the clergy and the Ruthenian people. It was published together with an appeal to the entire Ruthenian nation to favour it and to embrace it as the only means to achieve real advantages for the same nation. The said appeal bears the signatures of all of us Bishops, of the head of the Ruthenian parliamentary Club, and of the president of the society of Ruthenian nationalists in Lviv. We decided to take this step because we believe that this is the right means not only for the good of the nation but also for holy Church.
Leopolis, 17 December 1890