Saturday 3 January 2009

Sede Vacante

Постави, Господи, законоположителя надъ ними, да разуміють іазыци, іако человіци суть (
Псаломъ 99:20).

As we begin a new calendar year, English Catholics are awaiting news of the appointment of a new archbishop of Westminster, to replace Cardinal Murphy-O’Conner who has recently reached the retirement age. If precedent is anything to go by, the acceptance of the cardinal’s resignation should occur simultaneously with his successor's appointment. This efficient procedure ensures that the archdiocese is not left unnecessarily vacant, that is, without a shepherd to lead both the clergy and the faithful. As a rule, Latin dioceses are left vacant mostly as a result of the death or unexpected resignation of their bishops.

Despite the efficiency of most other appointments, there is a single diocese in the United Kingdom that has been vacant for three years. It happens to be the one Eastern Catholic diocese in that country, the Apostolic Exarchate for Ukrainian Catholics. The previous exarch did not die, nor did he resign: Bishop Paul Chomnycky, who served as the third Ukrainian exarch (missionary bishop) in the UK for four years, was transferred to the eparchy of Stamford, USA, on 3 January 2006.

Three years is considered an exceptionally long time to wait for a new bishop to be found. In the past century, a three-year vacancy in a Ukrainian diocese appears to be unprecedented. The single exception occurred in Stanislaviv from 1900 to 1904, after the Servant of God Andrei Sheptytsky had been promoted to the metropolitan see of Lviv. That particular delay occurred due to interference from two sides: firstly, from the Austrian government, who obstinately refused to provide the required funding; and secondly, from those clergy who were opposed to the main candidate. The leaders of both parties put their particular goals before the greater good of Christ’s Church and of its faithful. Nonetheless, even from a secular point of view, historians have judged their obstinacy as short-sighted and selfish. In the end, the Apostolic See found a way to navigate around the obstacles originating from the little concerns of men.

In our own day, such unusually long diocesan vacancies draw attention to themselves and undoubtedly are the result of difficulties in accepting a candidate. In addition, certain assignments might be considered to be difficult, resulting in the candidate himself eschewing the nomination. In point of fact, the exact reasons for this particular delay are not currently known. In the future, however, historians will closely scrutinize both the problems and the protagonists involved in prolonging this sede vacante and will render their historical judgment. Whatever issues are involved in this long-overdue appointment, British Ukrainian Catholics ardently await the naming of a worthy bishop to fulfill this apostolic charge.

EVOLUTIONES: On 14 January 2009, a new bishop was nominated, suprisingly, for an exarchate that already has a bishop. Father Svjatoslav Shevchuk, Rector of the Lviv Seminary and one of the brightest stars in the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, was named auxillary-bishop for the tiny Ukrainian community in Argentina.
Hearts lifted when, on June 2, church news agencies reported that Bishop Hlib Lonchyna a native American, had been appointed exarch for the United Kingdom. Later, however, it was clarified that Kyr Hlib had only been appointed apostolic administrator of an exarchate which officially remains vacant.