Rorate Caeli

Rome upholds the excommunication of the "Pidhirtsi Fathers"

The Apostolic Signatura has refused to review the excommunication of the four Ukrainian priests who had been consecrated as bishops -- without being proposed as bishops by the Synod of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) and without the requisite papal blessing -- last March. According to the Religious Information Service of Ukraine, the Apostolic Signatura's response to the four bishops stated that “…Having seen your instances to the Holy Father and the Major Archiepiscopal Tribunal enclosed with your letter, this Apostolic Signatura does not see any reason for it to intervene in this matter.”

The four priests -- Basilian hieromonks Elijah A. Dohnal, Methodius R. Shpirzhyk, Markian V. Hitiuk, and the priest Robert Oberhauser -- had been consecrated as bishops shortly before March 23 of this year. They are popularly called the "Pidhirtsi Fathers". As reported on this blog, the consecration of the four had been denounced on March 23 by Lubomyr Cardinal Husar of the UGCC. Given the conflicting reports at the time and the anonymity of the alleged consecrator, Cardinal Husar had simply declared that the four were excommunicated if indeed they had been consecrated bishops.

Interestingly, the head of the UGCC cited the absence of the Pope's blessing as one of the reasons for excommunicating of the four. Lubomyr Cardinal Husar was himself consecrated a bishop without a papal blessing by the late Josef Cardinal Slipyj, the then-Major Archbishop of the UGCC, in 1977. Rome recognized him only in 1996.

In June and again in August, two canonical trials were held for the Pidhirtsi Fathers. The first one, before the Collective Tribunal of the Eparchies of Sokal and Zhovkva Eparchies, sentenced the four to excommunication. This sentence was then upheld in the second trial, which was held before the Tribunal of the Supreme Archbishop of the UGCC, Lubomyr Husar. It was from this sentence that the Pidhirtsi Fathers had appealed to the Apostolic Signatura in Rome.

In addition to the trials, there have been severe controversies between the followers of the four bishops and the UGCC hierarchy, with attempts by the former to take over the administrative buildings of an UGCC eparchy. (See also this article.)

Supporters of the four bishops contend that they had been consecrated as part of a long-running movement in the UGCC against the alleged modernism, hyper-ecumenism, de-Latinizing and pro-Orthodox leanings of the current UGCC Hierarchy. With Rome upholding the excommunications, this now becomes the second split from the UGCC in just one year over the question of the UGCC's de-Latinization and alleged "modernism". The first had been that of Fr. Basil Kovpak and the Society of St. Josaphat (associated with the SSPX) that culminated in the excommunication of Fr. Kovpak late in November last year. (It should be noted, though, that the Pidhirtsi Fathers are not associated with either the SSJK or the SSPX)