New York Times Highlights Breakaway Ukrainian Catholic Church

The New York Times has an interesting article by Andrew Higgins about the Ukrainian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church, a breakaway branch of the country’s Ukrainian-Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) with some extravagantly vituperative and conspiratorial rhetoric:

The breakaway church… issued an appeal to Mr. Putin in December to intervene militarily to restore order and defeat what it scorned as “Euro-sodomitic occupation by Brussels programmed by U.S. agents.”

Higgins discusses the group’s leader, a Czech named Anthony Elias Dohnal, and notes an investigation by Ekpres, a Ukrainian newspaper:

…Before the 1989 collapse of Communism in his homeland, then still Czechoslovakia, Mr. Dohnal worked as an informer for Soviet intelligence. The newspaper published what it said was a document from former Czechoslovak archives that identified him as a mole for Soviet intelligence with the code name “Tonek.”

…On its website, however, the sect had responded to suspicions of ties to the Russian secret services by posting what it said was a letter from the Czech Interior Ministry’s Security Committee certifying that there was no record of any past link to secret services by Mr. Dohnal.

The Expres article, entitled “Fake Patriarch”, dates from 2012, and can be seen here – it includes a photograph of a photocopy of the relevant document. However, the Interior Ministry’s letter – dated 2o09, and posted to the church’s website in 2011 – explains (church’s translation):

It is a publicly known fact that Cibulka’s lists are not factual material because they do not contain only the names of KGB agents but also the names of those who were investigated by the KGB. Later on there were new lists issued which no longer contain the names of the aggrieved.

The letter comes with what appears to be a stamp and the signature of Josef Veselý, Director of the Security Department. The church’s website, which is maintained in several languages, carries a number of other aggrieved responses to Expres articles, although given its own highly abusive tirades it seems to be a case of being able to dish it out but not take it.

Dohnal was formerly a Greek Catholic priest and a member of the Basilian Order of St. Josaphat. In 2008, he was was one of four members of the order – along with Metoděj Špiřík, Markian Hitiuk and Robert Oberhauser – who were consecrated as bishops without the approval of the Greek-Catholic Ukrainian Church and the Vatican. Together, the men are known to their supporters as the “Pidhirtsi Fathers” (var. “Pidhirci Fathers”), after the monastery where they were based at the time. They gave their reasons in a letter to the Pope:

Bishops, priests, religious and laymen have opened themselves to the spirit of occultism (homoeopathy, acupuncture, oriental meditations, modern psychological methods…) and syncretism with pagan religions (yoga, zen, martial arts, oriental philosophies…). However, the height of all is that there are still more and more bishops and priests who are homosexuals or paedophiles. In our Greek-Catholic Church there are several homosexual bishops, which is a scandal and decay of Christianity in its substance.

The antichristian system within the Church, enforced by Card. A. Casaroli, Card. A. Sodano and the present Prefect of Congregation for the Oriental Churches (COCh) Card. L. Sandri, has systematically and purposefully disintegrated our martyrish Church and has not only led her into a practical schism but also opened her to the spirit of apostasy…

Alas, the Pope was not impressed, and the “Fathers” were excommunicated. The group retaliated with “an excommunication upon Pope Benedict XVI and John Paul II“; Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in Moscow doesn’t get off lightly, either, having “betrayed Christ, the Church and the nation” by attending an inter-religious meeting in Astana (discussed by me here).

A Catholic website called Per Christum has some commentary from 2008. The unnamed author (“Asimplesinner”) begins by noting events in 2007, when another priest was excommunicated for links with the SSPX, although there doesn’t seem to be any link between the SSPX and the “Pidhirtsi Fathers”. The author is critical of Bishop Dionysius Lachovicz, the previous General Superior of the Basilian Order and now a UGCC bishop:

During his term as General Superior, he was infatuated with this messianic group and convinced of their savific role in the reform his order. Even against the advice of his general council, Lachovicz made decisions in favour of this group to the harm of his Order and to the Church, not only in Ukraine, but also in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia. In the autumn of 1997, Lachovicz had been warned by the Basilian Superior in Poland, Volodymyr Juszczak (currently Bishop of Wroclaw-Gdansk), and by the entire Basilian provincial council in Slovakia, that this “potential sect” would, in the long run, cause grave damage to the Church if given a special mission within the Basilian Order. Despite such warnings, on 21 October 1997, Lachovicz issued a decree giving this divisive group the canonical status of an “experimental community”, under his own personal authority as General. 

Apparently, Lachovicz sent the men to Pidhirtsi following controversies in  Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

It doesn’t seem to me that the group can be reduced to a Kremlin machination. However, it looks like some of its aims coincide with Russia’s interests – one can therefore imagine Russia providing some support, despite the group’s belief that Patriarch Kirill embodies “the spirit of Antichrist”. As the Times notes:

…nobody can figure out how a small sect with no obvious source of income can maintain an elaborate website in six different languages and a wide range of properties in Lviv and elsewhere.

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