Conflicts with the Latin Church

While I am currently Byzantine Catholic, I am about to become Orthodox. Historically the Latin Church has treated the Eastern Catholics very badly, and they continue to do so. I can’t take it any more, so I am leaving. Eastern Catholicism is a failed experiment. How can you remain Byzantine Catholic when you know the history???

The Byzantine Catholic Church is in communion with Rome, despite our differences. Nor are the differences as great as you seem to think. Unity does not have to equal uniformity. Indeed, this fact is expressed in the reality of the Trinity. God is three distinct persons, yet one God. In the same way, there can be great diversity within the Catholic communion of Churches.

You raise the history of the Latin Church being abusive to the Eastern Catholic Churches. Historically, there is truth to this claim. Throughout much of our history, many members of the Latin Church have attempted to remove our traditions, and turn us into Latin Catholics. At times, they have even used connections in the Roman Curia to accomplish this goal. But things are changing, and have changed significantly already! At Vatican II the Catholic Church officially recognized our traditions, disciplines, liturgy, and theology as being equal to that of the Latin Church. Since then, a great deal of energy has been spent restoring us to our original traditions. Much of the damage has been undone, and more is yet to be fixed. In fact, it is amazing how much progress has been made in less than fifty years!!!

Also, many of our Western Catholic brothers and sisters have developed a great respect for us. Many of them are very eager to learn about us, as is demonstrated daily on this new forum. We aren’t living in the 1920’s, my friend.

The biggest hindrance in our progress is ourselves. First of all, many of our priests were trained in the pre-Vatican II mentality that the Latin way is superior. Many of our older priests, and perhaps even some bishops, are convinced that we must become as much like the Latin Church as possible in order to be “fully Catholic.” Such clergy are a vanishing breed, and they will soon be replaced entirely with younger priests who are extremely eastern. Rome is very eager for us to restore our Eastern heritage, and is intervening when necessary to assure this. I even have it on good authority that Rome no longer opposes our restoration of a married priesthood in North America.

The second problem that is holding us back is our own bitterness! Yes, the Latin Church has been uncharitable with us in the past. But holding on to this bitterness, and even nursing it, is only harming ourselves. Resentment has a way of poisoning a person, and even paralyzing them. As long as we nurse bitterness and resentment against the Latins, and against Rome, we will assuredly destroy ourselves. Today, we are the masters of our own fate, and can determine whether or not we grow and flourish. We do not require a fiat from Rome or anyone else to do this. Likewise, we primarily have ourselves to blame for our failures.

In conclusion, I believe that the Eastern Catholic Churches exist for a reason. When you consider the major historical obstacles that we have faced, it is truly amazing that we even exist today. Surely God has preserved us, and has something magnificient in store for us. We have suffered intensely for the sake of Christian unity, and this has not gone unnoticed by Jesus. In the decades to come, the Eastern Catholic Churches have an opportunity to be a model of “Orthodoxy in communion with Rome.” With much help from the Holy Spirit, we can prove to the world that it IS possible to be in communion with Rome without having to abandon our Eastern Christian heritage. However, we must be willing to cooperate with God to make this happen.

Did Archbishop John Ireland have a prejudice against Eastern Catholics?

Yes, it is well known that Archbishop John Ireland had no tolerance for Eastern Catholics. You can read about his unrelenting persecution of Byzantine Catholics in a book entitled “Before the Birth of Ecumenism.” It is published by Byzantine Seminary Press.

For the record, in 1999 at the 75th anniversary celebration of the Byzantine Church in America, Cardinal William Keeler delivered the keynote address. On behalf of the Latin hierarchy, Cardinal Keeler apologized for the inexcusable actions of Archbishop Ireland. I was present at this event, and the apology was very warmly received.

Why does there seem to be so much hostility toward Latin Catholics by SOME Byzantines?

What you are referring to is what I call “Byzantine Bitterness.” Some Byzantine Catholics have a great deal of resentment towards the Latin Church. This isn’t very widespread, but it does exist in some quarters.

To understand the source of this hostility, it is necessary to look at history. First, you will only find such bitterness in North America. This is because of the very real abuse that Byzantine Catholics suffered when they arrived here. Allow me to give you some historical background.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries large waves of immigrants came to the United States. Among these immigrants were numerous Latin and Byzantine Catholics. The only bishops established in the country were Latin bishops, most of whom were of Irish background. These bishops had never even heard of Byzantine Catholics before, and were shocked by our differences. They were especially revolted by our tradition of married priests, which they considered an abomination.

As more Byzantine Catholics arrived, we began building parishes and recruiting priests from Europe. Most of the priests that we were sent were married with families. This greatly angered the Latin bishops, especially the famous Archbishop John Ireland. The Latin bishops began a vigorous campaign to have our married priests expelled from the continent, and sent back to Europe. The Latin bishops had many friends and contacts in the Vatican. At the time, we Byzantine Catholics had no one in the Vatican to present our side of the dispute. Eventually, the Latin bishops managed to obtain a Vatican ruling that banned married Eastern priests in North America.

At this point all heck broke loose. Almost all of our parishes were served by married priests, and if they had to leave we would have had no priests. All of our parishes would have closed. Some of the Latin bishops proposed a solution: they would loan us Latin priests who would celebrate the Roman Mass in our parishes. Eventually, we would be fully assimilated into the Latin Church.

As you could imagine, this option was considered unacceptable. We Byzantine Catholics have a great love for our liturgy and traditions, and would rather die than part with them. For these immigrants especially, the Byzantine tradition was the only connection that they had maintained with their roots.

At this time the Russian Orthodox Church entered the picture. The Russian Orthodox were sympathetic to our sufferings, and offered to help. They would provide our parishes with priests, and life would continue as before. All of our Byzantine traditions would remain fully intact. The only catch was that these parishes would henceforth be considered Russian Orthodox, not Byzantine Catholic.

A large number of Byzantine Catholics took this option. Feeling deeply betrayed by Rome, and not wanting to be coerced into the Latin Church, they became Russian Orthodox. The majority of Byzantine Catholics in the United States became Russian Orthodox during this time. Only a minority were left in the Byzantine Catholic Church.

The large numbers leaving our Byzantine Church caught the attention of Rome. They realized that something had to be done fast. Thus, the Pope established a Byzantine Catholic hierarchy of bishops in North America. This angered many of the Latin bishops beyond belief. They were furious that they had to share America with Eastern Bishops. With our own bishops serving us, Byzantine Catholicism in the New World became more stable and secure. Nonetheless, the damage was already done. Families were painfully divided between Orthodox and Catholic lines. Legal disputes over parish property flooded the courts. And worst of all, we lost so many members that our Church became a gaunt shadow of its former self. Almost all of the Russian Orthodox and OCA Christians in North America today are descended from Byzantine Catholics.

Because of this horrible travesty, a great deal of animosity remained between Latin and Byzantine Catholics. This animosity lingered well into the 1960s. As recently as at Vatican II, a group of American Latin bishops attempted to have Eastern Catholicism banned in North America. Of course this attempt was quickly squashed. Instead, Vatican II went on to affirm the equal rights and dignitiy of the Eastern Catholic Churches. Since then things have dramatically improved.

Today the relationship between Latin Catholics and Byzantine Catholics is far better. Our bishops have a good working relationship. Unfortunately, a great deal of hurt feelings still remain.

In 1999 Cardinal William Keeler, on behalf of the Latin hierarchy, apologized to the Byzantine Catholic Church for the abuse we had suffered. This apology was very warmly received. Likewise, the current Archbishop of Minneapolis expressly apologized for the actions of his predecessor, Archbishop John Ireland.

Let us pray that all of the residual wounds from this dispute are soon healed. Some Byzantine Catholics are having a hard time forgiving. Instead, they are paralyzed with bitterness. It is my fervent hope that they will eventually learn to forgive.