UKRAINE - CRIMEA: No Place for Greek Catholic Church in Sevastopol

by Anna Vassilyeva, Keston News Service, 1 February 2001

Ahead of the visit to Ukraine in June by Pope John Paul II, which he hopes will help promote dialogue with the Orthodox in the country, a Greek Catholic community in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol is continuing to experience opposition from the Orthodox Church, which has prevented it from building a church to serve its 200-strong community. Despite having obtained registration a decade ago, the Greek Catholics' persistent attempts to obtain a plot of land in central Sevastopol to build their own church have got nowhere. The development plan approved by the city council in 1995 includes up to 99 Orthodox churches, but leaves no space for a Greek Catholic church.

It is not clear if the refusal to grant the Greek Catholics land for a church will be discussed when the papal nuncio to Ukraine, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, visits Sevastopol on 8 February, although he will be discussing with the city council the refusal to hand back the confiscated Roman Catholic church (see KNS 29 January 2001).

`Our community was registered back in 1991', priest of one of the two Greek Catholic communities in Sevastopol, Fr Pyotr Kamensky, told Keston News Service on 28 January, `and despite having applied for an appropriate plot many times, we have failed to obtain one.' After applying for a plot in the Kamyshovaya Bukhta district of the city, the Greek Catholics were refused by the city council since it had already been allocated to the Orthodox. Fr Pyotr admitted that the council did offer them two other sites, but `one was on the slope of a mountain and the other not far from a dump' (see KNS 9 May 2000). The latest refusal was issued last summer.

Fr Pyotr ascribes the refusal to Orthodox intolerance towards the Greek Catholics. While denying any intolerance between Orthodox and Roman Catholics, a senior official of the religious affairs department of Sevastopol city administration Anatoli Sigora admitted to Keston by telephone on 23 January that `there is certainly such intolerance between the Greek Catholics and the Orthodox'.

Accompanying the city architectural plan approved in 1995 was a map with 70 or 99 (figures from different sources vary) would-be Orthodox churches marked on it. The plan was presented to the city council by the Orthodox dean of Sevastopol region, Fr Georgy Polyakov. `I cannot say about 99 but I know for sure about 70 such planned buildings,' hieromonk Paisi (Dmokhovsky), representative of Metropolitan Lazar (Shvets) in Sevastopol region, confirmed to Keston on 24 January.

Viktor Yevlashkin, deputy head of the city council, declined to give any details of the plan, telling Keston by telephone on 23 January that it was perhaps `misinformed'. Although he confirmed that the plan `did exist', Sigora declared it `has lost its legislative power'. `We offered the Greek Catholics two plots of land, but they rejected them. They insisted on a plot in the city centre, which is impossible.' Asked whether the architectural plan restricts the Greek Catholics he replied that `the Orthodox do everything they can to prevent Greek Catholics, whom they consider "uncanonical", from obtaining a plot, especially near Orthodox churches. Historically, there has never been a single Greek Catholic church in this area.'

`I thought they had already built a church,' Fr Paisi remarked about the Greek Catholics. `I feel sorry for them.' But, speaking to Keston by telephone on 29 January, he declined to say whether the architectural plan restricts the Greek Catholics. He reported that Orthodox church building is continuing in the city, the most recent - St George's chapel on the site of the Second World War museum on Sapun Mountain - built in 1997. Five more are under construction and he thinks even those 70 plots will not be enough to provide an increasing number of Orthodox parishes with churches. `At the moment we have at least 15 communities on the waiting list for registration.' There are currently 31 registered Orthodox parishes loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate in Sevastopol.

Orthodox obstruction has also prevented the Greek Catholics joining the Inter-confessional Council of the Crimea, of which a Roman Catholic priest, Fr Roman Derdzyak, is a permanent member. Fr Pyotr reports that the Crimean Greek Catholics were twice refused admittance on the grounds that they were a `non-traditional' denomination in the region. (END)