Georgian Byzantine-Rite Catholics
Towards the end of the 19th century, when almost all Georgian Catholics were of the Latin Rite, some wished to use the Byzantine rite used by the Georgian Orthodox Church. The Russian Tsarist government, which had controlled Georgia since the beginning of that century, made use of that rite exclusive to the Eastern Orthodox Church. Accordingly, some of these Georgians, clergy as well as laity, adopted the Armenian Rite and joined the Armenian Catholic diocese of Artvin, which had been set up in Russian Transcaucasia in 1850.
Only after the granting of religious freedom in Russia in 1905 did some Catholics in Georgia adopt the Byzantine rite.
In 1861, outside of Georgia, indeed outside of the whole of the Russian Empire, Father Peter Karishiaranti (Pétre Kharistshirashvili) founded in Constantinople two religious congregations of the Immaculate Conception, one for men, the other for women. These served Georgian Catholics living in the then capital of the Ottoman Empire. They also served in Montauban, France. These congregations are long extinct, although some of their members were still alive in the late 1950s. The building that housed the male congregation, in Feriköy district, still stands in Istanbul, now in private ownership. Their clergy served a small parish in Constantinople, giving Georgian Catholics in the city the possibility to worship in accordance with the Georgian Byzantine rite. This church (Notre-Dame de Lourdes) is still in service, although in the hands of Italian Catholic priests, gravestones in Georgian can still be seen in its courtyard.
In the brief period of Georgian independence between 1918 and 1921, some influential Georgian Orthodox expressed an interest in union with the Church of Rome, and an envoy was sent from Rome in 1919 to examine the situation. As a result of the onset of civil war and Soviet occupation, this came to nothing.
A Georgian Church of Byzantine Rite?
Some have treated Catholics within the Georgian Catholic Church who follow the Byzantine Rite as a separate particular Church with either 1861 or 1917 as the date of reunion with Rome. One Web site says that, in the 1930s, they had an Exarch, whom it misnames as Fr. Shio Batmanishviii (apparently a reference to Shio Batmalashvili, see below), thus implicitly claiming that an apostolic exarchate specifically for Georgians of Byzantine Rite had been established.
The Forgotten: Catholics of the Soviet Union Empire from Lenin through Stalin by Father Christopher Zugger (Syracuse University Press 2001) says that in the early 1920s nine missionaries of the congregation of the Immaculate Conception in Constantinople, headed by Bishop Shio Batmalashvili, came to Georgia to establish the Byzantine Catholic Church there, and that by 1929 the community had grown to 8,000. By then the Byzantine Catholic Mission had come to an end with the arrest in 1928 of Bishop Batmalashvili and the murder of his priests. Bishop Batmalashvili himself was executed in 1937. Nevertheless, Zugger cites a report that by 1936 "the Byzantine Catholic Church of Georgia had two communities, served by a bishop and four priests, with 8,000 believers", figures very similar to what elsewhere he gives as the 1929 situation.
Zugger does not state that the Georgian Byzantine Catholics were ever formally established as an autonomous particular Church, and no mention of the erection of such a jurisdiction for Byzantine Georgian Catholics exists in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, the official gazette of the Holy See. There is no evidence therefore that the Georgian Catholics of Byzantine Rite constituted at any time an autonomous ("sui iuris") Church, since canon 27 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches defines these Churches as under a hierarchy of their own and recognized as autonomous by the supreme authority of the Church.
Until 1994, the annual publication Catholic Almanac used to list "Georgian" among the Byzantine Rites or autonomous particular Churches. This was corrected in 1995.
- The Forgotten, p. 213
- The Forgotten, p. 236
- The Forgotten, p. 259
- The Forgotten, p. 224
- The Forgotten, p. 213
- Oriente Cattolico (Vatican City: The Sacred Congregation for the Eastern Churches, 1974)
- Annuario Pontificio
- Eastern Catholic Communities without Hierarchies
- History of Georgian Byzantine Catholic Church
- History of Catholicism Among the Georgians