Ruthenian Catholic Church
|Ruthenian Catholic Church|
|Orientation||Eastern Catholic, Byzantine Rite|
|Leader||Metropolitan William C. Skurla|
|Associations||Congregation for the Oriental Churches|
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|Churches by rite|
The Ruthenian Catholic Church, also in America commonly referred to as the "Byzantine Catholic Church," uses the Byzantine rite and is one of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome. The Ruthenian Catholic Church itself has two branches - American and European. In the United States, the Byzantine Catholic Metropolitan Church of Pittsburgh is self-governing (sui iuris); the European branch is immediately subject to the Holy See. The European branch has an eparchy in the Ukraine (the Eparchy of Mukacheve) and another in the Czech Republic (the Apostolic Exarchate in the Czech Republic). The Ruthenian Catholic Church is rooted among the Rusyn people who lived in the region called Carpathian Ruthenia, in and around the Carpathian Mountains. This is the area where the borders of present-day Hungary, Slovakia and Ukraine meet. The modern Church is multi-ethnic, with the Metropolia of Pittsburgh being predominately English speaking and mostly descendants of Rusyns with also Slovaks, Hungarians, Croatians and many Americans of non-Slavic or non-Eastern European ancestry. The modern Eparchy of Mukacheve in Ukraine remains officially part of the greater Ruthenian Church.
The Ruthenian Church developed among the Rusyn people living in Carpathian Ruthenia as a result of the missionary outreach of Saints Cyril and Methodius who brought Christianity and the Byzantine Rite to the Slavic peoples in the ninth century. After the separation of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in 1054, the Ruthenian Church retained its Orthodox ties.
The invasion of the Magyars in the 10th century later brought Catholic missionary influence to the area. With the Union of Uzhhorod in 1646, 63 Ruthenian clergy were received into the Catholic Church, and in 1664 a union reached at Mukachevo brought additional communities into the Catholic communion. The resulting dioceses retained their Byzantine rite and liturgical traditions, and their bishops were elected by a council composed of Basilian monks and eparchial clergy.
The region became, in part, incorporated in Czechoslovakia after World War I. Annexation to the Soviet Union after World War II led to persecution of the Ruthenian Catholic Church. However, since the collapse of Communism the Ruthenian Catholic Church in Eastern Europe has seen a resurgence in numbers of faithful and priests.
The United States
The vast majority of Ruthenian Catholics outside of their European homeland are to be found in North America. In the 19th and 20th centuries, various Byzantine-Rite Catholics arrived in the United States, particularly in coal mining towns. The predominant Latin Church Catholic hierarchy did not always receive them well, being disturbed in particular at what they saw as the innovation, for the United States, of a married Catholic clergy. At their persistent request, the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith applied, on 1 May 1897, to the United States rules already set out in a letter of 2 May 1890 to François-Marie-Benjamin Richard, the Archbishop of Paris. These rules stated that only celibates and widowed priests coming without their children should be permitted in the United States. Dissatisfaction by many Ruthenian Catholics had already given rise to some groups placing themselves under the jurisdiction of what is today the Orthodox Church in America (at that time called the "Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in America", "Greek Catholic" being added because of the influx of Eastern Catholic converts). The leader of this movement was the widowed Ruthenian Catholic priest Alexis Toth, whose mistreatment by Archbishop John Ireland of Saint Paul, Minnesota lead to Alexis Toth's conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy. He brought with him many Ruthenian Catholic converts, around 20,000 by the time of his death with many who followed afterward, and was canonized a saint by the Orthodox Church in America in 1996.
The situation with Alexis Toth highlighted the need for American Eastern Catholics in general to have their own bishop. Pope Pius X appointed the Ukrainian bishop Soter Ortynsky in 1907 as bishop for all Slavic Eastern Catholics of the Byzantine rite in America. For this period the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholics were united to the Ukrainian Greek Catholics in the same eparchy. Ethnic tensions flared due to cultural differences (mostly of a political nature) between Ukrainians who came from Austrian ruled Galicia and the Rusyns and other Byzantine Catholics who came from the Kingdom of Hungary. This caused Rome after Ortynsky's death to split the groups by creating a new separate eparchy for Byzantine Catholics coming from the Kingdom of Hungary (majority being Rusyns but also included in the new eparchy were Slovak, ethnic Hungarian, and Croatian parishes) and for it appointed the Rusyn bishop Basil Takach as its bishop. Bishop Takach is considered the first bishop of Ruthenian Catholics in America and his appointment as the official founding of the Byzantine Catholic Metropolitan Church of Pittsburgh.
Clerical celibacy of American Eastern Catholics was restated with special reference to the Byzantine/Ruthenian Church by the 1 March 1929 decree Cum data fuerit, which was renewed for a further ten years in 1939. In 1938 the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese was created when 37 Ruthenian parishes were received into the jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch.
Relations with the Latin Church Catholic hierarchy have improved, especially since the Second Vatican Council, at which the Ruthenian Church influenced decisions regarding using the vernacular (i.e. the language of the people) in the liturgy (Unlike the former custom in the Latin Church, the Ruthenian Church always celebrated the Divine Liturgy in the Church Slavonic language, an ancient Slavic language.) In its decree Orientalium Ecclesiarum the Second Vatican Council declared:
"The Catholic Church holds in high esteem the institutions, liturgical rites, ecclesiastical traditions and the established standards of the Christian life of the Eastern Churches, for in them, distinguished as they are for their venerable antiquity, there remains conspicuous the tradition that has been handed down from the Apostles through the Fathers and that forms part of the divinely revealed and undivided heritage of the universal Church."
Ruthenian parishes tend to stress the importance of unity with the Bishop of Rome and the whole Catholic Church, albeit with an Eastern expression. The Second Vatican Council urged Eastern Rite Churches to eliminate Liturgical Latinization and to strengthen their Eastern Christian identity. This directive has been met with some success, and the Ruthenian Church is no exception. In June 1999 the Council of Hierarchs of the Byzantine Metropolitan Church Sui Iuris of Pittsburgh U.S.A. promulgated the norms of particular law to govern itself. In January 2007, the Revised Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and the Revised Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great were promulgated. In December of 2013, the Holy Father approved the request of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches that appropriate Eastern Church authorities be granted the faculty to allow pastoral service of Eastern married clergy also outside the traditional Eastern territory.
Membership of the Byzantine (Ruthenian) Catholic Church is not limited to those who trace their heritage to Eastern Europe.
The Ruthenian Church has four eparchies in the United States of America and one eparchy plus an Apostolic Exarchate in Europe. As of 2010, its membership was estimated at some 646,000 faithful, with seven bishops, 626 parishes, 501 priests, 67 deacons, and 234 men and women religious
Metropolia of Pittsburgh (one archeparchy, three suffragan eparchies, approximately 20,000 faithful):
- Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh (established in 1924)
- Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma (1969)
- Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic (1963)
- Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Phoenix (founded 1981 at Van Nuys, transferred in 2010)
Immediately subject to the Holy See: (approximately 626,000 faithful)
One issue preventing organization of the Ruthenian Catholic Church under a single synod is the desire of some of the priests and faithful of the Eparchy of Mukacheve that it should be part of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
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- (Ukrainian) Мукачівська греко-католицька єпархія
- Byzantine Catholic Metropolitan Church of Pittsburgh
- Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma
- Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic
- (Czech) Apoštolský exarchát řeckokatolické církve v České republice
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