.- The Vatican's doctrinal office has confirmed the excommunication of four priests expelled from the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, who asserted themselves as rivals to its bishops.
“These priests continue to challenge ecclesiastical authority, causing moral and spiritual damage, not only to the Basilian Order of St. Josaphat and the Greek-Catholic Ukrainian Church, but also to this Apostolic See and the Catholic Church as a whole,” the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said March 29.
“All this provokes division and bewilderment among the faithful,” the Vatican's highest doctrinal office observed. The comments were made in a March 29 notification intended “to inform the faithful, especially in the countries of origin of the so-called 'bishops,' about their current canonical status.”
“This Congregation … formally declares that it does not recognize the validity of their episcopal ordinations, or of any and all ordinations that have derived, or will derive therefrom. Moreover, the canonical status of the four so-called 'bishops' is that of excommunication.”
Fr. Elias Dohnal, Fr. Markian Hitiuk, Fr. Metodej Spirik, and Fr. Robert Oberhauser are ex-members of the Basilian Order, a society of priests within the Ukrainian Catholic Church. Ukraine's Eastern Catholics make up one of the largest eastern churches in communion with the Roman Catholic Church.
In 2008, the four priests were declared excommunicated by the Ukrainian Catholic Church, which follows its own procedures of canon law. They claimed to have been ordained as bishops, in rites that Ukraine's Eastern Catholic hierarchy regarded as both illegitimate and invalid.
According to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the priests insisted on the validity of their ordinations, and sought to be recognized by state authorities as leaders of the “Ukrainian Orthodox Greek-Catholic Church.”
“The Holy See, concerned to protect the unity and peace of Christ's flock, had hoped in the repentance and subsequent return of the aforementioned priests to full communion with the Catholic Church,” the doctrinal congregation's head Cardinal William J. Levada and secretary Archbishop Luis Ferrer said.
“Unfortunately the most recent developments - such as the unsuccessful attempt to acquire State registration … demonstrate their continuing disobedience.”
Catholics are instructed “not to adhere to the aforementioned group as, to all canonical effects, it is outside ecclesiastical communion. The faithful are invited to pray for the members of the group, that they may repent and return to full communion with the Catholic Church.”
“Furthermore, the use of the name 'Catholic' by groups which are not recognized by the competent ecclesiastical authority is to be considered as illegitimate,” the prefect and secretary noted.