A request for a recognition of patriarchal status recently came from Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, who addressed it in a speech delivered Feb. 9 for the 125th anniversary of the birth of Cardinal Josip Sliyi.
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is a church sui iuris, which means it is an autonomous Church with its specific rite, but in communion with Rome and subject to the governance of the Pope.
Usually, Churches sui iuris are established as patriarchates. This means that they are led by a patriarch, elected by their synod, or leadership council of bishops. The Pope is informed of the election of the Patriarch, after which he grants ecclesiastical communio to the Patriarch.
The Greek Ukrainian Catholic Church is instead a major archepiscopate. This means that, after the synod elects the major archbishop, the Pope must confirm the election to make it valid.
Cardinal Slipyi was the first head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church to be denoted a Major Archbishop.
The situation was well explained in a speech by Archbishop Cyril Vasil, secretary of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches.
In a lecture delivered at the Pontificio Istituto Orientale in February 2017, Archbishop Vasil reminded that “during the Second Vatican Council’s preparations, considered was made to give the status of patriarchate to the Ukrainian, Malabarese and Ethiopic Churches. After a wide discussion,the Ukrainian, Malabarese and Romanian Churches were promoted to the rank of major archepiscopate.”
He also noted that the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has “more than any other” sought to be recognized as Patriarchate. However,he added, “there were and are ecumenical issue that prevent recognizing the Greek Catholic Church as a Patriarchate.”