A Debate Over the Religious Identity of Ukrainian Catholic University

We at the Ukrainian Catholic University were surprised and disappointed by Dr. Alexander Sich’s recent article in Crisis Magazine.

The Ukrainian Catholic University proudly teaches and promotes Church doctrine on the integrity of the family and the theology of the body, including its teachings on abortion, marital fidelity, birth control, and the sacred nature of marriage as a consecrated union between a man and a woman. UCU’s Institute of Marriage and Family Life and its International Institute of Ethics and Contemporary Issues are leaders in these fields. Additionally, UCU’s School of Bioethics is the only academic program in the country that provides certificate programs for doctors and social workers based on Catholic teachings.

Fr. Bohdan Prach

Fr. Bohdan Prach

These vital programs are not simply relegated to the classroom.  UCU students, faculty, and alumni are actively engaged in pro-life campaigns, reaching out to churches, hospitals, clinics, youth groups, and all of society.  We feature these programs regularly in our publications; in no way do we “soft-pedal” these activities to appease anyone who disagrees with the Church’s teachings in these areas.

UCU has always placed a strong emphasis on its Catholic identity, and it is reflected in the education received by our students—whether they are lay students, religious sisters or one of the 200 seminarians who attend UCU. In addition to daily Liturgy and vespers at all three university chapels, there is also a full cycle of matins-Mass-vespers in our Residential College, where two priests and three nuns reside. The Residential College mandates a comprehensive two-year formation program for its residents, and has clear policies concerning student life. Students can attend pilgrimages, retreats, religious festivals, and confession on a regular basis.

 

As the only Catholic university in the former Soviet Union, UCU constantly defends the Church on the front lines of many spiritual battles. UCU was renewed following the collapse of communism, precisely with the goal of promoting Catholic values in a society wracked by the vestiges of an atheistic regime. We are striving to penetrate society at all levels to share and communicate Christ’s message, which is why we offer programs outside of theology, such as business, sociology and IT.

Of course, no institution is perfect, and challenges arise, including the occasional inappropriate statement or behavior by a faculty member or student off campus. In such cases, we work to correct these problems, and encourage behavior in accordance with Church teachings and Ex Corde Ecclesiae. I’m sure there are ways we can do better, and we should, with the help and prayers of others, including you and your readers.

We are grateful for the personal support we received from Pope Saint John Paul II, who blessed our cornerstone in 2001, and Pope Benedict XVI, who made a personal financial gift to UCU six years ago. We are also grateful for the support of the Grand Chancellor of UCU—His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk—who said “I cannot imagine the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church without UCU.”

Finally, we are thankful for the financial support of many readers of Crisis who have supported us over the years. They support us because they know how important our Catholic identity is to us: it is our reason for existence. We invite all of your readers to visit us in Ukraine, so that we can show you our university firsthand. You will never forget your experience, and you will never be prouder of our shared Catholic identity.

 

Prof. Alexander R. Sich Responds

Fr. Prach’s response largely avoided specific issues raised in my article; I provided linked references to most of them. Rather, he employs marketing slogans—masking problems lurking below the surface at the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) which undermine its Catholicity and some of its good works. It is impossible, here, to address these problems in detail. However, readers can draw their own conclusions after reading my recent open letter to Bishop Borys Gudziak, president of UCU. For now, some context is in order.

Alexander R. Sich

Alexander R. Sich

In March, I met with His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church (UGCC) and UCU’s chancellor, to express my concerns. His Beatitude agreed with my assessment—confirming he knew of UCU’s problems, noting the entire Episcopate was deeply concerned about its Catholic identity. He also noted sternly that if UCU did not “change its ways,” he would forbid it the title “Catholic.” His Beatitude then requested not UCU, but me—a Catholic academic from a university faithful to the Magisterium of the Universal Church—to draft a UGCC-wide Pastoral Letter directed at UCU, inviting it to reexamine its mission faithfulness.

Several of us at UCU, without needing approval of the administration, prepared the letter—issued on 26 April. Apart from some small, positive steps, it remains essentially ignored to this day—confirmed by a member of the administration. It is from this Pastoral Letter that Fr. Prach misleadingly references His Beatitude, who—while indeed underscoring the importance of UCU to the UGCC as potentially faithful to its mission—did so as a challenge, not so much as praise. At that point, His Beatitude could not depend upon the Catholicity of UCU—hence, the primary basis for his Letter.

On several occasions, I also communicated my observations with the Papal Nuncio to Ukraine, Archbishop Thomas Gullickson … who shared His Beatitude’s and my concerns regarding UCU’s mission slippage and creeping secularization.

In June, I met twice more with His Beatitude to discuss again the problems—in particular, the non-implementation of his Pastoral Letter. His Beatitude then stunned and honored me—requesting that I stay for another year to help develop a UGCC “enabling document” based upon Ex corde ecclesiae, and then to help align UCU’s statutes with these documents. (As such, Fr. Prach’s claim that UCU operates according to Ex corde ecclesiae is disingenuous.) His Beatitude later asked that I stay permanently. I respectfully declined—not because I did not want to assist, but primarily because I had family and obligations to Franciscan University. Hardly less important, I could not enter a disordered situation to work under the present rector, with an administration whose style is often “crisis management,” while hostile to the called-for changes, and heavily influenced (some suggest “manipulated”) from a distance by Bishop Gudziak.

Fr. Prach lamented to me on two occasions that a “vast” number of UCU graduates who later obtained higher education in the West, did not return. In fact, one month prior to our departure in mid-July, the last full-time Western faculty member at UCU submitted his letter of resignation while on sabbatical abroad. Moreover, only last week did Fr. Prach issue an internal order regarding the once-per-week (!) University Liturgy—which, together with dorm vespers, suffers from embarrassingly low attendance, something Fr. Prach also laments. This order forbids faculty from engaging students in other activities during Liturgy. However, prior to this, and as a response to my article (according to one administrator), a “witch hunt” ensued to identify those who had spoken to me.

The issue regarding two homosexuality scandals during the past academic year isn’t so much that some faculty members publicly promote homosexuality—certainly a serious problem. The issue is UCU struggles to find faithful “mission fit” faculty. Moreover, Fr. Prach seems not to understand that each faculty member is a small “ambassador”: they project a certain image of UCU to its students and to the outside world, and are not merely signs of an “imperfect institution.” Complicating this, a significant portion of UGCC faithful believe their unaltered post-Vatican II traditions (e.g., married priests) somehow immunize their particular church from the low-hanging fruits of Western secularism.

It is therefore no surprise that UCU’s Catholic identity is under threat—confirmed to me in an e-mail by none other than Bishop Gudziak.

By

Fr. Bohdan Prach is the Rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Ukraine. Alexander R. Sich is Professor of Physics and Pre-Engineering, Honors Program Instructor, and Faculty Associate of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

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