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Romanian bishop: Eastern Catholics are a ‘despised min ority’

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  • emrys@globe.net.nz
    Friday, June 29, 2007 Romanian bishop: Eastern Catholics are a ‘despised minority’ Bishop John Michael Botean sees Eastern Catholicism as ‘an interim
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 29 10:19 PM
      Friday, June 29, 2007

      Romanian bishop: Eastern Catholics are a ‘despised minority’

      Bishop John Michael Botean sees Eastern Catholicism as ‘an interim church’

      By Lou Jacquet

      BOARDMAN – When Bishop John Michael Botean of the Romanian Catholic Diocese
      in Canton paid a visit to the Society of St. John Chrysostom in Youngstown
      recently at St. Mary Byzantine Church here, the members of the
      Youngstown/Warren chapter got more than just an evening of prayer and

      Bishop Botean snapped a few heads back when he asserted that Romanian
      Catholics and most of the Eastern Catholic churches were “an interim
      church,” a “despised minority” living between the Catholic and Orthodox
      worlds. Clearly, there were some present who had not expected to hear such
      an assessment.

      The bishop had begun his remarks by praising the Society’s local chapter for
      its very existence, calling its gatherings “a wonderful place, a sort of
      center of gravity for God’s grace, a place where Eastern Catholics, Roman
      Catholics and Eastern Orthodox can talk to one another, share meals and
      really learn and grow through each other.”

      After spending a few minutes describing a recent conference he had attended
      in Istanbul, which included a visit to Romania, tours of the ancient
      churches and cities of Cappadocia, and personal greetings from Patriarch
      Bartholomew, the bishop offered a reading from Luke about the parable
      calling for believers to pray always and never lose heart. It was, he
      suggested, a passage that had much to say to modern-day ecumenical efforts,
      which sometimes seem to move at a glacial pace.

      Bishop Botean launched into the main section of his remarks in the fashion
      of an alcoholic greeting a crowd at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
      “Hello,” he said. “My name is John Michael, and I am a Uniate.” That term,
      he explained, “literally means Eastern Catholic, but is only used
      negatively. When Eastern Catholics hear someone calling them Uniates, they
      get their knickers in a twist.” But since he is a Greek Catholic, he said,
      “I am allowed to use the term. It literally carries the connotation of
      someone who has sold their birthright for a pot of porridge. Whether that is
      the case or not is a matter of individual judgment, but that is the sense
      that a Uniate has. So when I say I am a Uniate, what I am saying is that I
      am an Eastern Catholic and I have to struggle with it daily, as I think
      Eastern Catholics do in general.”

      The difficulty, he says, comes in “being Catholic, having a pope, and yet
      being Orthodox at the same time…how can you be both? So if you are an
      Eastern Catholic or a Greek Catholic of some kind, it calls into question a
      whole lot of things, beginning with the very nature and purpose…or the
      destiny of your church. It calls people to reflect upon their own religious
      positions, individually and communally as a church.”

      Eastern Catholics find out quickly, he said, that what they have chosen to
      be “is a lightning rod for hatred, scorn, or at least polite disregard.” He
      has been asked by “well-meaning Catholic confreres,” he said, “when are you
      people going to understand that you are just a relic in a museum? You have
      no purpose left in American society.”

      During a recent controversy over church real estate in Romania, Bishop
      Botean recalled, an Orthodox priest said Romanian Catholics were “a genetic
      defect…sort of a hybrid…not able to accomplish anything. You look Orthodox
      but you are Catholic.”

      Bishop Botean then spoke for some minutes on the current situation in
      Romania regarding the Romanian Catholic Church, which was begun in 1698 when
      some Romanian bishops “began to worry about Calvinizing influences” of the
      imperial authority in Transylvania. The bishops, concerned about the lack of
      civil rights in the country at the time, joined with Rome but the situation
      did not improve. Eventually Orthodox and Catholics were killing each other
      in Romania over the split.

      In 1948, 2,000 church properties were taken from Romanian Catholics and
      given to the Orthodox. About 200 have since been returned. In the United
      States, efforts of Romanian Catholics to share worship space with the
      Orthodox in recent decades have hit snags when church laws governing their
      counterparts in Romania were cited, he said. “I’m mentioning this not to
      complain but to point to the unique position of the Uniate churches, the
      Greek Catholic churches and the Byzantine churches. It’s a unique point of
      view, the point of view of powerlessness and littleness, the point of view
      of being a lightning rod for people’s scorn and hatred.”

      Recently, the bishop said, talking to a friend involved in Orthodox/Catholic
      dialogue, the prelate had remarked that “Americans work well with deadlines”
      and should be promoting the idea of “using the rather artificial date of
      1054 (The Great Schism)” to be working toward reconciliation with greater
      effort than ever. He added:

      “We should say that we dare not let the Church of Christ be divided for a
      full millennium, for a full 1,000 years. We have to do something by the year
      2054. Wouldn’t it motivate us, at least [we] Americans, to get going when we
      have a deadline?”

      Acknowledging that “ultimately it is God who has to bring about this unity,”
      Bishop Botean said, “God has his own plan. But maybe we have something that
      we have to do to cooperate in whatever God’s plan is. In any event, if it is
      our fault and we reach the year 2054 and have to look at each other
      [Orthodox and Catholics] from across a divided faith…as two separate
      churches, we will have nothing to say but ‘shame on us’ for allowing it to
      last for a thousand years.”

      Bishop Botean said he could say such things about the future of ecumenical
      dialogue because… “I believe that the Eastern Catholic Churches are an
      interim church, an interim phenomenon. When we are thinking about the Church
      and the Kingdom of God, we are certainly thinking about another reality than
      the one [Eastern Catholics] are experiencing day in and day out. But of the
      phenomenon that is the Body of Christ in the world, the Eastern Catholic
      churches are, I believe, an interim church: we are there because there is
      division between Catholic west and Orthodox east, and only because of that.”

      The bishop took questions for several minutes from members of the Society of
      St. John Chrysostom. The evening had begun, as every meeting of the Society
      does, with shared prayer in the church and a meal before the introduction of
      the main speaker. The ecumenical organization consists of Catholic and
      Orthodox clergy and laity, “working to make known the history, worship,
      spirituality, disciple and theology of Eastern Christendom, and for the
      fullness of unity desired by Jesus Christ.”

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