Homecoming

George Weigel

In the mid-1980s, my wife and I were invited to a baptism and to the post-christening reception at the home of the newborn’s parents. During the latter festivities, I was introduced to a young man who was working on a doctorate in Church history at Harvard. We fell into conversation and after 20 minutes or so I had had one of those rare experiences that are so precious in life: I knew, instinctively, that Borys Gudziak and I were going to be close friends for a very long time.

I had no idea, then, what a singular life Borys had already lived, nor what drama the future held in store for him. The son of Ukrainian immigrants who had come to America after World War II to escape communist persecution in their homeland, he had grown up in Syracuse, New York, thinking himself a future star in the National Basketball Association. After recognizing that slightly built, six-foot tall Ukrainian-Americans were not avidly sought by NBA teams, he adjusted his career plans and undertook both an advanced degree in history and a theological education. The latter came, in part, by personal instruction in Rome from the great Cardinal Josyf Slipyj, the exiled leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church [UGCC], who had been pried out of the Gulag by Pope John XXIII — and who was the model for the “pope from the East” in Morris West’s novel, The Shoes of the Fisherman.

Slipyj was the successor of the even greater Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky (d. 1944), one of the singular figures of 20th-century Catholicism (and a man whose beatification is long overdue). Sheptytsky’s dreams for the future of Ukrainian Greek Catholicism included the creation of a great university. That university now exists, in L’viv in western Ukraine, and is widely recognized as the finest center of higher learning in the country. The development of the Ukrainian Catholic University is one of Catholicism’s great accomplishments of recent decades. And the university exists, and thrives, because of the extraordinary work of its first rector, Father Borys Gudziak (ordained a priest in 1998), who gathered around him a host of first-class scholars and teachers, some of whom were veterans of the Soviet prison camp system.

In 2012, Father Gudziak was ordained a bishop and given responsibility for the Ukrainian Greek Catholics of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Switzerland. As with the university in L’viv, he had to start from scratch: few clergy, few churches, no money, inadequate records. But with his remarkable capacity for work, which is driven by a deep faith and nourished by prayer, he rebuilt the life of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in western Europe — now composed primarily of undocumented immigrants — and set in place the foundations for its future growth. And Bishop Gudziak did all this from his base in Paris while maintaining a major role at the Ukrainian Catholic University and serving as a kind of “foreign minister” for the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine as the country was invaded by Russian forces after the Maidan revolution of dignity in 2013-14.

So while he may not have developed Steph Curry’s lethal long-range jump shot, Borys Gudziak’s extraordinary ministry has displayed some of that NBA superstar’s graceful talent, electric energy, and ability to make everyone around him do (and be) better.

On February 18, it was announced that Pope Francis had accepted the nomination of the Synod of the UGCC and was naming Bishop Gudziak the head of the Greek Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia. Something of the quality of the man can be gleaned from an interview Archbishop-Elect Gudziak released that day:

“As I — hopefully — mature as a human being, I am increasingly drawn by the mystery of our God in Three Persons. This may be daring, but I want to be in the presence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit… My central belief is that the Son came into this breathtaking yet often frail human race to be with me and you, even in death, to bring us home to the Father.…I feel the protection of the Mother of God and the solidarity of the communion of saints, especially the martyrs. Life in the Lord, who served and suffered, invites me to suffer with and serve gladly those to whom I am called….”

Welcome home, my friend. We are blessed to have you back among us.

COMING UP: “Synodality” and the Rome abuse summit

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Despite Pope Francis’s lecture on the subject at Synod-2015, and notwithstanding the passages on it in Synod-2018’s final report, there is little agreement in 21st-century Catholicism on what “synodality” means. The theology of synodality can be left for another day. In practical terms, however, perhaps synodality ought to mean something roughly analogous to what our British cousins mean by “horses for courses.” There, the phrase is a homely caution against one-size-fits-all remedies to problems. In the world Church today, and with an eye to the “abuse summit” that will meet in Rome from February 21-24, a “horses for courses” understanding of synodality would mean that different local Churches should be empowered to implement specific local remedies, tailored to their specific problems and capacities, in addressing clerical sexual misconduct.

The plague of sexually abusive clergy manifests itself in different ways in different ecclesiastical contexts. In the so-called developed world, the plague seems to have largely involved the sexual abuse or exploitation of young men; but there are many other ways in which a subset of Catholic clergy, both priests and bishops, lead duplicitous lives in violation of the promise of celibate chastity they made to God and the Church. Latin American Catholicism has a culturally-influenced and destructive habit of denial about clerical sexual misconduct, whether abusive or consensual, heterosexual or homosexual. The Church in Africa faces serious challenges with the sexual exploitation of women by clergy. Each of these situations has its own epidemiology, as infectious disease doctors would say.

While more than a few German theologians and bishops (and bishop-theologians) deny it, the Catholic Church has a settled ethic of human love, drawn from the Scriptures and developed over centuries by moral reason. The ethic is the same, but the challenges to living it are not uniform among 1.2 billion Catholics. Because of considerable cultural and historical differences across the world Church, particular solutions to the plague of clerical sexual impropriety (and worse) are going to have to be developed to meet particular circumstances. So while the bottom of the bottom line for the “abuse summit” must be an unambiguous, clarion call to the entire Church to live chastity as the integrity of love, there is no single reform template that will address different forms of clerical sexual misconduct in quite diverse circumstances.

Catholics in the U.S. must also recognize that the kinds of solutions that are feasible in our country — and that have worked in addressing historical clerical sexual abuse and driving down its incidence — may not be applicable in other parts of the world Church, where the financial and personnel resources the U.S. Church can deploy are not available. To take one example: diocesan review boards that function quite well in America in handling allegations of clerical sexual abuse may be infeasible in other local churches. On the other, other hand, what the American Church has learned, often the hard way, about rigorous screening of seminary applicants and about effective priestly formation (both in seminary and after ordination) might well be “transferable” to other ecclesiastical situations.

Misimpressions and prejudices notwithstanding, the Catholic Church in the United States has been more forthright in addressing clerical sexual abuse and other forms of clerical sexual misconduct than any other local church. Others can learn from this experience. In the abuse summit’s official meetings and in the “Off Broadway” venues where Catholic leaders will conduct more informal conversations, American churchmen in Rome this month should explain the reforms the U.S. Church has implemented, including the extensive use of lay expertise to address clerical sexual abuse and other forms of clerical misconduct; describe the positive effects of those reforms, especially on seminaries; offer to share ideas (and personnel) with other local churches that wish to explore adopting and adapting certain U.S. reforms; and make clear why the U.S. bishops believe it imperative for them to apply to themselves — and to be seen to apply to themselves — the code of conduct they have applied to priests since 2002.

How episcopal accountability is managed may well be another case of “horses for courses,” given vastly different situations throughout the world Church. Lay involvement in that accountability is imperative in the U.S.; it may be impracticable elsewhere. But those serious about Catholicism’s capacity to embody and preach the Gospel will understand that credible episcopal accountability is essential in carrying out the Church’s mission.