Basilian Bishop, Kyr Dionysius Lachovicz, OSBM.
In November 2007, the Catholic World News (www.cwnews.com/news/viewstory.cfm?recnum=54919) reported on excommunication of Father Basil Kovpak, the head of the Priestly Society of Saint Josaphat Kuntsevych (SSJK), a group with ties to the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) which has been active among Byzantine Catholics in the Ukraine since the early 1990s. Bishops of the SPPX – themselves excommunicated because they were consecrated without approval from the Holy See – ordained two priests and seven deacons for the SSJK. On 23 March 2008, this past Easter Sunday (according to the Gregorian Calendar), the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (UGCC) published a communiqué about the latest schism to divide its unstable ranks. Four members of the Basilian Order of St. Josaphat – Eliáš Dohnal, Metoděj Špiřík, Markian Hitiuk and Robert Oberhauser – were consecrated bishops without having been nominated by the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Synod and without a papal approval. Thus, according to CCEO, canon 1459 §1, they have automatically encurred the penalty of excommunication.
consecrated a bishop in the underground church, on September 6, 1989, by Metropolitan Volodymyr Sterniuk and Bishop Filemon Kurchaba. Conveniently, both hierarchs are now dead and unable to confirm this claim. An article about Mychajlo Osidach’s episcopal consecration appears on a website associated with the four schismatic bishops (www.community.org.ua/ukrindex.html).
The this new schism has been in the incubation phase for years, having plagued the Basilian Order and the UGCC for over a decade.
However, the one who actually laid the egg that hatched this past Easter is Bishop Dionysius Lachovicz, the previous General Superior of the Basilian Order and now curial bishop of the UGCC. During his term as General Superior, he was infatuated with this messianic group and convinced of their savific role in the reform his order. Even against the advice of his general council, Lachovicz made decisions in favour of this group to the harm of his Order and to the Church, not only in Ukraine, but also in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia. In the autumn of 1997, Lachovicz had been warned by the Basilian Superior in Poland, Volodymyr Juszczak (currently Bishop of Wroclaw-Gdansk), and by the entire Basilian provincial council in Slovakia, that this “potential sect” would, in the long run, cause grave damage to the Church if given a special mission within the Basilian Order. Despite such warnings, on 21 October 1997, Lachovicz issued a decree giving this divisive group the canonical status of an “experimental community”, under his own personal authority as General. Further, Lachovicz put their own leader, Eliáš Dohnal, in charge of forming the group’s novices, even though they had been dismissed from the Basilian novitiate in Poland. Nevertheless, on 11 May 1998, after a canonical visitation confirmed serious problems within this new community, Lachovicz was forced to revoke the canonical status of this “messianic group”. He issued a second decree on 9 December 1998, confirming the abolition of the experimental community, after the group petitioned the Congregation of the Oriental Churches for permission to set up an autonomous monastery in Slovakia against the will of the Bishop of Presov, Ivan Hirka.
By this point, you would think Lachovicz might have realised that this group has sectarian tendencies and were a threat to the Basilian Order’s stability and reputation. Nevertheless, at the request to renew the Basilian presence in the Czech Republic of Greek-Catholic Apostolic Exarch, Ivan Ljavinec, Lachovicz signed a contract with both Ljavinec and Prague’s Archbishop, Miloslav Cardinal Vlk on 2 November 1999. Lachovicz then assigned these controversial Basilian monks to form this new Basilian community. Moreover, Lachovicz even elevated the canonical status of their group to a “delegature” the Basilian Order. It didn’t take long for the Prague community to wage war against its Apostolic Exarch, resulting in Bishop Ljavinec withdrawing pastoral jurisdiction from Metoděj Špiřík and Markian Hitiuk. In the meantime, on April 24, 2003, Ladislav Hučko was named to replace Ljavinec as exarch. On the day of Hučko’s consecration, 31 May 2003, this Basilian group organised a protest against the bishop-elect, blockading the Greek-Catholic Cathedral and forcing Hučko to receive his episcopal consecration in a nearby Roman Catholic parish. Not surprsingly, on 26 June 2003, Bishop Hučko asked the civil authorities to anull the registration of the Basilian Delegature in the Czech Republic. It should be noted that, the same year, this Basilian group also opened a monastery in Nitra, Slovakia, without the permission of either the Basilian Order or the local Slovakian Bishop.
Now that this group had burnt all of its bridges in Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, Lachovicz sent them to to the Basilian monastery in Pidhirtsi, Ukraine. It was here that this fringe group sunk its roots into the soil of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. Lachovicz even wrote letters to the Lviv Metropolia’s Commission on the Family recommending some of these monks as retreat masters and formators. However, his “experimental community” saw its end at the Basilian General Chapter in 2004, which di not re-elect Lachovicz and which finally abolished the Czech Delegature.
Episcopal consecrations without a papal mandate are not a novelty in the UGCC and, while much more could be said, the intent of this post was to trace the genesis of these four new schismatic Basilian bishops. No one knows what bizzare turn this easter-egg tale will now take. Bishop Lachovicz has recently been nominated by the Ukrainian Catholic Synod of Bishops as substitute administrator in the case that Cardinal Cardinal Husar is unable to fulfill his office. If Lachovicz takes the helm of the UGCC, are we to expect the four schismatics Basilians to receive episcopal faculties? One cannot help but wonder how the UGCC’s crisis in leadership will end?
With a Patriarchate?