By Fr. Gregory Jensen
There is to be sure a pervasive anti-Catholic mentality among Orthodox Christians. Denying this is pointless and foolish and I have called Orthodox Christians on it both publicly and privately. But identifying a problem is easier than understanding its causes. My pastoral experience suggests to me that while anti-Catholic rhetoric can reflect a lack of charity, it more often is rooted in theological/historical illiteracy.
That said, I don’t think that Orthodox anti-Catholicism is institutional . While individual Orthodox Christians–laity and clergy–are guilty of this sin, it is not the Orthodox Church as such which is anti-Catholic anymore than the Catholic Church as such is responsible for say the sacking of Constantinople (to pull an Orthodox favorite).
So yes, there is a pervasive anti-Catholic mentality among the Orthodox. But in a conversation about the theological differences between our two Churches this is a red herring. I do think that the psychological question of various attitudes of Orthodox Christians toward Roman Catholics is an important one–as is, by the way, the diversity of not always irenic Catholic attitudes toward the Orthodox–but it seems to me that we must be careful to not mix psychological and theological questions.
I do think that while Catholics are right to object to much of the rhetorical excesses of Orthodox apologists, they are often unaware of how not simply individual Catholics, but official Catholic policy have contributed to the hard feelings. Let me explain.
Currently I serve as a priest in the Orthodox Church in America. As deacon I served in the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of Johnstown. In many ways, these jurisdictions are very different not only in their liturgical and ascetical practice but also their own internal ethos. They share however a common historical foundation in the experience of those Greek Catholics who lived in America in the late 19th and ealry 20th centuries. Central to this experience was the often hostile response of Roman Catholic bishops and lower clergy to Greek Catholics clergy and laity.
Among contemporary Byzantine Catholics stories of enforced Latinization of Greek Catholic parishes by unsympathetic Latin rite bishops are still told. The memories of past injustices are still fresh. These injustices include not only the imposition of alien liturgical customs and practices but the denial of Holy Communion to Greek Catholic clergy wives in (Latin rite) Catholic hospitals and the denial of admission to (Latin rite) Catholic parochial schools of the children of the Greek Catholic clergy.
Psychologically and historically one of the most prominent injustices committed by Latin rite Catholics against their Greek Catholic brethern is Archbishop John Ireland‘s refusal to allow Fr Alexis Toth to serve the Carpatho-Russian Catholic faithful in Minneapolis, MN. Archbishop Ireland’s justification for this was that Toth was a married (albeit, widowed) priest. What made Ireland’s refusal so noteworthy is that it was that he did so in direct contradiction to the canonical rights of both Fr Toth and the Greek Catholic community. Eventually, Toth and tens of thousands of Greek Catholics would leave the Catholic Church and join the Orthodox Church forming the nucleus of what is now the Orthodox Church in America (in 1994, “Protopresbyter Alexis Toth was glorified as St. Alexis of Wilkes-Barre). But this sad chapter did not end the conflict between Latin rite and Greek rite Catholics in America.
In the 1920′s, and again in violation of the canonical rights of their own Greek Catholic faithful in America, Rome suppressed the ordination of married men to the priesthood. This lead in time to the creation of what is today the Carpatho-Russian American Orthodox Diocese of Johnstown under Bishop (and later, Metropolitan) Orestes (Chornock).
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