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Ecumenists Out of the House. But Inside It’s a Melee
Big smiles with Constantinople and Moscow. But a heavy hand with the Byzantine oases in the West. The emblematic cases of the Italo-Albanian dioceses and the monastery of Grottaferrata
by Sandro Magister
ROME, September 6, 2016 – “Ad extra” ecumenism is ever more on the crest of the wave, bolstered by gestures of respect from the pope for the Eastern Churches, from Constantinople to Moscow.
But at home ecumenism is not to be found. Blow after blow, the Vatican congregation for Oriental Churches does nothing but dissipate what remains of important dioceses and institutions of the Byzantine Catholic rite, instead of reinforcing their identity.
The congregation is governed by Argentine cardinal Leonardo Sandri, who was trained in the secretariat of state and is assisted by the Jesuit Cyril Vasil, secretary, and by the Dominican Lorenzo Lorusso, undersecretary, both canonists and members of two religious orders that have nothing Eastern about them.
And the effects can be seen. This site has already given extensive coverage to the slap in the face inflicted by Rome on the Greek Orthodox Church last winter, by appointing as apostolic exarch of Athens Manuel Nin, a Catalan Benedictine monk who is therefore a Latin in Byzantine clothing, former rector of the Pontifical Greek College in Rome, which in the eyes of the Greeks is still the detested institution founded in 1577 to prepare Catholic missionaries to be sent to Hellas to convert the Orthodox:
And three months before there was the appointment, as president of the special commission for the liturgy at the congregation for Oriental Churches, of a liturgist who has never had any competence whatsoever on the Eastern rites: Piero Marini, former master of ceremonies for John Paul II and a disciple of that Annibale Bugnini whom all see – whether for him or against him – as the true architect of the postconciliar liturgical reforms of the Latin Church:
If the task of the commission is truly to preserve the Eastern rites from undue “Latinizations,” it is in fact difficult to imagine a Martini engaged in convincing Maronites, Syrians, Chaldeans, and Malabars to abandon the celebration of the Mass “versus populum,” which they improperly copied from the “novus ordo” of the Roman rite, and to return to their original celebration toward the East.
But now on this front and in the same direction there is much more on the way.
In recent months the apostolic nuncio in Italy, Adriano Bernardini, sent to the bishops in question a letter from the congregation for Oriental Churches aimed at gauging the feasibility of erecting a metropolitan Church “sui iuris” that would embrace all the faithful of the Byzantine rite living in Italy: Ukrainian, Romanian, Italo-Albanian, etc.
The plan stipulates the extension of the jurisdiction of the diocese of Piana degli Albanesi to the Byzantine faithful of all of Sicily; of the diocese of Lungro degli Albanesi to the Byzantine faithful of all of the southern peninsula of Italy; and of the monastery of Grottaferrata (see the photo) to the Byzantine faithful of south-central Italy.
This would give rise to a sort of unified “Catholic Church of the Byzantines in Italy,” which would bring together the faithful of Churches with their own traditions, with different calendars, some Gregorian and some Julian, and even with different rites, since in the eparchy of Piana degli Albanesi there are also Latin rite priests and parishes.
No one wants this unification. The Ukrainians aspire to a jurisdiction of their own, as in Germany, England, and France, and the Italo-Albanians don’t want to hear about anything that would destroy their identity. They descend from the emigration that came to Italy from Albania in the 15th century, and for the most part the language of their daily life and of the liturgy is Albanian, protected by the national law on linguistic minorities. But they are fewer in number than the Ukrainians of recent immigration Italy recently, and they are afraid that their future bishops, appointed by the pope by virtue of canons 155 and 168 of the code of the Eastern Churches, will be Ukrainians and not Italo-Albanians.
Curiously, however, the very bishop whom Pope Francis installed in 2015 in the diocese of Piana degli Albanesi, Giorgio Gallaro, is an active proponent of the metamorphosis.
Sicilian, a canonist, already of the Latin rite before temporarily emigrating to America, Gallaro does not speak Albanian, does not love Greek and is seeking to impose the use of Italian. Heedless of the liturgical prescriptions, he also goes to celebrate in the Latin churches of the eparchy, wearing Latin vestments. He has shortened the solemn Byzantine liturgies of Holy Week, perhaps too verbose for him, but to which the population is very much attached. He is gradually removing from the main town of the eparchy the priests of the Greek rite, some of them married with children, replacing them with Latin priests. Also in Martorana, Palermo, over which he has jurisdiction, he has interrupted the historical sequence of Italo-Albanian “papàs.”
Understandably, a protest is rising against him. The presbyteral council of the eparchy and the college of consultants has resigned almost en bloc.
And a popular lay conference is scheduled in Piana degli Albanesi for the second half of September, in defense of the Greek and Albanian languages in the liturgy and in public institutions, starting with the schools.
As for the abbey of Grottaferrata, its future is even more problematic.
After accepting on November 4, 2013 the resignation of the last archimandrite, the Basilian monk Emiliano Fabbricatore, Pope Francis divided the office, appointing as hegumen, or superior of the monastery, the Belgian Benedictine Michel Van Parys, former abbot of Chevetogne, and entrusting the diocesan jurisdiction to Marcello Semeraro, bishop of Albano, a close collaborator of the pope as secretary of the council of nine cardinals for the reform of the Roman curia and the governance of the universal Church.
On that occasion, the French Catholic newspaper “La Croix” revealed that the resignation had been imposed on the archimandrite by the Holy See, because of complaints about the “frequent nighttime comings and goings” at the abbey. Rome had also confirmed the invalidity of the priestly ordinations of some monks:
Then all of a sudden, on May 30, 2016, a joint statement signed by Semeraro and Van Parys announced the appointment of the bishop of Albano as pontifical delegate of the Basilian order of Italy and as apostolic administrator of the monastery, and the cessation of Van Parys’s functions:
In substance, this was a matter of a full-fledged commissionership of a monastic community reduced to a few elderly elements and on this account destined gradually to change in nature, “in forms currently under study by the Holy See.”
But whom did the bishop of Albano then appoint as his point of reference on the life of the monastery? Archimandrite emeritus Emiliano Fabbricatore, the very one under whom there were the dubious ordinations to the priesthood and the “frequent nighttime comings and goings” denounced by “La Croix.”
Grottaferrata is not just any monastery. It was founded in 1004, half a century before the schism in 1054 between East and West, by Saint Nilus the Younger, on the land of an ancient Roman villa granted to the monks by the local feudal lord, Count Gregory I of Tusculum.
Situated about fifteen miles from Rome, on the slopes of the Alban hills, it is the last of the numerous Byzantine monasteries that existed in Italy until the middle of the 11th century. It withstood frequent attempts at Latinization and continues to be an ecumenical symbol of undoubted value.
But with the advent of the unified “Catholic Church of the Byzantines in Italy,” this identity would be definitively compromised.
It remains a mystery how such a significant Eastern reality, in the heart of the Roman Church, could have been allowed to decline to such a point, without anything being done to save it.
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.