Eastern Catholic Churches - List of Churches - Byzantine-rite Catholics of Georgian Nationality or Descent

Byzantine-rite Catholics of Georgian Nationality or Descent

Some have treated Byzantine Rite Catholics within the Georgian Catholic Church as a separate particular Church with a reunion date of either 1861 or 1917. A study by Deacon Methodios Stadnik states: "The Georgian Byzantine Catholic Exarch, Fr. Shio Batmanishviii (sic), and two Georgian Catholic priests of the Latin rite were executed by the Soviet authorities in 1937 after having been held in captivity in Solovki prison and the northern gulags from 1923." In his book The Forgotten: Catholics of the Soviet Union Empire from Lenin through Stalin, Father Christopher Zugger writes: "By 1936, the Byzantine Catholic Church of Georgia had two communities, served by a bishop and four priests, with 8,000 believers", and he identifies the bishop as Shio Batmalashvili. The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union mentions "the Catholic administrator for Georgia Shio Batmalashvili" as one of those who were executed as "anti-Soviet elements" in 1937.

The second of these sources calls Batmalashvili a bishop. The first is ambiguous, calling him an Exarch but giving him the title of Father. The third merely refers to him as "the Catholic administrator" without specifying whether he was a bishop or a priest and whether he was in charge of a Latin or a Byzantine jurisdiction.

If Batmalashvili was an Exarch, and not instead a bishop connected with the Latin diocese of Tiraspol, which had its seat at Saratov on the Volga River, to which Georgian Catholics even of Byzantine rite belonged this would mean that a Georgian Byzantine-Rite Catholic Church existed, even if only as a local particular Church. However, since the establishment of a new hierarchical jurisdiction must be published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, and no mention of the setting up of such a jurisdiction for Byzantine Georgian Catholics exists in that official gazette of the Holy See, the claim appears to be unfounded.

The Annuario Pontificio of the Catholic Church does not mention Batmalashvili in its editions of the 1930s. If indeed he was a bishop, he may then have been one of those secretly ordained for the service of the Church in the Soviet Union by French Jesuit Bishop Michel d'Herbigny, who was head of the Pontifical Commission for Russia from 1925 to 1934. In the circumstances of that time, the Holy See would have been incapable of setting up a new Byzantine exarchate within the Soviet Union, since Byzantine Catholics in the Soviet Union were being forced to join the Russian Orthodox Church.

Batmalashvili's name is not among those given in Roman Catholic Regional Hierarchy as the four "underground" apostolic administrators (only one of whom appears to have been a bishop) for the four sections into which the diocese of Tiraspol was divided after the resignation in 1930 of its already exiled last bishop, Joseph Aloysius Kessler. This source gives Father Stefan Demurow as apostolic administrator of "Tbilisi and Georgia" and says he was executed in 1938. Other sources associate Father Demurow with Azerbaijan and say that, rather than being executed, he died in a Siberian concentration camp.

Until 1994, the United States annual publication Catholic Almanac used to go further, listing "Georgian" among the Byzantine Churches. Until corrected in 1995, it appears to have been making a mistake similar to that made on the equally unofficial EWTN site about the Czech Byzantine Catholics.

There was also a short-lived Byzantine Catholic movement among the ethnic Estonians in the Orthodox Church in Estonia during the interwar period of the 20th century, consisting of two to three parishes, not raised to the level of a local particular church with its own head. This group was liquidated by the Soviet regime and is now extinct.

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