Eastern Catholic Churches

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The 23 particular churches belonging to the Roman Catholic Church , which are in the Eastern Church tradition, are called Catholic Eastern Churches (also United Churches or churches United with Rome ) . Through their Eastern (Oriental) rites they are close to the Orthodox and ancient Eastern Eastern Churches in their tradition and hierarchical constitution , but recognize the jurisdiction primacy of the Pope as Bishop of Rome and are in a community of faith, prayer and sacrament with one another and with the Latin Church .

The “Catholic-Oriental Churches” are to be strictly distinguished from the Eastern Orthodox Churches .

In almost all Eastern Church traditions there are Catholic rite churches , which, however, usually form only a minority compared to their Orthodox and ancient oriental counterparts.

The interior of the baroque Resurrection Cathedral in Ivano-Frankivsk (Ukraine) shows typical features of an Orthodox and a Roman Catholic church of their time

In contrast to the Western Latin Church, the Eastern Catholic Churches are not subject to the canon law of the Codex Iuris Canonici (CIC), but to the Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium (CCEO).


"Union" originally meant the restoration of church unity after a schism , either as a whole Union , that is under full abolition of the separation, or as part of the Union , thus alone with a cleaning willing party.

Some of them are early Christian communities from the very beginning, others are diaspora churches within these continents, and even communities that only emerged in the 20th century. The Eastern Catholic Churches, i.e. branches with romance, arose to a small extent during the Crusades (from the 11th century), and partly in the wake of the Catholic Counter-Reformation after the Council of Trent 1545–1563: On the Great East-West Schism (1054 ) various efforts followed to heal the rift between the Western (Roman Catholic) and Eastern ( Greek Orthodox ) Churches within the framework of an overall union , all of which, however, most recently in the Council of Florence (Union Council 1431-1445), without lasting success stayed. During the time of the Crusades there were permanent unions with the Maronites and temporarily with the Armenians in Cilicia ( Kingdom of Lesser Armenia ). In the period that followed, Rome continued to strive for total unions, for example by winning over the respective head of the church, for example a patriarch, or the majority of the episcopate of a regional church for Catholicism. However, it now also accepted partial unions or brought about such deliberately, in each case at the price of a split in the mother church. This procedure was used well into the 20th century. It was only after the Second Vatican Council that the Vatican officially renounced so-called uniatism towards the Eastern Churches, especially with the Balamand Declaration .


In the course of the centuries, particular churches have split off from most of the Eastern churches and united with Rome, while maintaining their own liturgy and recognizing the papal primacy . They took up full communion of faith and the sacraments with the Roman Catholic Church, but at the same time or later broke off the sacramental communion with their former church.

The obligation of celibacy applies (with a few exceptions) in these churches - as in the other Eastern Churches - only to bishops , monks and candidates for the priesthood who are still unmarried at the time of the deacon ordination. Post-ordination marriage is ruled out because the "indelible mark" of the sacramental priesthood prevents marriage. Already married candidates for the priesthood have always been able to receive ordination under the old law in the eastern regions. In June 2014, Pope Francis extended this right of uniate Eastern Church bishops to the priestly ordination of married men to western areas, as far as there is a separate Eastern Church hierarchy there. Where there are Eastern Church Ordinariats in western areas but no competent Eastern Church bishops, the authority to ordain married candidates for the priesthood is now and for the first time with the competent Roman Catholic bishop.

In most of the churches listed below, the part of the name Catholic indicates such a union and, in the area of ​​the Eastern Churches, distinguishes the Catholic churches there from the Orthodox churches, which usually have significantly more members and exist in parallel. They are seen by these as a major obstacle to ecumenism (see uniatism ). The sometimes occurring part of the name Greek , as opposed to Roman (-Catholic), indicates the rite family to which the church in question belongs.

The Maronite Church , which has been completely united with Rome since 1182, i.e. has no Orthodox or Old Catholic counterpart, is a special case . The Chaldean Catholic Church now has significantly more members than its autocephalous (independent) counterpart, the Assyrian Church of the East . Among the Thomas Christians , the Catholic Syro-Malabar Church faces only a small group of non-Catholics of the same Eastern Syrian tradition. The Italo-Albanian Church did not emerge from a formal union, but has been continuously connected to Rome since its existence.

Asia and Africa

The uniate churches and communities in the Orient, analogously also in the Balkans, and elsewhere emerged from other union movements, each with their own historical background (danger from the Turks, theological or ecclesiastical differences within the Eastern churches concerned, European colonialism, etc.). In most cases, with the exception of the Maronites , only a minority of Orthodox Christians joined the Union.

Eastern Europe

The largest existing church with Rome today is the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine . Like the United Communities in Russia and Belarus, it emerged from the Church Union of Brest in 1596. This union came about when large areas of the aforementioned states belonged politically to Catholic Poland-Lithuania .

This uniate church had its heyday on the territory of the Russian Empire until the middle of the 19th century. Since 1839, the United Nations, widespread in the Ukraine and Belarus, have for the most part been forcibly united with the Russian Orthodox Church .

In Poland, Belarus and the Ukraine, church buildings of United churches as well as those of the autocephalous Orthodox churches are called Cerkiew ( Belarusian царква ; Ukrainian церква ), in contrast to Kościół (Belarusian касцёл ; Ukrainian костел. ), The name for church buildings of the Latin .

In the territory of what was then Austria-Hungary , especially in Galicia , Bukovina and Transylvania , as well as in parts of Upper Hungary ( Carpathian Ukraine ), the United Churches were able to develop freely and had numerous members and a rich ecclesiastical life. This condition remained in the interwar period (1918–1939) when Galicia belonged to Poland and Carpathian Ukraine to Czechoslovakia . The largest uniate church in this area had the Ruthenians , as the Ukrainians were called in the Habsburg monarchy.

When the predominantly Ukrainian populated areas in the Carpathian Arch fell to the Soviet Union in 1944/45 , the United Catholics were immediately subjected to severe repression. Their bishops and priests were arrested and the church property was confiscated. Subsequently, the Uniate were forcibly subordinated to the Russian Orthodox Church . Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has been independent again. Today this United Church still has around 5.2 million members in Ukraine and in the worldwide diaspora . Its head is the Greek Catholic Grand Archbishop of Kiev .

After the separation of Galicia in 1945, the United Catholics living in today's borders of Poland, who often come from Ruthenian or Ukrainian families, have their own Greek Catholic dioceses.

Another union, that of Uzhhorod in 1646, comes from the Ruthenian Greek Catholic Church in Transcarpathia ( Eparchy Mukacheve , southwestern Ukraine), Slovakia ( Eparchy Prešov / Eperies and Exarchate Košice / Kosice ), Hungary ( Exarchate Miskolc ) and in the USA ( Byzantine Catholic Metropolia of Pittsburgh).

The Romanian Orthodox Church from Transylvania united with Rome through the resolution of the Metropolitan Atanasie Anghel and the Provincial Synod of 1698. In addition to the diocese of Alba Iulia-Făgăraş , a new United diocese was founded in Oradea in 1777 . In 1853, two more Romanian Uniate dioceses were established, the Gherla diocese (today's Cluj-Gherla diocese ) and the Lugoj diocese . In the 20th century there was also the Maramureș diocese , which was founded in 1930 with its seat in Baia Mare . The Romanian Greek Catholic Church has been led by a major archbishop since 2005 .


Some of the communities united with Rome today have shifted their focus to the New World. For example, the Ruthenian Church now only had bishoprics in America. Organizationally, it was completely independent from its sister churches in the original settlement area of ​​the Ruthenians.

Particular churches

According to the Annuario Pontificio, there are 23 Eastern Catholic Churches:

church tradition Jurisdiction status founding Jurisdictions Bishops Believers Country of origin
Armenian Catholic Church Armenian patriarchal 1742 18th 16 566,000 Armenia
Ethiopian Catholic Church Alexandrian (Ethiopian) metropolitan 1846 4th 4th 70,000 Ethiopia
Albanian Greek Catholic Church Byzantine own 1628/1992 1 1 3,510 Albania
Bulgarian Greek Catholic Church Byzantine own 1861 1 1 10,000 Bulgaria
Byzantine Church in Croatia and Serbia Byzantine episcopal 1611 2 2 43,000 Croatia , Serbia
Chaldean Catholic Church East Syrian / Chaldean patriarchal 16th century 23 22nd 537,000 Iraq
Eritrean Catholic Church Alexandrian (Ethiopian) metropolitan 2015 4th 5 150,000 Eritrea
Greek Greek Catholic Church Byzantine own 1859 and 1860 2 1 6,000 Greece , Turkey
Italo-Albanian Church Byzantine own - 3 2 62,000 Italy
Coptic Catholic Church Alexandrian (Coptic) patriarchal 1741 8th 9 166,000 Egypt
Macedonian Greek Catholic Church Byzantine own 1881 1 1 15,000 North Macedonia
Melkite Greek Catholic Church Rum Catholic Church Byzantine patriarchal 1726 29 36 1.7 million Syria , Lebanon
Romanian Greek Catholic Church Byzantine grand archbishop 1693 6th 8th 535,000 Romania
Russian Greek Catholic Church Byzantine own 1917 2 0 approx. 3,000 Russia
Ruthenian Greek Catholic Church Byzantine metropolitan 1646/1697 7th 8th 487,000 Ukraine
Slovak Greek Catholic Church Byzantine metropolitan 1646 4th 4th 233,000 Slovakia
Maronite Church West Syrian / Antiochian patriarchal 1182 28 51 3.4 million Lebanon , Syria
Syrian Catholic Church West Syrian / Antiochian patriarchal 1781 15th 17th 266,000 Syria
Syro-Malankara Catholic Church West Syrian / Antiochian grand archbishop 1930 9 14th 438,000 India
Syro-Malabar Church East Syrian / Chaldean grand archbishop 1663 31 53 3.9 million India
Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Byzantine grand archbishop 1595 32 50 4.3 million Ukraine
Hungarian Greek Catholic Church Byzantine metropolitan 1646 2 3 327,000 Hungary
Belarusian Greek Catholic Church Byzantine own 1991 0 0 approx. 8,000 Belarus

In addition, there are the ordinariates for the believers of the Eastern Rite , which, however, do not belong to any Eastern Church hierarchy, but are directly subordinate to the Holy See .

On the question of the Latin Church

The Eastern Church also includes a Latin Church , namely the Christians of the Roman Catholic Church in the Arab world. This is not formally an Eastern Church in the sense that it is subject to Eastern Church Law (CCEO), but is assigned to Eastern Churchism for two reasons:

  • The Congregation for the Oriental Churches (Congregatio pro Ecclesiis Orientalibus) of the Roman Curia is also for the believers of the Roman rite in Egypt and on the Sinai Peninsula, in Eritrea and in northern Ethiopia, in southern Albania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Turkey are responsible, so the “Latins” are administratively treated by the Holy See as part of the oriental Catholic world.
  • From a sociological point of view, this Latin Church is no longer a mission church , but one of the local population who celebrates their services in the local language.

Historically, it is essentially the Roman Catholics in the former Ottoman Empire , who were given a center with the formal re-establishment of the Latin Patriarchate in the Archdiocese of Jerusalem in 1847. The Latin Church in the Orient includes the dioceses that are assembled in the Latin Bishops' Conference of the Arab Region (CELRA) . The Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem is also represented on the Council of Catholic Patriarchs of the Orient (CPCO, founded in 1990).


  • Julius Aßfalg (ed.): Small dictionary of the Christian orient. In connection with Paul Krüger. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1975, ISBN 3-447-01707-4 . Revised edition: Hubert Kaufhold (ed.): Small Lexicon of the Christian Orient . Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2007. XLV, 655 pp. ISBN 978-3-447-05382-2
  • Johannes Oeldemann: The churches of the Christian East. Orthodox, oriental and Eastern churches united with Rome . Topos plus, Kevelaer, 2nd, updated edition 2008, ISBN 3-8367-0577-X , pp. 111-137.
  • Alfred Schlicht: France and the Syrian Christians 1799–1861. Minorities and European imperialism in the Middle East (=  Islamic Studies. Vol. 61). Schwarz, Berlin 1981, ISBN 3-922968-05-8 (also: University of Munich, dissertation, 1981).
  • Congregazione per le Chiese Orientali (ed.): Oriente Cattolico . 5. edizione. A cura di G. Rigotti. 3 vols., Valore Italiano, Roma 2017. ISBN 978-88-97789-40-6

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Heinrich de Wall , Stefan Muckel: Church law. 5th edition. CH Beck, Munich, 2017, ISBN 978-3-406-66168-6 , § 16 Rn. 2
  2. The aim and methods of Uniatism, on the other hand, shape the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus Pope Benedict XVI. on the basis of which the Vatican seeks to unite believers and clergy of the Anglican Church with the Roman Catholic Church and the papacy.
  3. Catholic priests - without celibacy. In: Christ in der Gegenwart No. 47/2014, p. 526
  4. was never separated from Rome
  5. a b c Nicodemus C. Schnabel OSB: Latin Church , on prooriente.at, accessed on July 12, 2014.