Introduction Statistics and Languages

Eastern Catholicism consists of some twenty churches (before Vatican II (1965), 'Rites') united by communion with the See of Rome. Most Eastern Catholic Churches have Orthodox counterparts, that is, churches not in union with the pope. Each of them has the status of a 'particular church', or, more technically, a church sui iuris ('of its own law'), which in some instances corresponds to Eastern Orthodoxy's 'autonomous churches'. The exact number of sui iuris churches is subject to debate (see below).

The shift from 'Rites' to 'Churches' is indicative of Vatican II's desire to see these communities distinguished not only by their worship, but also by indigenous theologies, spiritualities and canonical traditions. Each of them is also to incarnate in unique fashion the unity, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity of the one Church, with the Bishop of Rome serving as the touchstone of this unity and continuity. Another shift involves the term 'uniate' to describe these churches. Since the 1950s it has been considered derogatory, even though originally it simply denoted that part of an Orthodox Church that had accepted 'the Unia'.

As noted above, the exact number of sui iuris churches is subject to debate. The Russian and Belarusan Greek Catholic Churches have not had their own bishops for some time. Can they be considered 'particular churches'? There is also the question of the Ruthenian Church. While the ('Ruthenian') Byzantine Catholic Metropolia of Pittsburgh is a sui iuris church in its own right, its counterpart in the Carpathian region of western Ukraine has no direct canonical connection with it. Should they be counted as one or two? Finally, in view of the fact that the Albanian Byzantine Church is composed of Roman Rite Catholics, is it a 'particular church?' Most would prefer to list the Russian, Belarusan and Albanian Churches as 'communities' (without, of course, denying their full ecclesiality). Incidentally, owing to geographical, cultural and political factors, some Eastern Catholic communities have almost no contact with each other except through Vatican, or other Roman Catholic, institutions.

Table 15.1 Church membership, jurisdictions, languages

Name of Church

Members in 1995

Members in 2003

Jurisdictions both within and beyond original territory

Dominant languages of worship


Ukrainian Greek Catholic



15 / 15

Ukrainian; Church Slavonic for parts of the service


Syro-Malabar Catholic



24 / 1



Maronite Catholic



20 / 7

Arabic; Syriac


Melkite Greek Catholic



18 / 7

Arabic; Greek phrases


Romanian Greek Catholic



5 / 1



Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic



2 / 4

Church Slavonic; English


Syro-Malankara Catholic



4 / 0



Armenian Catholic



10 / 7

Classical Armenian; Arabic


Chaldean Catholic



17 / 2

Syriac; Arabic


Hungarian Greek Catholic



2 / 0

Modern Hungarian


Slovak Greek Catholic



2 / 1

Slovak; Church Slavonic


Coptic Catholic



6 / 0

Coptic and Arabic


Ethiopian Catholic



5 / 0

Ge'ez and Amharic


Syrian Catholic



11 / 3

Arabic; Syriac phrases





3 / 0

Greek; Italian


Greek Catholics in the former Yugoslavia



2 / 0

Church Slavonic; Rusyn, Croatian, Macedonian


Bulgarian Byzantine Catholic



1 / 0

Church Slavonic; Bulgarian


Greek Byzantine Catholic



2 / 0

Byzantine Greek


Albanian Byzantine Catholic



1 / 0



Russian Byzantine Catholic

Not av'ble

Not av'ble

0 / 0

Church Slavonic


Belarusan Byzantine Catholic

Not av'ble

Not av'ble

0 / 0

Belarusan; Church Slavonic

Table 15.1 provides (1) membership statistics for 1995 and 2003, (2) information regarding the number of jurisdictions (usually eparchies, that is dioceses, or other administrative units) both within and beyond their original territories, and (3) languages used for worship. Where dramatic declines in membership appear, this is due to the fact that in 1995 the numbers were inflated. As regards jurisdictions, the first number designates units located within the 'home territory' (or in some cases other non-western territories), while the second number refers to jurisdictions found in the West. Incidentally, the number of hierarchs in a given church is sometimes greater than the number of jurisdictions because some of the latter have a ruling hierarch ('ordinary') as well as one or more vicar bishops. As regards languages used in worship, since Vatican II almost all of the churches have shown a greater or lesser openness to the vernaculars of the new lands in which they find themselves (as well as their homelands). It would be impossible to list all of these here. In the case of the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church, however, English is listed because it constitutes the official liturgical language in that Church's American metropolia. Finally, note that in Catholic nomenclature, 'Byzantine' is synonymous with 'Greek'. There are various reasons why some churches are referred to as 'Byzantine Catholic', and others as 'Greek Catholic', even though both designate a church of the Byzantine tradition. Incidentally, some scholars prefer 'Greco-Catholic' as a way of indicating that members of these churches are not of Greek nationality.

Among the patterns that characterize the processes by which many Eastern Churches entered into union with Rome is the following: contact with western religious orders during a period of crisis and/or reform, in which union with Rome was viewed as a progressive development, although stimulated in some instances by hopes for sociopolitical, educational or other privileges, while in other instances bringing on persecution from civil and/or religious authorities opposed to union.

Before turning to the individual churches, an overview of western, in particular Roman, developments as they relate to Eastern Catholicism as a whole is necessary.

Eleventh to thirteenth centuries: During the crusades, Armenians, Assyrians and Maronites establish positive relations with Roman Catholics.

1439: The Council of Florence achieves (in most territories only short-lived) agreement on the filioque, purgatory, and the Roman primacy.

1550s and later: The Catholic Reformation turns its attention to the East. With the union of Florence generally moribund, Rome decides to approach each Eastern Church separately. Tridentine ecclesiology colours the approach; unity becomes a matter of reductio in oboedientiam - submission to Roman authority, pure and simple.

1622: Creation of the Roman Sacred Congregation Propaganda fide, a missionary dicastery, to which oversight of Eastern Catholics is assigned.

1729: Rome issues a decree definitively forbidding any and all forms of worship with the Orthodox.

1742: Benedict XIV's encyclical Etsi pastoralis declares the Roman Rite to be superior to other Catholic Rites.

1894: Leo XIII's apostolic letter Orientalium dignitas proclaims equality of all Rites, and forbids the enticing of Eastern Catholics to the Roman Rite; but the letter's promulgation is blocked in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, where more than three-quarters of all Eastern Catholics live.

1907: Pius X's decree Ea semper for Eastern Catholics in the New World, makes the Eastern Catholic bishop fully dependent on local Roman Rite authorities, denies priests the right to chrismate ('confirm') their own faithful, and insists on clerical celibacy. These restrictions will soon be overturned, except for celibacy, which will be imposed definitively in 1929.

1917: Creation of the Sacred Congregation for the Eastern Church (later changed to 'Churches'), which replaces the Eastern Section of Propaganda fide.

1930s: Rome embarks on the publication of generally superb liturgical books for many of the Eastern Catholic Churches.

1964: The Vatican II decree Orientalium ecclesiarum proclaims (again) the equality of Rites, and stresses the need for Eastern Catholics to revive their authentic traditions.

1990: Publication of the Code of Canons of the Eastern [Catholic] Churches.

1994: Orientale lumen, John Paul II's apostolic letter marking the centenary of Orientalium dignitas, emphasizes the East's theological and spiritual riches.

1996: The Congregation for the Eastern Churches issues the Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, which insists that Eastern Catholic worship should be essentially identical with its Orthodox counterparts.

Henceforth, detailed information will be given for only the four largest Eastern Catholic Churches, all of which have over one million members. As it happens, these four are so different that a focus on them provides a good sense of Eastern Catholicism's diverse profile. For regularly updated information on the smaller Eastern Catholic Churches, consult\ecc.htm.

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