MOSCOW (CNS): Russian legislators have begun a debate on whether to ask the President to shut down the country’s newly created Roman Catholic dioceses on the grounds that they are a threat to the country’s territorial integrity and to the Russian Orthodox Church.
“A diocese is the government territory of the Roman Catholic Church because the Vatican is also a government. This is a serious move, which must be protested,” parliamentarian Gennady Raikov told the Ekho Moskva radio station in explaining his support of the measure, adding that dioceses meddle “not only in Church matters but in government affairs as well”.
Spokesman for the Archdiocese of Moscow, Viktor Khroul, said such comments indicated that some deputies “don’t understand how the Church works, how the structures work”.
The April 17 debate in Russia’s lower house of parliament – the Duma – followed a series of anti-Catholic protests in at least four Russian cities staged by members of the dominant Russian Orthodox Church. Pope John Paul II elevated Russia’s four apostolic administrations to dioceses in February, and many Orthodox leaders viewed the action as evidence of Catholic expansionism in Orthodox territory.
Early this month, construction was stopped on a Catholic church in the northern city of Pskov following an Orthodox demonstration, and, most recently, an Italian priest working in Russia for 13 years was stripped of his visa without explanation and was told he cannot re-enter the country.
In an April 15 statement, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of Moscow, who is head of the Russian bishops’ conference, appealed to the international community and human rights organisations to help put a stop to “the attacks on the constitutional rights” of Russia’s Catholics, who make up less than half of 1 per cent of the 143 million population.