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Russian press continues noise over Catholics

by Gennady Charodeev, Svetlana Popova
Izvestiia, 24 April 2002

The Russian ambassador to Warsaw, Nikolai Afanasievsky, was summoned yesterday to the Polish foreign ministry where he was handed a note in connection with the banning on entry into Russia of the Catholic Bishop Jerzy Mazur. For a second time in three days, the Polish authorities demanded that Moscow explain the reason that the Polish citizen was denied a visa.

Yerzy Mazur flew to Moscow from Warsaw on 19 April, although he was forced to return in the evening of the same day. At the same time, if one believers the "Svet Evangeliia" newspaper, "border guards cancelled his multi-use Russian visa without any explanation" in his passport. When the secretary of the representation of the Vatican in Russia, Fr Tomas Grysa, asked for explanations from the border service of the Sheremetevo-2 airport, it was confirmed for him that Yerzy Mazur is forbidden entry onto the territory of the Russian federation, although the reasons for such a decision were not identified.

Representative of the Federal Border Service of Russia told Izvestiia:  "The entry of the Catholic bishop is not permitted in accordance with Article 27 of the law of the Russian federation "On procedures for exit from and entry to RF." It also was not specified for us just which point of the article of the law was the basis for not granting permission to enter.

The explanations of the director of the Department of Information and Press of the Russian foreign ministry, Alexander Yakovsnko, also explained little. In his words, "serious charges about the activity of the highly placed representative of the Vatican served as the basis for an appropriate decision." Yakovenko also noted that "actions taken with regard to Yerzy Mazur do not have any kind of national subtext."

Nothing remained but to turn to the "hero" of the scandal himself. His information turned out to be more loaded with details. In conversation with an Izvestia reporter Yerzy Mazur suggested: "Entry was not permitted because of the old Japonese name of the Catholic province subordinate to me--Karafuto. on Thursday the Vatican decided to call it from now on the province of Sakhalin and the Southern Kuriles (sic)."

A former Polish ambassador to Russia and current advisor to the president for international questions, Stanislav Chosak, in an interview with Polish radio commented on the situation in this way:  "I think that the Russians can back away from this decision. There always is the possibility of correcting a mistake. Or maybe Moscow will find convincing reasons as a basis for recognizing the bishop as an undesirable person."

Viktor Khrul, the press secretary of the head of the Catholic church in Russia, Metropolitan Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, declared in an interview with Izvestiia "We hope that all that has happened is an unfortunate misunderstanding. The best means of dispelling anxiety would be appropriate declaration from the Russian governmental offices. We hope that they will let the bishop return. Persecution of the church usually begins with the exile of priests. If there is a bishop, there is a church; if there is no bishop, the church is deprived of its foundation. Unfortunately, we have not managed yet to develop our own priests who could be ordained bishops. That is our weak spot." (tr. by PDS, posted 24 April 2002)

Rossisskie vesti, 24 April 2002

The State Duma will discuss the possibility of forbidding the Catholic church on Russian territory.

On the initiative of a deputy of the State Duma, a member of the Committee on Affairs of the Federation of Religious Policy, Viktor Alksnis, introduced in the Council of the Duma the draft of an appeal "To Russian Federation President V.V. Putin regarding the activity of the Roman Catholic church on the territory of the Russian federation." It proposes "prohibiting the activity of the Catholic dioceses on the territory of Russia."

The idea of such an appeal arose from the example of the Orthodox public of the village of Ershovo of Odintsovsk district, which appealed for help from its deputy Alksnis approximately a month ago. What especially disturbed the Orthodox people of Ershovo was the issue of the "bishop of Karafuto." As the proposed draft of the appeal says: "The Roman Catholic church consciously promotes the territorial claims of Japan against Russia, calling Sakhalin island by the Japanese name, 'prefecture of Karafuto.'"

In the deputy's opinion, such actions are direct violations of the federal law of 18 December 1997 "On the names of geographical objects," whose eleventh article says that "the naming of geographical objects as a substantial portion of the historic and cultural heritage of the peoples of the Russian federation is reserved to the state."

However, long before the draft of the appeal was introduced for discussion in the State Duma the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia already had assessed the Vatican's actions as unfriendly, seeing in them a direct interference in the internal affairs of our country. This was mentioned, specifically, in a report of the Department of Press and Information of MID RF of 26 February 2002 in connection with the use in the official title of the Catholic bishop that name "Apostolic administrator of Eastern Siberia and the Prefecture of Karafuto."

Practical suggestions formulated in the draft of the appeal sound like this:  "Inasmuch as these actions of the Roman Catholic church represent a threat to the integrity of the Russian federation, the activity of the dioceses of the Catholic church in Russia should be forbidden on the bases, indicated in point 2 of article 14 of the federal law of 26 September 1997 'On freedom of conscience and religious associations.'"

Alksnis views his draft of the appeal as a distinctive "test of Orthodoxy," which, since the voting will be open, should show who is who among the deputies. It will separate those who are "genuine" for those who simply wear their cross on their chest as costume jewelry. Already before the voting, Viktor Imantovich suggested that most of the "genuine ones" are in the ranks of the communist party, the agrarians, "Regions of Russia" and "National Deputy." The other deputy groupings, in his opinion, cannot pass the "test of Orthodoxy," and thus they can be viewed as potential "costume jewelry" persons. However, Alksnis hopes that healthy religious feelings will awaken in some deputies of these duma fractions and they will vote, as Viktor Imantovich puts it, "according to conscience."

Incidentally, speaking about the appearance of the idea of the draft of the appeal, it should be especially noted that the hierarchs of RPTs have nothing to do with the initiative of simple Orthodox people led by the priest of the suburban Moscow village of Ershovo; they do not even have the most "superficial" contact with Alksnis himself.

By contrast, the Roman Catholic church has been extremely active in using all possible means to persuade the deputy of the uselessness of taking his appeal to a vote in the duma. The Moscow metropolitan, chairman of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Russia, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz personally tried to persuade the unreconciled Viktor Imantovich, trying to explain the incident of the"bishop of Karafuto" as a misunderstanding resulting from the "extremism" of some Mr. Voskanov. It seems, this was done on his own initiative in calling Sakhalin by its Japanese name on his personal internet site, "Katolicheskaia tserkov v Rossii" (

However these explanations had no special success with the perspicacious deputy. Without getting involved in discussion, the former air force lieutenant decided to put in the forefront the question of Catholic expansion and to announce to the cities and everyone the simple idea: "Fear not, Holy Rus, I will undertake to defend you." (tr. by PDS, posted 24 April 2002)

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Russia gets mixed reviews in European parliament

by Konstantin Katanian
Vremia MN, 24 April 2002

The general tone of the draft of a resolution regarding Russia, which was discussed a second day at Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), was rather favorable for our country and left no doubt that PACE has taken account of all that has been done already by Russia for entry into the European family.  However it is still premature to say that our country has fulfilled all of its obligations before the Council of Europe.

The report of the Commission on Monitoring, that was read at yesterday's session of the PACE by David Atkinson, contained both extremely positive assessments and critical notes. Note was taken of specific legislative acts that testify to real steps taken to meet the desires of the Council of Europe. Nevertheless Russian legislators still face a rather substantial amount of work before all questions bothering their European colleagues will be removed.  Everybody understands that the "Chechen knot" cannot be untied right away. However, the PACE resolution notes, federal authorities have not been very consistent in their attempts to punish all people who are guilty of gross violations of human rights, including the right to life, to the fullest extent of the law

Members of the assembly were simply shocked at the results of voting in the State Duma on 15 February, when deputies decisively took the step not of abolishing the death penalty but of going in the opposite direction. Members of PACE, including those from Russia, also expressed concern over the "cowardly position" of our state which is leading to restriction on freedom of speech. Citing the incident of banning TV-6, which was called the last free channel, European parliamentarians called Russian authorities not to allow the death of independent television in Russia.

The federal law on freedom of conscience was discussed as a separate question at the session. Several of its provisions were called undemocratic by the reporter, Deputy Kevin MacNamara (Great Britain). Besides, some regions have adopted their own legislation on religion which contradicts the constitution of the Russian federation. As a result there have been incidents of refusal of registration for nontraditional religious organizations, prohibition on the construction of Catholic churches in Siberia and on entry into Russia of Catholic priests, who effectively are denied the possibility of working with their flock. (tr. by PDS, posted 24 April 2002)

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Moscow faces international criticism over visa confiscations

by Kirill Vasilenko
Vremia novostei, 22 April 2002

Catholic priests who work in Russia should not leave our country. Otherwise they risk not seeing their flock any more, because they simply will not be able to cross the state boundary. This is the convenient means of cutting off the undesirable religion that Russian authorities have thought up in response to the Vatican's transformation of the temporary apostolic administrations on the territory of our country into full-fledged dioceses. In the past month already two Catholic priests have been deprived of their visas while passing through passport control at the border. This past Friday one of the bishops of the Catholic church, Jerzy Mazur, who heads the diocese of St. Joseph with its center in Irkutsk, was denied entry into Russia.

The bishop, a citizen of Poland, returned to Russia from Warsaw. At Sheremetevo-2 his passport was confiscated and it was announced that Jerzy Mazur was on a list of persons for whom entry is forbidden. Protests by the representation of the Holy See in Moscow, the Polish embassy, and the state secretariat of the Vatican have been left unanswered. The Russian ambassador to the Holy See, Vitaly Litvin, who was summoned to the state secretariat of the Vatican, also refused to explain what had happened.  Two weeks earlier the rector of the Catholic parishes of Vladimir and Ivanovo, Fr Stefano Caprio, was deemed superfluous in the traditionally Orthodox country and he was deprived of his visa, also at Shermetevo and also without explanation.

"Expulsion of priests and bishops from the country seriously destabilizes the activity of the Catholic structures in Russia," Vremia novostei newspaper was told by the secretary of the Conference of Catholic Bishops, Fr Igor Kovalevsky. "The majority of priests and monks are foreigners who have come from more than twenty countries. The shortage of Russian priests is connected with the closure of all seminaries of the Catholic church during the time of the Soviet Union. Confiscating the visa of a Catholic bishop and denying him entry into the country is frequently associated with overt persecution of the church. Historic experience teaches us that. One would not wish to think this way about Russia."

The diocese of St. Joseph is one of the most important entities of the Catholic church. Among the 16 million inhabitants of this region there are rather many people whose ancestors were Catholics who were exiled to Siberia in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Baptized Catholics in the diocese of St. Joseph number around 50,000.

The visa problem is not the only thing that adherents of western Christianity have had to face in Russia. In March State Duma deputies proposed to officials of the foreign ministry that the visas of all preachers from the Vatican been confiscated so that they will not compete with the Russian Orthodox church and not offend the feelings of Orthodox believers. Two weeks ago, the construction of a Catholic church that had already been started in Pskov was forbidden. As the head of the administration of the city himself acknowledged, the decision was the result of the demand of the Orthodox Archbishop Evsevy of Pskov and Velikoluksk "not to harm the Russian people with a Catholic presence." Last month in many Russian cities a multitude of demonstrations were conducted near Catholic churches, with slogans that were offensive to believers. Yesterday a demonstration against Catholicism was conducted in Irkutsk, where Jerzy Mazur was traveling to. On 28 April the "Union of Orthodox Citizens" promises to conduct demonstrations of protest against the "spiritual expansion of Catholicism" in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Saratov, Samara, Kazan, Tver, Makhachkala, Yakutsk, Blagoveshchensk, and Vladimvostok.

Catholic foreigners put on a brave face and say that they are not about to lock themselves up in Russia, fearing loss of their visas. "We still think that what happened to Father Stefano and Bishop Jerzy Mazur were only unpleasant, isolated incidents," Fr Igor Kovalevsky said hopefully.

Russian politicians prefer not to speak out in defense of religious freedoms. The only words of comfort that Catholics have heard have come from the deputy director of the Chief Administration for Domestic Policy of the president, Sergei Abramov. The other day this highly placed bureaucrat assured the head of Russian Catholics, Metropolitan Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, that the presidential administration is carefully following the situation and shares his alarm over the events that happened. But, it seems, apart from sympathy, Russia does not intend to take other steps to help the Vatican.

Meanwhile as a result of the latest actions by Russian authorities, criticism of Moscow on the part of international organizations has attained a new venue. At the regular session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, opening today, the news media have now added the question of freedom of religious confession to the usual concern over the situation in Chechnia. (tr. by PDS, posted 22 April 2002)

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Government may be trying to embarrass patriarchate

by Oleg Nedumov
Nezavisimaia gazeta, 22 April 2002

Another Catholic priest, this time a bishop, was denied entry into Russia. The head of the largest Catholic diocese in Russia, Jerzy Mazur, who is a Polish citizen, was thus not able to return to his flock after a trip to Warsaw. On Friday at Sheremetevo-2 airport, border officials seized his passport and did not return it for an hour. When the secretary of the bishop demanded an explanation, he was told that Jerzy Mazur has been forbidden to enter Russia. In other words, the priest has been declared persona non grata. Border officials refused to explain the reasons for such a decision.

Immediately after the incident, the Vatican summoned the Russian ambassador, Vitaly Litvin, to the State Secretariat, although he had not been informed about what had happened.

The Conference of Catholic Bishops has already issued a sharp protest, declaring that "an organized campaign against the Catholic church has developed in Russia."

We recall that a similar event happened on 5 April in connection with the rector of the Catholic parish in Vladimir, Fr Stefano Caprio. He returned from Milan to Moscow, although at the airport he was told about his denial of entry to Russia. The Russian consul general in Milan, Evgeny Smirnov, told the priest that he was not authorized to explain the reasons for such a decision.

According to one version, Stefano Caprio was interfering with somebody's business, since he was arranging shipment to Russia of expensive medicines which were being distributed to patients at no cost. However after the expulsion of Jerzy Mazur it became clear that this was by no means an isolated incident.

In principle, the declaration of a persona non grata without explanation of the reasons is be no means a rarity in international practice. Such measures have been taken even with regard to Orthodox priests in other countries. The question is just why did Russian officials find it necessary to expel the representatives of the Vatican.

We recall that relations between Moscow and the Vatican were strained after the decision to create Catholic dioceses on the territory of Russia. Before that the conflict had not gone beyond the limits of an interchurch dispute. On the part of official state structures, only the duma engaged in explicit anti-Catholic attacks. Besides, the Russian foreign ministry complained that the territory of southern Sakhalin and the Kuriles was called in official Vatican documents the "prefecture of Karafuto." The Vatican immediately corrected the diplomatic protocol, replacing the outmoded name. According to the head of Russian Catholics, Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, now it is officially changed to "prefecture of Southern Sakhalin," as witnessed by a document from the Vatican.

We note that Jerzy Mazur, who was expelled from Russia, heads the Irkutsk diocese, of which Southern Sakhalin is a part. Besides, on the same day that the bishop was declared persona non grate, the deputy director of the Chief Administration of domestic policy of the president, Sergei Abramov, criticized the Vatican for creating the dioceses. "Catholics, undoubtedly, acted improperly when they undertook such actions unilaterally, without informing either the Russian Orthodox church or the Russian MID," he declared in an interview with Interfax.

On the surface, it appears that secular authorities are acting in compliance with the desire of the Russian Orthodox church to maintain its monopoly position. However, one should not forget that the expulsion of two priests threatens Moscow with a serious international outcry, which it would hardly take on without weighty reasons. It is quite possible that the federal authorities are engaging in a delicate intrigue with respect to the Moscow patriarchate. The issue is that Moscow is interested in a visit to Russia by the pope as soon as possible. Already Putin has said several times that the pontiff would have been invited long ago if it were not for the opposition of the leadership of RPTs. He said that John Paul II does not want to go to Russia without the consent of the Moscow patriarchate. In developing such a noisy clash with the Vatican Moscow has put the leadership of RPTs in a very difficult position, since it is they who will turn out to be most guilty of a campaign against Catholics. In order to quiet the noise, the Moscow patriarchate will have to make a broad gesture of good will with regard to the Vatican. In order words--give its consent to the pope's visit.  (tr. by PDS, posted 22 April 2002)

Associated Press, 19 April 2002

A top Kremlin foreign policy official criticized the Catholic Church on Friday for upgrading its presence in Russia, but condemned a lawmaker's proposal to ban Catholic activity and said Catholics pose no threat to the country.

The Catholic Church elevated its apostolic administrations in Russia to full-fledged dioceses in February, prompting outrage from the dominant Russian Orthodox Church, who called it an attempt to poach Orthodox believers.

"It was tactless of the Catholics to take any unilateral steps without informing either the Russian Orthodox Church or the Foreign Ministry about them," Sergei Abramov, first deputy head of the Kremlin foreign policy department, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.

The Rev. Igor Kovalevsky of the Catholic Church headquarters in Russia insisted that the church had notified both the Foreign Ministry and the Orthodox leadership of the decision in advance.

He expressed surprise at Abramov's comments, saying that Abramov had met Tuesday with the leader of Russia's Roman Catholic community and offered support in the church's struggles with anti-Catholic sentiment recently.

Despite the rebuke, Abramov was also quoted as saying that the church's creation of dioceses was not illegal, and that there were therefore no grounds for a proposal by parliament member Viktor Alksnis to ban Catholic activity. The State Duma was scheduled to discuss the proposal Wednesday but the debate was postponed.

Abramov noted the Catholics' small share of the Russian population _ about 600,000 of Russia's 144 million people _ and said, "there is no threat to Orthodoxy in Russia." About two-thirds of Russians consider themselves Orthodox.

The diocese issue further soured Orthodox-Russian relations, which had long been strained over a dispute over church property in western Ukraine and Orthodox accusations of Catholic proselytizing.

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Government position on Catholic visas not clear

Mir religii, 22 April 2002

Russia is a secular state in which no one religion has privileges, but no religion can be subjected to persecution. This was declared today to the Interfax agency by a source in the government of RF, commenting on the cancellation of entry visas for a number of Catholic priests.

According to the source, "if the visas were confiscated because of illegal actions of the priests, connected, for example, with criminal espionage, then these facts should be made public." If this happened only because the priests were preaching Catholicism, then this is "medieval obscurantism," Interfax's source declared.

As already reported, in the past three weeks entry visas to Russia have been cancelled for two Catholic priests without intelligible explanations of the reasons. These priests were Stefano Caprio, rector of the parishes in Vladimir and Ivanovo, and Bishop Yerzy Mazur, the head of the diocese in Irkutsk.

Meanwhile, commenting on the incident involving Mazur, the Vatican characterized his expulsion as "violation of freedom of conscience," and the head of Russian Catholics, Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, exprssed the conviction that an organized anti-Catholic campaign is under way in Russia. As the newspaper "Gazeta" reported, the apostolic administrators of the Roman Catholic church in Russia are convinced that the anger of the ecclesiastical and secular authorities of RF was evoked by the inclusion of the Kurile and Sakhalin islands in the diocese of Eastern Siberia under the old Japanese name "prefecture of Karafuto," although the Vatican had already changed this name in conformity to present day realities.

Against the background of the comments quoted above from the source within the Russian government, it is interesting to recall again the harsh position of the Russian Orthodox church that was laid out in the extensive interview given several days ago to "Gazeta" by Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus. Assessing the "real needs" of Russian Catholics for spiritual nurture, the head of RPTs stressed that "there has appeared in Russia a centralized structure of the Catholic church whose dimensions do not by any means correspond to these needs." Continuing his discussion, the patriarch declared "It is quite appropriate to raise the question of which needs produced such a reorganization. We think that its main motive was the extension of missionary activity in Russia which cannot be viewed in any other way than as proselytism, that is, conversion to their faith of residents of the country who are baptized as Orthodox or are historically associated with the Orthodox tradition." (tr. by PDS, posted 22 April 2002)

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Patriarchate defends expulsion of Catholic bishop

Mir religii, 22 April 2002

The Russian Orthodox church sees no infringement of the freedom of religious confession in Catholic Bishop; Yerzy Mazur's being denied entry into Russia. "Such a practice of selective treatment of foreign religious leaders occurs in many countries of the world," the vice chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow patriarchate (OVTsSMP), Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin stated today to the Interfax news agency.

At the same time he noted that "if such actions occur in the United States or European countries, world public opinion usually views them with understanding." Thus, the priest thinks, "it would be strange if similar actions by Russia were not viewed with understanding."

According to the representative of OVTsSMP, "one must take into account that we are talking about a person whose title has used the Japanese name of southern Sakhalin (prefecture of Karafuto), which actually is Russian territory."  Vsevolod Chaplin noted, "any country would take a stern view of the activity of a foreign priest who would not respect its territorial integrity." Considering that "Catholics have full right to profess their faith," the Russian church stresses that "at the same time they must respect the laws of the Russian state also."

In conclusion, Vsevolod Chaplin noted that the denial of entry by the bishop is a "decision of the governmental authorities, and the Moscow patriarch was not in any way an initiator of this." He emphasized that "governmental authorities have the full right to make a decision regarding which foreigners' presence in the country is desirable and which is not." (tr. by PDS, posted 22 April 2002)

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Head of Russian Catholics protests bishop's expulsion

Declaration by Head of Catholic Bishops' Conference, 21 April 2002

Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in the Russian Federation, published the following statement, translated by the missionary agency Fides. He issued the statement Saturday from Switzerland.

Events over the last months are demonstrating that an organized campaign is being waged against the Catholic Church in Russia.

Yesterday, in Moscow's Sheremetjevo-2 airport, Bishop Jerzy Mazur, ordinary of the Diocese of St. Joseph in Irkutsk, had his visa removed, valid until January 2003, without any explanations being given. As he is a Polish citizen, on repeated occasions he requested the authorities to grant him Russian citizenship, or at least a resident's permit, but this was always rejected. Two weeks ago, the visa of an Italian priest was removed in similar circumstances. Foreign priests increasingly meet with greater difficulties to fulfill their pastoral commitments.

Similar conduct by state representatives has been directed especially against Russian citizens of Catholic faith, who are left without their pastors and now, also, without a bishop.

Russian Catholics are wondering who will be next, and how long this will last. Are constitutional guarantees of freedom of conscience and the right to have their own pastors, including the right to invite them from abroad, also valid for them, since it must not be forgotten that for 81 years the Catholic Church in Russia did not have the possibility to form and ordain its own priests[?] Is it true that the state considers them second-class citizens? Are the times of persecution of the faith returning? What is in store for Catholics of our country?

Particularly disappointing has been the silence with which Russian and international organizations for the defense of human rights have responded, called to defend the rights of religious minorities, and the absence of reactions on the part of the Judicial Power, whose task it is to see that laws are respected. The sole exception to date has been the Russian section of the International Association for Freedom of Conscience.

The expulsion of a Catholic bishop, who has not infringed any existing law, goes beyond all imaginable limits of civil relations between the state and church.

With sentiments of grave concern, we express our firm protest in face of the violations of the constitutional rights of Russian Catholics. The Conference of Catholic Bishops of the Russian Federation addresses the bodies of the state power of the Russian Federation, especially President Vladimir Putin, in his capacity of guarantor of the Constitution, the bodies of the Judicial Power, the Russian and international organizations for the defense of the rights of man and of the collectivity, in appealing for the re-establishment of justice, the defense of religious freedom, and no discrimination against Russian Catholics.

Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz
Metropolitan of Moscow
President of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Russia
Moscow -- Lugano, April 20, 2002

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