Religious Freedom Seriously Threatened in Russia, Says Archbishop

Declaration by Head of Catholic Bishops´ Conference

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LUGANO, Switzerland, APRIL 21, 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.

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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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