Russia´s Expulsion of Bishop Is Assailed by Vatican

Describes It as «Grave Violation» of Religious Rights

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 21, 2002 ( The Vatican protested to Russian authorities over the expulsion of Bishop Jerzy Mazur of the Catholic Diocese of St. Joseph of Irkutsk, in Eastern Siberia.

On Friday night, when the Polish-born bishop arrived in Moscow´s Sheremetievo-2 airport «he was expelled from the territory of the Russian Federation and forced to take a flight to Krakow, from where he came,» says a statement issued Saturday by the Vatican Press Office.

The bishop «was given no reasons for the measure,» the statement adds. The Vatican «State Secretariat and the pontifical representation in Moscow appealed immediately to the Russian authorities, requesting an explanation and the restitution of the bishop´s visa.»

The Vatican State Secretariat called a meeting with Vitaly Litvin, the Russian Federation´s ambassador to the Vatican, who said that he had not been informed about what happened, the missionary agency Fides reported.

The Vatican note stated that what «has happened to Bishop Mazur, a few days after the expulsion of Italian priest Stefano Caprio, parish priest of the Holy Rosary church in Vladimir and Ivanovo, represents a grave violation of the commitments assumed by the Russian governmental authorities, who signed the conclusive document of the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe, in January 1989.»

In Article 16 of the principles of that document, the signatory states commit themselves to respect the right of religious communities «to choose, name and replace their own personnel according to their respective needs and their own norms.»

Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls ends the statement by requesting «the review of the measure adopted and that Bishop Mazur be able to return soon to his faithful in Eastern Siberia.»

In statements to Vatican Radio, the bishop, 48, said that his visa expires next January. «I was surprised that I was not given any explanation,» he said. «I was told at the airport that the decision came from higher up and that they knew nothing about it; they only knew I was not allowed to enter.»

«It never occurred to me that they would not let me return to my diocese, where I carry out my pastoral work as bishop,» he added. «At this difficult time, we must trust the Lord even more. I ask everyone to pray for the Catholic Church in Russia and for all Christians.»

Father Caprio´s expulsion and now that of the bishop of Irkutsk has caused fear among the 215 Catholic priests in Russia, the vast majority of whom are foreigners.

Metropolitan Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of Moscow said in a statement: «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?»

Last week the Russian Duma failed to halt a motion asking President Vladimir Putin to close the four Catholic dioceses recently created by John Paul II. The motion states the «activity of the Catholic Church in Russia must be prohibited because it represents a threat to Russia´s integrity,» given its alleged intent «to impose its will on our people» as if the country were «a spiritual desert.»

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