Russia's Banning of Clergy Wasn't Part of a Plot, Say Reports

Questions Still Remain on Banishment of Catholic Figures

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

OXFORD, England, SEPT. 5, 2002 ( Russia’s banishment of a Catholic bishop and priest in recent months was not the result of a campaign against the Church as such, say media reports.

John Paul II had sought a response from Russian President Vladimir Putin in a May 8 letter on the incidents. «Forbidding a bishop from staying with his flock has always been regarded throughout history as a very serious matter,» a Vatican official in Rome told the Keston News Service today.

Although the Pope several weeks later received what the Vatican official says was a «first answer» orally from Russia’s ambassador to the Holy See, Vitali Litvin, Catholic representatives several times complained that Putin had failed to respond to the letter. But he eventually did so in writing.

The Vatican official said he had not seen Putin’s response and declined to discuss its contents. «The letter is in the hands of the Holy Father,» he said. Church leaders decided it would be better not to make Putin’s letter public, he added.

Moscow-based Catholic Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz has likewise declined to reveal what Putin wrote.

But the Italian newspaper Avvenire, quoting «Russian diplomatic sources,» declared that Putin had written that the removal of visas from Bishop Jerzy Mazur and Italian Father Stefano Caprio were not the «result of a campaign against the Catholic Church.» It said that Putin had told the Pope that the question was, rather, one of «normal measures» taken by a sovereign state against individual foreign citizens.

The U.S.-based Catholic World News, quoting Vatican sources, said that Putin had declared in his letter that he personally did not have anything against the Catholic Church, but could not take any step toward Bishop Mazur as he was guilty of using the Japanese name for southern Sakhalin, which is part of his diocese.

Putin’s claim echoes a statement made by the Russian Foreign Ministry last February, when it complained that Bishop Mazur’s title included the designation «Karafuto,» the name southern Sakhalin had between 1905 and 1945 when it was Japanese territory.

The Vatican insisted that the use of «Karafuto» had merely been a formality, but changed its designation for this part of the diocese to «South Sakhalin» in April.

The Vatican official lamented that Bishop Mazur’s case has reached a stalemate. «I don’t know of any moves forward,» the source told Keston. «But our hope is great. Prayer is very important.» He noted that Bishop Mazur communicates daily with his flock by telephone and e-mail.

The official said the Pope had asked Putin for Bishop Mazur to be allowed to return to his diocese «in accordance with the Russian constitution.»

«The Holy Father does not ask for any privileges for Catholics,» the Vatican source told Keston. «He has been very moderate and very delicate, although he knows the rights of the people. It is his intention to be conciliatory without neglecting the assistance to local Catholics.»

The Vatican official contrasted the situation for the Catholic Church in Russia — where two of the four Catholic dioceses have been refused official registration — with that in neighboring Ukraine and in other former Soviet republics. He pointed out that Bishop Mazur’s request for Russian citizenship had also been denied. He described acquiring local citizenship — if he did not already have it — as «the first duty» of a bishop. He said this was already proceeding in other former Soviet republics.

Another Catholic priest, Father Stanislav Krajnak, a Slovak who had been working in Yaroslavl, has also been denied a new visa. He was forced to leave Russia at the end of August.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation