Ukrainian Authorities Keeping a Closer Eye on Catholic Priests

Security Service Curious About Finances and Political Climate

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ROME, SEPT. 17, 2002 ( Catholic priests are increasingly being monitored by officers of Ukraine’s security service SBU, the former KGB, an official of the group Aid to the Church in Need told Keston News Service.

A Greek Catholic priest from eastern Ukraine, who visited Germany recently, was just the latest to mention regular visits by SBU agents to his home, the official reported.

“This is not the old war against religion,” declared the official, who preferred not to be named. “But for the priests involved, it is certainly discomforting.”

The chief press officer of the SBU denied that any Catholic priests were being questioned. “The SBU doesn’t interfere in religious questions or the life of churches,” Oleksandr Skrupnyk told Keston from Kiev.

But the Aid to the Church in Need official, who has regular contact with Catholic priests from all over Ukraine, referred to many complaints from Church workers about their phones being tapped. One new area of enquiry recently has been the financial state of individual Catholic parishes and organizations. “Such financial monitoring is being stepped up,” he said.

The SBU is also interested in Catholic priests as a source of information on the general political mood of the population.

“They knock on the door, introduce themselves as being from the secret police, and start asking questions,” the official quoted the visiting priest as saying. Some priests just laugh about such visits, the official added, but some express concern about what this might lead to, given the traditional anti-Catholic sentiment in the east of the country being fanned anew by the Moscow Patriarchate in the wake of the recent establishment of new Latin- and Greek-Catholic dioceses in eastern Ukraine.

The official noted that several years ago, Greek Catholic Bishop Yulian Boronovskyi of Sambir-Drohobych publicly told the SBU not to question Catholic priests and not to expect them to cooperate with such enquiries because it is forbidden them under Church law. “However, the SBU has obviously not given up trying,” the official said.

The papal nuncio in Kiev, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, said that he was unaware of any stepped-up questioning of Catholic priests by the SBU. He also said he was unconcerned by any surveillance.

“We have no secrets,” the nuncio said. “Anyone can come to our services and hear what our Church is doing.”

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