Church Leaders Decry Abuses in Ukraine

Say Revenge Overrides Justice

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KIEV, Ukraine, OCT. 28, 2011 ( Justice is sorely lacking in Ukraine, according to Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC).

His statement came shortly after the controversial trial of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. One of the leaders of the 2004 Orange Revolution, in more recent times she had failed in her bid for the presidency in 2010 and went into opposition.

Tymoshenko was accused of misuse of funds during her time in power. Both the United States and the European Union criticized the trial, but she was sentenced to seven years in jail.

«Unfortunately, in Ukraine for many years people are under investigation, and often innocent people are in prison — people who need our prayers and support,» stated the head of the UGCC in a recent press release.

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church belongs to the group of Churches of the Byzantine rite that are in complete communion with Rome and acknowledge the Pope’s spiritual and jurisdictional authority.

«We understand that the trial of Yulia Tymoshenko is only the tip of the iceberg. This is an opportunity to draw attention to numerous lawsuits in Ukraine, where the judicial system, which is dependent on the government and focused on indictment, destroys thousands of ordinary people,» said the primate of the Greek Catholics.

«One of the main values is that the law should protect human dignity, human freedom and human rights, and that judges should guard the execution of the law,» said the head of the UGCC. In the Ukraine, however, «the Soviet stereotype is still alive and the justice system is used as a means to establish one or another dominant force or ideology to excuse the guilty and condemn the innocent.»

In another press release, issued the day before, Father Constantin Penteley, head of the Office for Penitentiary Pastoral Care of the UGCC, also had harsh words about the administration of justice in his country.

«Our judicial system is as follows: in the Old Testament it was an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth; now it’s a jaw for a tooth, a head for an eye. This is the kind of system of punishment that exists. It seems that we have a basic principle of justice — revenge. Nobody thinks about how to convert these people to a better life, to give them a chance to mend.»

According to Father Constantin, there are more than 40,000 people right now in prison. By comparison, in 2004 there were 32,000 people.

Coincidentally it was recently announced that this year’s Christmas tree for the Vatican will come from the Zakarpattia region of the Ukraine. A celebration that the tens of thousands of prisoners are unlikely to mark with much joy.

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