Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Uphill Battle for Catholic Equality in Russia

In 1997 Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed a new law deceptively titled Law of Freedom of Conscience and Religious Association. This law redefined a pre-existing law that was singed in 1990 by Mikhail Gorbachev, which gave religious freedom to groups that had been oppressed and persecuted during the administration of hard line communist authorities for almost eight decades inside the Soviet Union. Ironically, this law - which had been pushed by the Russian Orthodox Church and communist party members alike - is applied not unlike the undemocratic and authoritarian methodologies of the former Soviet Union. This particular law, in a sense, illegalizes any proselytizing done by any group that is not Russian Orthodox, and makes it nearly impossible for other religions to adequately support their respective churches.

Since communist authorities prohibited seminaries to operate inside the borders of the former Soviet Union until 1990, the Catholic Church is heavily dependent on the presence of foreign clergy to administer to Russian Catholics, and maintain Russian Catholic Churches. Unfortunately, under the Law of Freedom of Conscience and Religious Association, foreign clergy can only receive a nonrenewable visa that allows them to stay for only three months inside Russia before having leave the country. Businessmen and athletes visiting Russia are NOT subject to these restrictions. Meanwhile the Catholic Church in Russia expects to continue to be heavily dependent of missionary clergy for at least another generation until newly opened seminaries can meet the demand for Catholic clergy.

There are those suffering more than Catholics. The regulations in the Law of Freedom of Conscience and Religious Association require that a religious organisation be registered with the government for a period of no less than fifteen years before it can hold public worship services, distribute any propaganda about itself, and hire foreign clergy. Protestant denominations, since they are largely dispersed and ununified, do not have the pre-existing historical connections within Russia to meet these pre-requisites.

And you thought Soviet mentality had perished for good?

By the way, perhaps I'm wrong in my evaluation but Vladimir Putin, the former President and now Prime Minister of Russia, with his KGB career reminds me of those Catholic mafiosos who engaged in some of the most reprehensible and illegal acts you can imagine, but always went to mass on Sundays and made sure their kids were baptized.


Shirley said...

I had to google the Russian Orthodox church to understand what it's all about; I didn't realise that it has been separate from Rome since the mid 15th century. The Russian mentality you refer to seems to be all about power and control; I think the government there only allows the Russian church to flourish because they still control it.

Tom in Vegas said...


That split was a long time in the making. There are Eastern Catholic Churches that look almost identical to the Orthodox churches, but who have maintained their kinship with Rome.

What I find so deplorable on behalf of the Russian Orthodox church is that they've lived quite peacefully with this law and the full knowledge of the unfair restrictions it imposes on other faiths. It’s almost as if Christ, again, is betrayed by members of his own faith.

Terry Nelson said...

Excellent analogy in the last paragraph!

Adrienne said...

"Catholic mafiosos who engaged in some of the most reprehensible and illegal acts you can imagine, but always went to mass on Sundays and made sure their kids were baptized."

As per your next post ---I'm offended (and so is Tony!!!) LOL

Jennifer said...

I love the last paragraph of your post. I've often been baffled about John Gotti being Catholic.

Tom in Vegas said...

Antie A-

I had Cuban mafiosos in mind when I wrote that:0)


I just don't understand. Putin rose through the KGB ranks not by being democratic, but by supporting the harsh and authoritarian policies of the Soviet hierarchy. Now he is a member of the Russian Orthodox church. Would you have me believe that this guy was doing the sign of the cross in seclusion while the communists were in power???