Declaration by Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz
1. Considering that:
-- religious communities have the right to self-organisation according to their own hierarchic and institutional structures; -- it is the duty of the Pope and the bishops of the Catholic Church to ensure normal conditions for pastoral care of Catholics; -- the normal structure of the Catholic Church according to Canon Law is a diocese and a ecclesiastical province (metropolitan); -- the act of raising of existing Apostolic Administrations in Russia to the rank of permanent dioceses, on February 11, 2002, did not break Russian law; -- this step, necessary for Catholics in Russia, was taken after both the Russian authorities and the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church had been informed according to international practice.
We are perplexed and seriously concerned about the interference in internal affairs of the Catholic Church in Russia which in the past few days has become so evident.
We are convinced that the Catholics of the Russian Federation have the same rights as citizen members of other religions, and that the legitimate exercising of these rights may not under any circumstances be publicly questioned, or become the object of political speculation.
2. Moreover we feel it is our duty to publicly confute statements contained in the public declaration by the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia Alexis II and the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church on February 12, 2002, which do not correspond to the truth. 3. In the declaration it is said that the form instituted in Russia "of Catholic ecclesiastical life is not typical even of Catholic countries where there are no ecclesiastical provinces with dioceses administered by a Metropolitan."
This affirmation is false. The Code of Canon Law of the Catholic Church states that for common pastoral action of various neighbouring dioceses, and the more closely to foster relations between diocesan bishops, dioceses bordering on each other are united by the supreme authority in the Church in Ecclesiastical Provinces.
The head of the Ecclesiastic Province is the Metropolitan, who is Archbishop of his own archdiocese. The office of Metropolitan is linked to an Episcopal see, determined or approved by the Roman Pontiff (cfr Can.435). There are Archdioceses and Metropolitans in many countries for example the Archdioceses and Metropolitans of Paris, Washington, Prague, Milan, Warsaw (Poland alone has 13 archdioceses) and also in former USSR territories Riga, Minsk-Mogilev, Vilnius, Kaunas, Lvov.
The other dioceses which are part of the ecclesiastical province are called "suffragan dioceses". The authority of the Metropolitan in their regard is defined by Canon Law:
-- to see that faith and ecclesiastical discipline are carefully observed and to notify the Roman Pontiff if there be any abuses; -- for a reason approved beforehand by the Apostolic See, to conduct a canonical visitation if the suffragan Bishop has neglected it; -- to appoint a diocesan Administrator of a vacant Episcopal see when he is not appointed within 8 days; -- The Metropolitan has no other power of governance over suffragan dioceses.
4. The declaration of the Hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church states that "the territory of Russian has never been divided into dioceses".
We wish to recall that: -- diocesan structures of the Catholic Church existed in southern Russia as early as the 14th and 15th centuries. In the 17th and 18th centuries there existed the diocese of Smolensk; -- the See (center) of the Archdiocese of Mogliev was the capital of the Russian Empire, St Petersburg, while the diocese of Tiraspol had Sarataov as its See. What is more in 1923 the diocese of Vladivostok was established. The Archbishop of Mogliev was called Metropolitan of all Catholic Churches in the Russian Empire; -- since the establishing of the Archdiocese of Mogliev, until the last Archbishop Jan Cepljak, sentenced to death in 1923 and exiled, 27 pastors occupied the See of St Petersburg. -- also within the present-day territory of the Kaliningrad region the Catholic Church had structures; this means that within the present day boundaries of the Russian Federation there were Catholic dioceses, an archdiocese which had its Metropolitan Archbishop and suffragan dioceses.
5. Taking all that is written above into consideration, we think that the alteration of the status of the structures of the Catholic Church in Russia and the institution of an ecclesiastical province cannot be seen as the creation of a new Catholic structure parallel to the Russian Orthodox Church.
In the first place the dioceses do not bear the name of the city in which they have their See. We have not the Archbishop of Moscow or for Russia, but an Archbishop in Moscow.
In the second place the Russian Orthodox Church has an Archbishop of Vilnius for Lithuania, of Brussels for Belgium, of Berlin for Germany and no member of the Catholic Church would raise any abjection because the appointment of archbishops is an internal affair of the Russian Orthodox Church which appoints its pastors according to necessity.
In the third place the Metropolitan has no effective power in the other dioceses which are autonomous and are administrated by their own bishops.
6. The declaration in question, for the umpteenth time, denounces numerous episodes of missionary activity on the part of Catholic clergy among the Russian people. "We consider this activity proselytism and we continue to identify it as one of the main obstacles to improving relations between our Churches", the document states.
For our part, over the last eleven years we have repeatedly asked the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church to bring to confrontation concrete facts and begin at last to evaluate concrete facts of Catholic proselytism in Russia. We want to know where, when, under which circumstances and who has engaged or is engaging in activity of proselytism. Unfortunately as yet we have received no information whatever in this regard, just as we have received no reply to our invitation to sit around a table and define the significance of the term "proselytism".
7. Despite the tension created in relations between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church I hope, and I pray to God, that dialogue may continue and that it may bear fruit. I am convinced that the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church can respond together to the challenges of our day for the good of human civilization.
Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz
Moscow, February 13, 2002
Declaration issued by the Information Center of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of the Russian Federation Please quote sour