Catholic Dioceses in Russia
Holy See has no plans for Saint Petersburg Diocese
Keston, 4/23/2002
Moscow/Rome - Rumors unfounded
The Holy See has “no project at the moment” to establish a new
Catholic diocese in St Petersburg, a senior Vatican official has told
Keston News Service. Rumours have been circulating in Rome and
Moscow that the current visa difficulties being experienced by Bishop
Jerzy Mazur of eastern Siberia (see KNS 22 April 2002) may have
been intended as a preemptive response by the Russian authorities to a
potential St Petersburg Catholic diocese.

Speaking by telephone from the Vatican on 23 April, the official
confirmed that discussion about a diocese based in St Petersburg – as
well as dioceses in other places such as Vladivostok in the far east or
the enclave of Kaliningrad – have been under discussion “for the past
ten years”. “People say they need these dioceses – this is no surprise.
Russia is a large country and needs local dioceses.”

The Vatican dioceses which existed in the Russian Empire became
defunct during the Soviet period, when Catholic activity was severely
restricted. It was only in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union
in 1991 that the Church could rebuild its official structures. It
established an apostolic administration in Moscow and another in
Novosibirsk. In May 1999 it split each of these into two, adding an
apostolic administration for southern European Russia, based in
Saratov, and an apostolic administration for Eastern Siberia, based in
Irkutsk. In February of this year, the Vatican upgraded these four
apostolic administrations into fully-fledged dioceses, evoking
immediate protests from the Russian Orthodox Church (see KNS 12
February 2002).

The Catholic Church in Russia has always insisted that under
international human rights and religious liberty conventions all
religious groups have the right to organise themselves as they choose,
a right recognised by the Russian Foreign Ministry (MFA) in its
response to the protests surrounding the upgrading of the apostolic
administrations. “Without casting doubt on the right of the Catholic
church to organise itself in accordance with canonical standards,” the
ministry declared in its 12 February statement, “but taking into
account that this question primarily affects interchurch relations and
could be the cause of their serious complication, MFA of Russia
recommended to the Holy See to refrain at the present time from
transforming the apostolic administrations into dioceses and to
coordinate it with the Russian Orthodox church.”

It remains to be seen what response the Russian Foreign Ministry
gives if and when the Vatican does create further dioceses in Russia.
© Keston