April 24, 2002
For Immediate Release
Q: Archbishop Kondrusiewicz, would you say that the recent measures
taken against Bishop Jerzy Mazur and Father Stefano Caprio show that
relations between the Catholic Church in Russia and the Russian state
are changing? What about relations with the Russian Orthodox Church?
A: This situation, which emerged after the Pope raised existing Catholic
apostolic administrations to the rank of dioceses, is for us in Russia a
moment of truth, "when the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed."
(Lk 2:35) Yesterday here in Rome I spoke with Cardinal Walter Kasper,
president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity. I told him that
the spirituality of ecumenism cannot be without "caritas in veritas"--
charity in truth. Charity without truth is false. We must act in truth
in relations between churches.
I have never criticized the Russian Orthodox Church and I certainly do
not intend to do so now, but dialogue must begin at last. We must
establish what is meant by proselytism: where it starts and where it
ends. The same is true for "canonical territory," or we will never make
any progress. In my opinion the creation of the dioceses is a great help
for truth in relations both with the State and with the Russian Orthodox
Both Father Caprio and Bishop Mazur are suffering because of the
expulsion. But those who suffer most are the Catholics, they have been
deprived of their priest, their bishop, Catholics who are citizens of
the Russian Federation. This is not possible. It is an important matter,
a question of constitutional rights.
Q: If the authorities try to expel other members of the Catholic clergy
who are not Russian citizens, what will happen?
A: I hope it will not happen: I hope they will not expel all our foreign
priests. Eighty five percent of our priests are not Russian Federation
(RF) citizens and they will never be granted citizenship. But they work
honestly serving RF citizens, and this point must be underlined. Each
priest has to travel to a number of different parishes for the "Sunday"
Mass. And with our distances-- not like in Western Europe where you jump
in a car and move from one parish to another in a few minutes. It would
be a disaster if all our non-Russian priests were expelled. You can't
destroy a Church which has been loyal to her faith all through the
decades of Communism. It would be a disaster for pastoral care. Let us
hope this does not happen.
Q: As Metropolitan Archbishop you will have to see to the needs of
Irkutsk diocese, deprived of its legitimate bishop.
A: I am very concerned about Irkutsk, the Catholic diocese with the
largest territory in the world. However the See has not been impeded and
the bishop can continue to govern the diocese, either through the vicar
general or by letter, fax messages etc. If it is impeded, then we will
act according to canonical norms. The situation is evolving rapidly.
In an interview last week the Russian Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow,
Alexis II, said he is ready to meet the Pope if this will help to find a
solution to the problem. Earlier he had put it differently: "First we
will solve the problems and then, perhaps, we will meet." I have said a
thousand times that this meeting would help solve our problems. So in my
opinion this is a new, positive prospect, a change in the Patriarch's
Bishop Mazur was expelled after the Patriarch had made this statement.
It was not encouraged by the Orthodox Church, although the Orthodox
Church was not upset about it, as the spokesman admitted. But I would
give some concrete examples. In the past 10 or 11 years whenever I have
asked permission to build a new Catholic church or take back an existing
church building, the regional or provincial says: "What does the
Orthodox bishop think?" Logically I ask myself: If we are living in a
democracy, in which all citizens are equal, all the more since the
Catholic Church has existed here for years. Why should the Orthodox
bishop be involved?
Q: Alexis II has spoken for the first time of a possible meeting with
Pope John Paul II. What is your opinion of a statement by the
Nezavisimaja Gazeta newspaper that the expulsions were the result of an
agreement between the Patriarchate and the Kremlin, when it is known
that the Kremlin is in favor of a papal visit to Moscow.
A: After February 11, when the dioceses were established, there has been
polemic. The Orthodox Church said the step was not a friendly one. Of
course anyone can make his own judgement about what is or is not
friendly. In the political world there were voices that the dioceses
represent a danger for Russia.
At Pskov the Orthodox bishop and the Orthodox diocesan council
petitioned President Putin to prohibit the building of a Catholic church
in the town. But the Catholic church was built there in 1864, and later
taken away from the Catholics. There is also a school, but they refuse
to return it. They have offered us land to build a new one, but the work
has been officially suspended.
In Novosibirsk there is an anti-Catholic protest in front of the
Cathedral: this is against Russia's law on freedom of religion, but no
one says anything. On Sunday in Irkutsk they even went into the
cathedral during a service to distribute offensive leaflets. And they
did this with permission of the local authorities.
This difficult situation is exploited by nationalist politicians. The
Duma (parliament) is set to discuss the issue of the Catholic dioceses,
as if Russia had no other problems. The Duma has never even discussed
the threat of religious sects: it would seem that we Catholics are the
worst of all.
With God's help the problem of Karafuto apostolic prefecture has been
solved. By mistake in the decree in the creation of the dioceses, the
southern part of Sahalin Island, opposite Japan, was called by its
ancient Japanese name, Karafuto. Before the Russian-Japanese war the
island belonged in fact to Japan. This prefecture was abolished and
Bishop Mazur was appointed Administrator of the territory. This decision
was made in favor of the Russian State, because now a Russian Bishop has
been made responsible for the islands of Sahalin and Curili.