Recent events affecting the Catholic Church in Russia are causing concern about a serious threat to freedom of religion in our country.
On one hand the Constitution of the Russian Federation (Art.28) and the federal law on the freedom of association and religion (Art.3.sect.1) guarantee freedom of religion to Russian citizens.
On the other hand, actions undertaken against the Catholic Church in the last few months are not only discriminatory to Catholic citizens of the Russian Federation but seriously contradict Russian law. Unfortunately, governmental and social organisations whose role is to see to the implementation of the law are not paying the attention they should to this situation which could lead to religious and ethnic conflicts.
"No freedom of action for Catholics in our country… Do not offend our people with a Catholic presence" was the warning printed in the Pskov diocesan news-sheet "Blagodatnie Lutchi" (No.2, (59) 2002, page 4) on behalf of the Pskov Diocesan Council and Archbishop Evsevii, and addressed to Mr. Vladimir Putin, the President of the Russian Federation. We are surprised that this outburst has not produced any official reaction, in particular, from the Public Prosecutor's Office.
Silence has also greeted the numerous pickets of Catholic churches and offensive anti-Catholic slogans. The next action posted for 28th April is planned as a country-wide protest. And yet the federal law on religious freedom clearly prohibits "public actions, the distribution of texts and images offensive to the religious feelings of citizens in the vicinity of religious monuments".
The unexplained seizure of the multi-entry visa of Fr. Stefano Caprio, an Italian citizen, as he was departing Sheremietovo Two Airport, is seen as a serious injustice by Russian Catholics, left without a spiritual shepherd. This priest has served in Russia for 12 years without any complaint from government officials.
We are also alarmed by the draft law on "traditional religions" now being debated. If adopted, it would lead to serious divisions in society and the contradiction of the provisions of the constitution guaranteeing the equality of all religions before the law. (Russian Constitution Art. 14, sect. 2 )
It is difficult to describe all these events as pure coincidence. Everything points to an organised campaign against the Catholic Church. Such a development could lead to unforeseen circumstances.
As the President of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in Russia, I strongly protest the attacks on the constitutional rights of the Catholic citizens of the Russian Federation, regarding their freedom of religion which is based on their human rights and dignity.
In my serious concern I appeal to the official organs of the Russian Federation and to the international community, especially to human rights organisations, to do all that is possible to protect religious freedom and to put an end to every type of discrimination in this sphere.
Archbishop Thaddeus Kondrusiewicz
Metropolitan in Moscow,
President of the Conference
of Catholic Bishops in Russia
Moscow, 15th April 2002