Thursday, 3 July 1997

MEMBERS OF UPPER HOUSE FOCUS ON MONEY ISSUES     by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service     Members of the Federation Council have so far been taking a dim view of the Duma's proposed bill on religion, a source within the parliament's upper house told the Keston News Service in a late-night 2 July interview.  But what worries them is procedural and financial questions, not constitutional or human-rights concerns.  'They don't like the fact that there was no statement from the executive branch about the expenses this bill would cause', he said.  Keston's source said that the deputies would probably conclude that the bill needs re-working before they can accept it.  But he was not willing to make a firm prediction that the Federation Council will reject the bill in its current form when it reaches the floor on Friday, 4 July. (END)       Thursday, 3 July 1997 JEWISH ACTIVIST GROUP OPPOSES DUMA'S BILL     by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service     The Union of Councils for Soviet Jews has vigorously condemned the Russian Duma's proposed restrictions on minority confessions. In a statement issued jointly in Moscow with several other human-rights groups including Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, the Chicago-based, international Jewish-rights group said that the Duma's bill is in fundamental conflict with the principles of a free society.     In addition to the bill's controversial '15-year rule' and provisions creating two classes of religious bodies with sharply unequal rights and privileges, the statement said that the Duma's 'vague drafting' would encourage 'arbitrary enforcement'.  The signers called on PRESIDENT YELTSIN to take all steps needed to keep the bill from becoming law.     Emigre Jewish activist LEONID STONOV, visiting Moscow from the Union of Council's Chicago headquarters, told Keston News Service in a 2 July telephone interview that the bill is especially dangerous to adherents of Reform Judaism and other non-mainstream versions of the faith.  If it becomes law, he said, these groups will be dependent for nearly all their legal rights on the centralised Jewish structures which were legally registered during the Soviet period. (END)       Thursday, 3 July 1997 ARCHBISHOP WARNS OF THREAT TO RUSSIAN CATHOLICS     by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service     'Our activities will be suppressed,' if the Russian Duma's proposed restrictions on minority religions become law, Roman Catholic Archbishop TADEUSZ KONDRUSIEWICZ told Keston News Service in a 1 July interview.  Spiritual leader of Latin-rite Catholics in all of Russia west of the Urals, the archbishop warned that the Duma's bill threatens every Catholic institution which has been built up in Russia since the return of religious freedom in the late 1980s.     Like other minority faiths, the Roman Catholics have been hastily reviewing their own history and legal status in Russia to assess the likely impact of the proposed new '15-year rule', which was drafted under conditions of almost Soviet-style secrecy late this spring and released only after it was too late for opponents to lobby the Duma's religion committee.  For the Catholics the prospects are especially disturbing.  According to Archbishop Kondrusiewicz's analysis, both of their two diocesan structures in the Russian Federation, all their monastic institutions, all charitable programmes, all educational institutions, and all their para-church ministries in areas such as religious publishing and radio broadcasting would be swept away if the new law is enforced as written.  Of the roughly 150 local Catholic parishes across Russia, only two would survive: St Louis in Moscow and Our Lady of Lourdes in St Petersburg, both of which were legally registered and allowed to function during the Soviet period.   Archbishop Kondrusiewicz pointed out to Keston that Moscow's St Thomas Aquinas College was founded in 1991; St Petersburg's Our Lady Queen of Apostles Seminary in 1993; the Caritas charity programme in 1991; and Russia's two Catholic 'apostolic administrations', his in Moscow and its counterpart in Novosibirsk, in 1991.  By treating church-state relations in 1982 as the norm, the Duma's proposal would de-legitimise every Catholic institution created in Russia since then.   The archbishop also predicted that the proposed new procedures for registering religious organizations would create 'chaos'. The need to provide detailed documentation of the history of the organization's faith would be an impossible burden for a church which is many centuries old.  'What am I supposed to bring with me', he said, 'all the documents of all our church councils?  Who is going to judge them, and how?'  He forecast that decisions by secular bureaucrats would inevitably be 'subjective'.   Provincial authorities in Russia are already labeling Roman Catholic parishes as 'foreign' organisations in violation of Russia's current laws, Archbishop Kondrusiewicz told Keston. Recently, he said, a parish in the Krasnodar region in southern Russia was told that it must provide massive documentation to rebut the presumption that it is a foreign structure, even though every member of the parish is a citizen of the Russian Federation.  He conceded that the parish priest is from Poland, but emphasised that the reason for this is simply that until recently Russia had no seminaries for training indigenous Catholic clergy.  Of the 104 Catholic priests and 112 nuns currently serving in Russia, all but a handful are foreigners. The church's goal is to train a new generation of Russian citizens to fill these vocations, if the educational institutions for doing so are allowed to continue functioning.     Confirming what Keston has learned from other sources, the archbishop said that his office received the text of the new bill only on 11 or 12 June, nearly a week after it was approved by the Duma's religion committee - and then only through informal contacts.  To this day, he said, the Catholics have still not received a copy through any official channel. (END)     TOMORROW: LOOK FOR A REPORT ON HOW THE FEDERATION COUNCIL VOTES.