Monday, 1 September 1997

PATRIARCHATE DELAYS ANNOUNCING POSITION ON COMPROMISE     by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service     A spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate told the Keston News Service on 29 August that the Patriarchate will not reveal until 1 September, the day scheduled for a key meeting of the Yeltsin administration's Council for Cooperation with Religious Associations, whether it supports compromise legislation on church-state relations circulated by the administration last week.  Fr VSEVOLOD CHAPLIN of the Patriarchate's Department for External Church Relations said that the Patriarchate wants to preserve the basic points of the legislation passed by the Russian parliament and vetoed by President Yeltsin in July.     To Keston's suggestion that the Patriarchate's delay in announcing its position will probably make it too late to reach a final compromise with other religious confessions by Yeltsin's 1 September deadline, Fr Vsevolod replied that the Patriarchate has become reluctant to endorse specific legislative texts as a result of its experience during the last month of Kremlin-led negotiations.  After the Patriarchate's representatives have agreed to specific amendments, he said, too often additional changes have been made retroactively without the Patriarchate's knowledge or consent.  (Keston has heard the same complaint from Protestant and Catholic participants in the negotiations.)     Fr Vsevolod said that he personally believed the proposed compromise to be basically reasonable on two points: the religious rights of non-citizens, and the retention of the July bill's 15-year probationary period for new religious bodies.  (At a 28 August session of a presidential human-rights panel, Fr Chaplin had said that new religious organisations should be 'fully subject to state taxes, just like the Moscow branch of Pepsi-Cola'.)  He told Keston that the latest version of the preamble is also acceptable.     Fr Vsevolod defended the legislation's controversial provision barring churches from attracting children without the consent of both their parents.  Since Soviet law required that the passports of both parents had to be presented when a child was baptised, he said, critics are wrong when they claim that this requirement would be even more restrictive than the Soviet state's.     With regard to the Old Believers, who like the major Protestant groups oppose the late-August compromise text, Fr Vsevolod told Keston that it would be difficult to find a mutually acceptable formula for the preamble.  Since the Old Believers do not consider the Patriarchate to be truly 'Orthodox', a phrase such as 'Orthodoxy, including the Old Belief' would not work, he said. On the issue of property disputes between the two confessions, he said that a great deal depends on when, and from whom, the Soviet state confiscated a church bell or other item.  Would you not agree, asked Keston, that if an item was manufactured by the Old Believers themselves after the 17th-century schism, and confiscated from them by the Communists, it should be regarded as their property today? In principle, yes, replied Fr Vsevolod.   Keston asked why the Moscow Patriarchate does not make its formal policy consistent with its practice: since it already is seeking and getting de facto status as Russia's state church, should it not seek to amend the Russian constitution so as to legitimise this status?  Fr Vsevolod denied that the Patriarchate is in fact a state church, and offered several reasons why it should not seek such status.  For example, he said, half the Patriarchate's parishes are located outside the boundaries of the Russian Federation, and it would complicate relations with those parishes if the Patriarchate were part of the Federation's state structure.     Keston asked Fr Vsevolod to comment on a position taken by METROPOLITAN KIRILL OF SMOLENSK during the legislative negotiations on the sharply contested issue of the state's power to define a Russian religious body's territorial sphere of activities.  When pressed by Catholic and Protestant negotiators to drop his support of this provision, according to a source who was present, Metropolitan Kirill cited the example of a priest from one Orthodox diocese who travels to another Orthodox diocese within Russia and begins preaching or other religious activities there without the local bishop's knowledge or consent.  A Catholic representative rejoined that such problems should be matters of internal church discipline rather than state regulation, but Kirill held to his position.  Fr Vsevolod agreed with the metropolitan, insisting that the state can help maintain 'order' in the church.  He compared the situation to that of a secular newspaper which has state registration in one province, but which he said would not have the right to publish in another. (END)