Wednesday 17 November

by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service

Interpreting Russia's secular law in a way that directly pits it against the
traditional canon laws of both the Orthodox Church and the Vatican, Samara
province on the Volga has suspended re-registration of both Orthodox and
Roman Catholic parishes. The province had previously been considered one of
the most hospitable to religious freedom in all of Russia.

Samara's department of the Ministry of Justice is now claiming that the parish
charters of both confessions violate Russia's Civic Code. Strikingly, these
charters are identical to those with which some 10,000 Orthodox and 120
Roman Catholic parishes have already been registered or re-registered across
the country. It seems that Samara oblast alone has decided to pay attention to
an apparent contradiction between the secular Civic Code and traditional
Christian canon law. In concentrating on the civic code the Samara authorities
have apparently ignored Russia's 1993 Constitution, which includes broad
guarantees that all religious associations are equal before the law.

In the town of Syzran, for example, the Roman Catholic parish of the Holy
Cherubim and Seraphim was recently informed by the local department of
justice that it would be re-registered only on condition that it introduced
significant amendments to its charter on the exercise of episcopal authority
over the parish. Although the bishop may still nominate the parish priest,
Syzran's Catholics have been told that, in accordance with Article 209 Part 2 of
Russia's Civic Code, the exercise of the rights of ownership of parish property
is to be realised only in accordance with Russian law - not in accordance with
both Russian law and the rules and procedures established by the bishop.

A further change requested by the department concerns the procedure for
liquidation of the parish. The Catholic parish charter currently reads as
follows: 'The parish may be liquidated: (1) by a decision of the bishop or the
episcopal vicar who has received authority from the ordinary bishop; (2) in
accordance with a request made by the general meeting of parishioners to the
bishop or episcopal vicar; (3) for other reasons and in the order foreseen by the
laws of the Russian Federation.' Samara's provincial authorities would like to
see these words replaced by the following: 'The parish can be liquidated by a
decision of the general meeting of parishioners or by a court of law.'

FR PHILIP ANDREWS of the Holy Cherubim and Seraphim parish told
Keston that 'The charter of the parish is that established by the Catholic
Bishops in Russia, in accordance with the Russian Constitution and Law as
well as in accordance with Catholic Canon Law'. He said that his parish's
charter was the same as that of every Catholic parish in Russia: 'Even the
parish in the city of Samara had its statutes approved by the same people in the
same department last winter.'

When he raised this last point with the regional department of justice, Fr
Andrews told Keston, the officials there had stressed that although they had
made an oversight the first time, the Samara city parish would now also be
asked to change its statutes: 'They said they would not make the same mistake
twice'. (By 18 October, according to Fr Andrews, this parish had indeed been
requested to amend its charter, while the Catholic parish in Tolyatti had also
been refused registration.)

According to Fr Andrews, the Samara department of justice officials had said
that they were not prepared to make the same errors registering parishes as
other regions of Russia had done, and that they had already challenged the
federal Ministry of Justice over the issue. When he asked the officials for an
explanation, said Fr Andrews, they told him that his parish was a legal
personality in the same way as the Apostolic Administration of Roman
Catholics in European Russia: that 'each is legally independent of the other, and
therefore the bishop, as the representative of another legal personality, has no
right to liquidate or establish rules for the use of parish property.'

On 18 October MIKHAIL FEDOROV, adviser on religious affairs to Samara
administration, confirmed that the two points in the Catholic parish charter
which were causing problems (Points 7.1 and 5.5) concerned the rights of
property ownership and the liquidation of the parish: 'If the parishes want to
gain re-registration they must change these.' He also explained that the
contradiction between the charters and Russian law had arisen because,
according to both the new and old Russian laws on religion, 'the founder and
administrator of property is the religious community, and not a paid employee -
which is what a priest is according to Russian Federation law.'

Officials at Samara's department of justice were in agreement on this point:
LYUDMILA SHARANKO, who is in charge of parish registration, told
Keston that 'the registration process is very slow because the parish charters do
not comply with civil law; all local religious organisations have restrictions to
their property rights according to their charters.' The head of the department,
VLADIMIR BALANDIN, also insisted that the standard charters violated the
Civic Code of the Russian Federation, but vowed that these problems would be
resolved on an case-by-case basis.

When Fr Andrews spoke to Keston on 18 October, he pointed out that other
groups in Samara - including Orthodox, Old Believers and Jews - were
experiencing similar difficulties. The provincial official Fedorov also suggested
that the Orthodox were 'in an even worse position than the Catholics, since for
each item of property there are not two but three owners: the parish, the diocese
and the Moscow Patriarchate'.

How is the question of property ownership thus to be resolved in an Orthodox
parish? Point 8 in the standard charter adopted by the Holy Synod on 8 April
1998 for the organisation of local parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church,
and obtained from an Orthodox Church source by Keston, states: 'In the order
established by law, the parish is registered as a legal personality. The parish has
its own property and is answerable by law for its property.' Point 39 states: 'The
parish finances its own activity and is responsible for the management of its
finances, as a legal person it acts independently and uses its own property to
meet its own obligations.'

Point 45, however, declares: 'Property belonging to the parish, including
buildings, items of a religious nature, land and money .... are the property of
the Russian Orthodox Church.' (According to Point 2 of 'Additions to the
Charters of Orthodox Religious Organisations for the Purposes of Registration
or Re-registration as a Legal Person', 'The Russian Orthodox Church of the
Moscow Patriarchate is the hierarchical centralised Orthodox religious
organisation'). In addition, Point 46 of the parish charter states that 'in the
event of a division in the parish or the departure of all members of the parish
council from the parish, no one can lay any legal claim to the property or
finances of the parish.' Point 56 of the charter stipulates that 'in the event of the
liquidation of a parish as a legal person, all of its movable and nonmovable
assets become the property of the diocese. Any property remaining after the
satisfaction of the legal demands of creditors becomes the property of the

When Keston turned to FR VSEVOLOD CHAPLIN of the Moscow
Patriarchate's Department for External Church Relations, he said that he had
not heard anything about difficulties with registration in the Samara region.
(Incidentally, PATRIARCH ALEKSI II awarded governor of Samara region
KONSTANTIN TITOV the order of Saint and Equal to the Apostles Prince
Vladimir Second Class (the second highest award within the Russian Orthodox
Church) during his September visit to the region for his 'great personal
contribution to the development of the Russian Orthodox Church.')

On 28 October a spokesman at the administration of the Samara Diocese of the
Russian Orthodox Church told Keston that only seven of the diocese's parishes
had been registered as the process of registration had been held up. On 11
November the same office told Keston that registration was taking place
according to the standard charter, which the authorities 'have no right to
change, therefore the officials should register it as it is.'

In response, however, Lyudmila Sharanko of the local department of justice
commented: 'This diocesan administration thinks that registration is taking
place, but we are of a different view. The documentation is piling up, but we
are unable to register these charters.'

Keston sought the opinions of several respected legal specialists on the issue.
Director of the Slavic Centre for Law and Justice ANATOLI PCHELINTSEV
commented: 'The issue of multiple ownership is a well-known contradiction.
According to the Citizens' Charter of the Russian Orthodox Church, all
property belongs to the Moscow Patriarchate, but this contradicts the Civic
Code. The same situation exists for some Pentecostals...and with foreign
organisations such as the Mormons.'

According to lawyer GALINA KRYLOVA, the problem hinges on the
question of whether a parish can become independent but still retain its
property: 'Some Orthodox priests have tried to assert the rights implied by
their parish charter, according to which the parish has the right of ownership -
one thinks of the case of FR ADRIAN, who was forced by a judicial process to
return parish property. However, the concept of legal person implies the right
of ownership. For example, a proportion of the parish's income is given to the
central church authorities, but it is nevertheless recorded on the balance sheet
of an individual legal person. Here there is an obvious contradiction between
the Civic Code and Canon Law.' In general, she maintained, 'the standard
charters of the Moscow Patriarchate, the Apostolic Administration of Catholics
and the Protestant Churches all violate the Civic Code. When parishes were
registered this was simply glossed over.'

According to ALEKSANDR KUDRYAVTSEV, head of registration for
religious organisations at the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation, the
term 'standard charter' has no legal status: 'After all, all religious communities
differ and each formulates its charter in its own way. As far as the right to
property is concerned, then a religious community usually restricts some of its
own rights, for example monks do not marry and Franciscans do not own
property: that is their right.'

Principal legal adviser to the Moscow Patriarchate VIKTOR KALININ saw the
Samara officials' position as a throwback to the Soviet era, when 'officials tried
to weaken the Church, to separate the parish from the diocese and the diocese
from the Patriarchate so that no parish income could go into diocesan funds and
that in turn diocesan funds did not go to the Patriarchate.' He pointed out that
10,000 Orthodox churches had already been registered with the existing parish
charter, and maintained that as the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow
Patriarchate) had an institutional structure 'everything comes under its
jurisdiction, including questions of ownership. However, local officials are
badly informed.' Kalinin claimed that clarification had been made in this regard
and that the problems faced by Orthodox parishes had already been resolved.

According to LEV LEVINSON, aide to Duma member VALERI
BORSHCHEV, the 1997 law on religion contradicts the Civic Code in many
respects: 'There was an attempt by the Moscow Patriarchate to bring questions
of ownership into the law on religion but this was unsuccessful. Then the
Ministry of Justice registered the charter of the Russian Orthodox Church,
which contradicts the Civic Code.'

Meanwhile there has been no improvement in the situation in Samara. As of
early November there had been no significant changes: Orthodox and Catholic
parishes were still not being registered. According to Fedorov, 'parishes are
refusing to make changes to their statutes. We will await the return of
Governor Titov and then we - that is myself together with the department of
justice - will present our views to him. I will be lobbying for a compromise
formula and for speedy registration of the religious organisations in the region.'

According to Fr Andrews on 9 November, a representative of Samara's
department of justice explained to a US Embassy official in Moscow that
property could not be registered in the name of the parish because a parish
could cease to exist, 'property must thus be registered as the possession of a
more permanent body which will not cease to exist, such as the Moscow
Patriarchate in the case of Orthodoxy.' In Fr Andrews' view, the local
department is thus changing its position 'using a compromise which the
Orthodox Church has found', whereas 'last month they told us that property
must be administered by the parish members and not the bishop'. In addition,
claims Fr Andrews, the local justice officials also object to the fact that the
bishop has a say in parish affairs 'because he is a foreigner - the consequences
of such reasoning if applied to foreign investment in Samara region would be
drastic.' (END)

All Keston News Service material is protected by copyright:
(c) Keston Institute 1999