KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 30 May 2001.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist and
post-communist lands.

REGISTRATION? Catholics in the southern Russian city of Belgorod may
soon succeed in registering their parish, after trying for over two years. At a
meeting at the local department of justice, attended by Keston News Service,
the department head promised that the parish `will definitely be registered',
despite `problems' with the application. Without registration, it cannot make
legal claim to the small former Catholic church in the centre of the city.


by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service

Catholics in the southern Russian city of Belgorod, who have unsuccessfully
tried to register their parish for over two years, may be on the verge of
success. At a meeting at the local department of justice in mid-May attended
by Keston News Service, department head Vladimir Karnaukhov promised
that the parish `will definitely be registered', despite what he and his
colleagues claimed were `problems' with the application. Without
registration, it cannot make legal claim to the small former Catholic church
in the centre of the city. The region's department of culture has meanwhile
transferred the building, currently empty, to the local Orthodox diocese for
use as a museum-cum-library.

At the justice department's 15 May all-day open meeting devoted to the
religious situation in Belgorod region, department assistant head Anatoli
Yevdoshchenko announced that the Catholic parish had been a recipient of
one of only two registration refusals in the region since its documentation
`does not accord with Russian law'. Specifically, Yevdoshchenko cited
omission of a ruling organ in the parish's charter and the use of a private flat
as a legal address in defiance of complaints by neighbours about disturbance
from the number of visiting parishioners.

Questioned by Keston during the course of the same day, the official in
charge of registration of religious organisations in Belgorod region,
Gyulnara Aliyeva, went to considerable length to stress that there were `real
violations of the law' in the Catholics' registration application. According to
her, the parish had failed to include sufficient copies of certain documents
and elsewhere submitted photocopies rather than originals: `I don't know
why they relate to re-registration in this way.'

Aliyeva told Keston that the other registration refusal mentioned by
Yevdoshchenko had been to a parish of Old Believers of the Pomorye
Concord. Because the parishioners were elderly and unable to submit a
proper application, said Aliyeva, she had helped them ensure that their
paperwork met all legal requirements, and the parish had since been
registered. She was unable to say why Old Believers should benefit from
such an approach while Catholics should not.

Fr Krzysztof Kempa, who ministers to Belgorod's Catholics, is parish priest
in the neighbouring region of Kursk, where the situation for Catholics could
not be more different. Visiting Kursk on 19 May, Keston found members of
the 200-strong Catholic parish restoring the large Church of the Assumption,
which was returned to them in 1997. Kursk's plenipotentiary for religious
affairs, Aleksandr Shapovalov, told Keston that benevolence towards the
parish had been shown both by Aleksandr Rutskoi, who as governor had
insisted on the swift return to the Catholics of the then house of culture, and
Archbishop Yuvenali (Tarasov) of Kursk and Rylsk, who had presented the
parish with a large wooden crucifix (viewed by Keston).

In Fr Kempa's absence, head of the Kursk parish council Nadezhda
Roshinskaya told Keston that there was `nothing wrong' with the Belgorod
Catholics' registration application, which followed that of other Catholic
parishes in Russia. `There is no basis to refuse us. When the department of
justice says something is wrong, we ask what we should do, but they
constantly change their reasons for refusal.' Roshinskaya stressed that
Belgorod's parish of some 40 members was very keen to register: `They
understand that they can't claim the former Catholic church until they are

On 15 May Keston asked Belgorod's plenipotentiary for religious affairs,
Aleksei Glushchenko, whether the decision to transfer the church to the
Orthodox would not cause further stand-offs over it, such as when Fr
Kempa's predecessor, Fr Jozef Guncaga, celebrated mass in front of the
building during 1998 and was later arrested. Unlike the neighbours cited by
Yevdoshchenko who complained of numerous parishioners, Glushchenko
dismissed the parish's impact: `Three people hardly constitutes a mass.' He
confirmed that the building was the property of the Ministry of Culture,
whose local department had transferred it to the Orthodox diocese for its
long term use. Glushchenko's comments came despite Karnaukhov's public
promise the same day that the Catholics would be registered, implying that
the diocese's term of lease may yet be cut short.

In an interview shown during a report of the justice department meeting on
Belgorod television news that evening, Karnaukhov spoke of the religious
situation in Belgorod region in glowing terms. `A representative came from
England and was satisfied that we have freedom of conscience in our region,'
he claimed in an apparent reference to the presence at the meeting of
Keston's correspondent, although Keston's correspondent had expressed no
such view. (END)

Copyright (c) 2001 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.