RUSSIA: THIRD VISA REFUSAL FOR SENIOR CATHOLIC PRIEST.
Father Stanislaw Opiela, a Polish Jesuit who is secretary of the Catholic
Bishops' Conference of Russia and rector of the St Thomas Aquinas College
of Catholic Theology in Moscow, was refused a Russian entry visa, for the
third time in a row, on 27 February. No explanation has been given by
Russian Foreign Ministry officials either to Catholic leaders or to Keston
News Service.

RUSSIA: THIRD VISA REFUSAL FOR SENIOR CATHOLIC PRIEST

by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service

A Polish Jesuit priest who for most of the past decade has played a crucial
role in rebuilding Catholic institutions in Russia was refused a Russian entry
visa on 27 February for the third time in a row. Father Stanislaw Opiela, the
secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Russia and the rector of the
St Thomas Aquinas College of Catholic Theology in Moscow, has now been
unable to return to his duties for more than six months. Russian Foreign
Ministry officials have so far refused to explain to Catholic leaders why he
has been repeatedly refused a visa. Contacted by Keston News Service on 2
March, an official at the foreign ministry's department of consular service
likewise declined to comment on Father Opiela's visa refusals.

Father Jerzy Karpinski, the current provincial of the Society of Jesus in
Russia, told Keston on 2 March that the third successive refusal was issued
without explanation by the foreign ministry's consular service department.
The first time Father Opiela was invited by the Russian section of the
international Catholic charity Caritas. The second time he was invited by the
Apostolic Administration for European Russia as secretary of the bishops'
conference. On 6 February the St Thomas Aquinas College of Catholic
Theology invited Father Opiela to teach at the college. `We are in a critical
situation,' said Father Karpinski. `He is the only one who can teach some
Christian disciplines. Furthermore Father Stanislaw remains the secretary of
the bishops' conference and rector of the St Thomas Aquinas College of
Catholic Theology. I am having to carry out his duties for the moment.'

Father Bogdan Sewerynik, vicar general of the Apostolic Administration for
Latin-rite Catholics in European Russia, said he was perplexed as this was
the first such case involving a Catholic priest in Russia. `It's difficult to say
what the reason is,' he told Keston on 2 March. `Maybe it's connected with
the registration of the Jesuit order. The consular service of the Foreign
Ministry refuses to tell us the grounds for refusal.' He confirmed that Father
Opiela remains secretary of the bishops' conference, adding optimistically:
`We believe Father Stanislaw will be able to return to Russia.'

The Ministry of Justice three times refused to reregister the Jesuits under
Russia's controversial 1997 religion law, but Father Opiela insisted on the
registration of the order in accordance with its own canonical rules and
finally won this right through the Constitutional Court (see KNS 18
September 2000). Father Opiela was provincial of the Russian Independent
Region of the Society of Jesus for eight years.

Father Opiela, who is at present in Poland, told Keston on 2 March that the
state of uncertainty and expectation had `already lasted too long. It is
amazing that no explanation is being given.' He reported that Archbishop
Georg Zur, the papal nuncio in Russia, had requested clarification of the
repeated refusals from the Foreign Ministry, but had received no answer.
Father Opiela had also hoped that the visit to the Vatican of Russian foreign
minister Igor Ivanov in January might help to clarify the issue, but as far as
he was aware his case had not been mentioned during Ivanov's meeting with
Pope John Paul II.

A source who preferred to remain anonymous suggested to Keston that the
refusal was connected with the fact that Father Opiela originally came to
Russia as chaplain of the school attached to the Polish Embassy in Moscow.
The source claims Father Opiela violated the Vienna Convention, which
governs the behaviour of personnel with diplomatic status. `While an
employee of the embassy he engaged in activity incompatible with the
purpose of his entry to the country, i.e. he headed first one religious
organisation - the Russian Independent Region of the Society of Jesus - then
a second - the Russian Catholic Bishops' Conference.' Father Opiela
categorically denies violating any conventions or residence rules. `I wasn't
on the staff of the embassy. My diplomatic pass was just the same as that of
the ambassador's Russian chauffeur.' (END)