Wednesday, 26 September 2007
By BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest
BUDAPESY/MINSK (BosNewsLife)-- The government of Belarus has threatened to expel all foreign priests from the former Soviet republic, a Protestant news agency reported Wednesday, September 26.
Belarus Prime Minister Aleksandr Kosinets announced that "all foreign Roman Catholic priests may be required to leave the country," reported the well-informed Adventist Press Service (APD). Most of the 350 Catholic priests serving in Belarus were born abroad.
The threatened ban on foreign priests, which would take effect over a period of months, comes as the Russian news agency Interfax reported that the Vatican and the government of Belarus are negotiating a 'concordat', an agreement between the secular and religious power, to establish "the legal rights of the Catholic Church" in this mostly Orthodox country.
For the last twelve years, the number of Roman Catholic parishes in Belarus increased four times, APD said.
HUNDERDS OF PARISHES
There are reportedly 432 parishes in the country, united in four dioceses. According to polls, some 17% of the believers in Belarus claim to be Catholics. Concordats generally give the Roman Catholic Church certain legal and financial privileges – such as state subsidies - forever, unless the Church agrees to relinquish them.
"I believe the Vatican will be interested in concluding an agreement with the Republic of Belarus," added the head of the Commission for Human Rights, Ethnic Relations and the Mass Media of the Belarusian National Assembly, Yury Kulakovsky, in published remarks.
It was not immediately clear Wednesday why Belarus is apparently seeking closer ties with the Vatican while at the same time preparing to ban foreign priests from the country.
Analysts have suggested that the increasingly isolated administration of autocratic President Alexander Lukashenko wants to control all churches in the country. Belarus generally supported the official Orthodox Church, as it also kept close ties to Moscow since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
However especially active non-Orthodox Christians have been targeted by the government, several churches and other sources have said.
Belarus' Roman Catholic minority, comprises up to 17 percent of the country's population and is concentrated in the western part of the country, according to estimates. Smaller Christian groups include evangelicals and other Protestant Christians.