WASHINGTON (June 30, 1997) -- A newly passed law awaiting Russian President Boris Yeltsin's action poses the potential for "hardship for Russian Catholics" and should be vetoed, according to two letters sent to the Russian ambassador recently.
Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of Newark (NJ), Chairman of the U.S. Catholic Conference's International Policy Committee, said the bill passed by the Russian Duma (Parliament) on June 18 would "take a regrettable step back from progress made earlier in this area of religious freedoms."
The bill, "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations," would effectively reduce Catholicism to second-class status by formally recognizing four religions -- Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism -- as traditional religions in Russia and worthy of "respect."
"Given the difficulties minority religions continue to face in certain regions, we are particularly concerned with how this bill strengthens the role of local authorities, giving them license to either report or deny the existence of locally active religious bodies seeking the 'all-Russian' status," Archbishop McCarrick said in his June 20 letter to Ambassador Yuli M. Vorontsov.
In a second letter to the Russian ambassador following the Duma's third reading of the bill on June 23, Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen reiterated the importance of a Yeltsin veto.
"Amendments have offered no reprieve from the harshest aspects of this bill, indeed in places intensifying its more dangerous dimensions," said Father Christiansen, who heads the USCC Office of International Justice and Peace. President Yeltsin "sets a path for Russia and a strong example for other former socialist bloc countries" by his action on this bill, Father Christiansen said.