April 23, 2002
Yury V. Ushakov
Ambassador Extraordinarie and Plenipotentiary
Embassy of the Russian Federation
2650 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20007
Dear Ambassador Ushakov:
We are very concerned with recent actions taken by the government of the Russian Federation against the Catholic Church in Russia. These actions severely restrict the religious freedom of the Catholic Church in Russia and interfere with providing pastoral and spiritual care to Russian Catholics, most of whom are citizens of Russia. These actions certainly violate international agreements guaranteeing religious freedom to which Russia is a signatory.
On April 19 at the Moscow airport, the visa of Bishop Jerzy Mazur, who is responsible for the Diocese of St. Joseph in Irkutsk, was revoked. Even more troubling, Bishop Mazur was declared "persona non grata." This declaration and the seizure of his documents were done without cause. Bishop Mazur has served in Russia for the past decade and his multi-entry visa had not expired. In addition to the revocation of Bishop Mazur's visa, we are also concerned that the recent revocation of the visa of Fr. Stefano Caprio, an Italian priest and the demonstrations planned for April 28 against the Catholic Church can only deepen religious tensions.
The progress Russia has made in respecting religious freedom over the past decade has not only helped ease religious and societal tensions but also has led to a resurgence of religious faith, which is contributing to a more democratic Russia. Because the former communist regimes persecuted the Catholic Church, however, the Church now relies extensively upon foreign priests and religious. In light of this dependence, these recent actions directly affect the ability of the Church to function.
In addition to these actions, we are also seriously concerned with recent efforts in the Duma to stifle religious freedom. We hope that proposals to prohibit the activities of the recently created dioceses and to deny visas to Vatican officials are not enacted. The draft law on defining traditional religions does not name the Catholic Church, which has been in Russia since the 18th century. The possible recreation of the old Soviet style Council on Religious Affairs, which controlled religious expression, and the proposed change in the preamble to the Russian constitution that would attribute the creation of the Russian state to the Orthodox Church are further signs of state preference for particular religious bodies.
We urge you to convey our concerns to President Putin and request that Bishop Mazur be allowed back into Russia promptly. We hope that the government of the Russian Federation will do all it can to prevent any further interference with the pastoral activities and religious freedom of the Catholic Church in Russia.
Thank you for your attention to our concerns.
Gerard F. Powers
Office of International Justice and Peace