WARSAW, Poland (CNS) — Russia’s Catholic Church criticized the demolition of a hospice complex run by the Missionaries of Charity after a Moscow court ruled it was used illegally for charity work.
In late September, Moscow city officials were preparing to bulldoze a second building operated by the order, founded by Blessed Mother Teresa of Kolkata, India. The first was destroyed Sept. 16 after a 2010 court ruling that claimed the sisters had legally rebuilt the complex but failed to register its “entry into use” two decades earlier.
“Nothing like this has happened to these sisters before anywhere in the world — it sets an unfortunate precedent,” said Father Igor Kovalevsky, secretary-general of the Russian bishops’ conference.
“It’s an instance of excessive bureaucracy, and we still hope the dispute can be resolved by diplomatic help. But for many Catholics and other Christians, it’s a sign the Russian authorities aren’t interested in works of charity,” he told Catholic News Service Sept. 29.
City officials destroyed the first building Sept. 16 and, in late September, prepared to bulldoze a second building operated by the order.
Father Kovalevsky said church leaders had been notified of the demolition order and understood the building had not been legally cleared for use.
However, he added that the Missionaries of Charity had been helping the homeless and marginalized since being invited to Russia in 1988 by Soviet Communist Party leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and said their “work of mercy and love” should have been valued by the Russian government.
The second building set to be destroyed provides shelter for abandoned children, disabled and terminally ill. It serves as a recovery facility for alcoholics and a soup kitchen for 150 homeless visitors daily and was adapted in 1990 from an unused kindergarten, using donations from all over the world.
In a Sept. 24 letter to the City Council, Moscow Archbishop Paolo Pezzi said the complex had been a place where poor Russians could “warm up against the cold outside, and most importantly spend time in safety feeling the warmth of human hearts,” adding that it was ironic the “dictatorship of law” had been imposed when the sisters attempted to regularize its status.
“Of course, there’s no doubt all of this has happened in line with the law — the sisters themselves admit they are ‘guilty,’” the archbishop said. “Would it not have been better, however, to legalize this building after payment of the necessary fine? Did the building really disfigure our city“s landscape so much it needed to be demolished?”
Father Kovalevsky told CNS Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill had also written to the City Council in defense of the sisters, adding that he believed the incident reflected a “nightmarish bureaucracy with no moral sense.”
“Although our church“s representations have so far been ignored, we still hope the Moscow authorities will show us some support,” the priest said. “We also hope Russia and Moscow will give the impression they care about charity work and the fate of the poor.”