Ukrainian Catholic leader calls shrine legislation ‘clear threat’

KIEV, Ukraine (CNS) — The major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church said government-backed legislation to transfer control of key national Christian shrines to the Orthodox Church was “a clear threat to the interdenominational peace and agreement established in our state during recent years.

“Do the authors of this bill understand that, by their initiative, they are again pushing our motherland into a whirlpool of interdenominational — and in this case interethnic — confrontation with unpredictable consequences?” asked Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych.

Ukraine’s Communist Party and governing Party of Regions introduced legislation under which major shrines such as Kiev’s Monastery of the Caves, currently under state ownership, would be handed over to the largest Orthodox denomination, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church–Moscow Patriarchate.

In a letter to Volodymyr Lytvyn, speaker of Ukraine’s parliament, Archbishop Shevchuk said the planned transfer would violate European norms and fail to “repair the material harm done by the godless regime” under Soviet rule, which ended in 1991.

He added that church property claims required a “complex settlement” and should be “considered fully and transparently from all viewpoints” by Ukraine’s Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, which represents 18 churches and faiths.

Minority church members have expressed concern over legal practices in Ukraine since the February 2010 election of President Viktor Yanukovych on a pledge of closer ties with neighboring Russia.

Eastern and Latin Catholics make up 10 percent of the Ukrainian population of 50 million, compared to around a third belonging to the country’s three rival Orthodox denominations.

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