Russian Church denies government 'policy influence'

14th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

The Russian Orthodox Church on Wednesday denied claims in a report published by the US government that Russian officials frequently asked the Church for advice on policy.

A report issued by the US Department of State on Tuesday warned of a decline in religious freedoms in Russia in recent months as "government officials routinely consulted with ROC leaders on policy".

A spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church's Patriarch Kirill, Vladimir Vigilyansky, acknowledged the Church gave the government its verdict on matters concerning its work, but denied it gave advice on general policy issues.

"The Russian Orthodox Church doesn't review all laws, only those that touch upon the Church's interests," he told AFP, adding that in any case "often the law is not approved in the form we recommend. These are not directives".

"I don't know anything about consultations (of government officials) with ROC leaders on political issues," he said.

Russia's respect for religious freedom "in law and in practice declined with respect to some minority denominations" between July-December 1010, the US report on international religious freedom said.

The Church's increasing clout has been formalised in many government agreements, including one saying that Church officials may review all draft legislation pending before the parliament, the report said.

The majority of Russians identify themselves as Orthodox believers, although polls find that few attend services frequently.

The Russian Orthodox Church has "greater access than other religious groups to public institutions" like schools, hospitals, and the army, the report added.

The restitution of religious organisations' property seized by the Soviet authorities appears to favour the Russian Orthodox Church, the report said, with it receiving some formerly Baptist, Catholic, and Lutheran buildings.

While the constitution protects religious freedoms, believers including Jehovah's Witnesses and Scientologists, have been harassed and slapped with bans, the report said.

© 2011 AFP

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