17. UKRAINIAN CATHOLICS’ RIGHTS ‘VIOLATED’

Local authorities refuse to return properties seized under Communist rule

The Universe Catholic Newspaper (TotalCatholic.com)
Manchester, England, December 19, 2005

A Ukrainian bishop has written to the Pope and world leaders, urging them
to help resolve his Church’s “worsening problems”.

The bishop, who said local authorities refused to return Catholic properties
seized under communist rule, asked for help to create “an international
commission of experts that could travel to Ukraine and check out, on site,
the facts of the violation of the rights and freedoms of the Roman Catholic
minority in this region”.

“Representatives of our government on all levels declare an open position –
but I must unfortunately confirm that we Catholics consider that the
situation has recently worsened,” said Bishop Bronislaw Bernacki of
Odessa-Simferopol. “In Izmail, the neighbours built part of their home
directly under the walls of the church and blocked our windows.

In another city, cars drive over the churchyard. Under the walls of the
cathedral in Odessa, strangers wash their cars and walk their dogs. This is
all open mockery and degradation of the Catholic Church,” he said in a
letter to Pope Benedict XVI and heads of government, including British
Prime Minister Tony Blair, US President George W Bush, French
President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

He added that his diocese has only a single 43-square-foot room for an
administrative office, while his own residence is a small room above his
cathedral sacristy, which also doubles as a meeting area. “I have many
examples of when they refused us land to build churches in Odessa,
Simferopol and other places,” said the bishop.

“For many years now, we have been unable to have a building of the
Roman Catholic Church in the centre of Sevastopol returned. A movie
theatre is now located there, and in the altar section are city pay
toilets.”

The bishop said Odessa’s former Catholic seminary was still occupied by
Ukraine’s Transport Ministry, which had withdrawn an agreement to return
it.

However, he added that local authorities returned several non-religious
buildings to the largest of Ukraine’s three rival Orthodox churches, which
is loyal to the Russian Orthodox Church’s Moscow Patriarchate.

“We are glad our brother church is growing stronger, we pray for all our
brothers and sisters in the Christian faith that the Lord bless all their
good endeavors. But why is it that for representatives of one religious
community there is a law about restitution of Church property, but for
another there is no law?” said the bishop. -30-


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