CNA Staff, Sep 30, 2020 / 12:03 pm (CNA).- The Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Minsk-Mohilev on Tuesday denied reports from Russia’s foreign intelligence agency that the Church in Belarus is being used by the US, calling them “complete nonsense, fake information.”
“Some media outlets published information provided by the head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service Sergey Naryshkin. This is a fake, this is nonsense. He spoke about some provocations, about the fact that the United States, the CIA and other organizations are trying to use the Catholic Church to undermine the state system in our country. This is complete nonsense, fake information, lies that have nothing to do with the truth … This is information that should be treated with a touch of irony,” Bishop Yury Kasabutski said during his homily at a Sept. 29 Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Minsk.
Naryshkin is director of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service. The Russian news agency Interfax reported Sept. 29 that Naryshkin had said, “the United States is also unceremoniously interfering in the religious situation in Belarus … The clergy of the Roman Catholic Church are being asked to openly criticize the Belarusian authorities and to use religious events, including sermons, prayers, religious processions, to conduct opposition political propaganda among believers.”
The Russian foreign intelligence director added that “According to the plan of the Americans, this should force Minsk to take harsh retaliatory measures against the Roman Catholic Church.”
Naryshkin said the Belarusian opposition is planning a “resonant provocation” during which a high-ranking cleric “would be arrested or even wounded or killed,” with the intention of increasing opposition sentiment among Catholics in the country.
Belarus has seen widespread protests in recent weeks following a disputed presidential election. Protests began Aug. 9 after president Alexander Lukashenko was declared to have won that day’s election with 80% of the vote. Lukashenko has been president of Belarus since the position was created in 1994.
The US and the EU no longer recognize Lukashenko as the Belarusian president. Canada and the UK placed sanctions on Belarus Sept. 29.
Lukashenko secured a $1.5 billion loan from Russian president Vladimir Putin earlier this month, and Putin has denounced “external pressure” on Belarus.
The president of the Belarusian bishops’ conference, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of Minsk-Mohilev, has been exiled. His passport was invalidated, and he was blocked from returning from Poland by border guards Aug. 31. The archbishop has spoken in defense of protests following last month’s presidential election.
Lukashenko has suggested the archbishop might be a citizen of more than one country. The archbishop told CNA Sept. 1 that “today I was accused that I received from Warsaw some instructions, or something, but I didn’t visit Warsaw.” He said he had visited eastern Poland to celebrate the First Communion of a relative.
Bishop Kasabutski told Catholic.by Sept. 29 that “Our clergy do not receive any instructions from anyone, and not only of a political nature … No one makes any calls to the priests for an open statement during the divine services of one or another attitude to the authorities. This information has no real basis.”
He added that the claim the US or other states are trying to influence the Church “sounds completely unrealistic.”
“Perhaps these statements have something to do with the Church’s position. Today the Church in Belarus speaks the truth about the situation in the country, opposes violence, encourages people to solidarity, unity, harmony, peace, and forgiveness,” the bishop reflected.
Bishop Kasabutski continued: “Maybe in this way we are preventing someone from implementing certain scenarios aimed at division in society, at the bloody development of events. Maybe someone is trying to use this situation to divide people on the principle of religion to accuse us of what we are trying to avoid by praying to God for peace and harmony in our society. But we do not succumb to such ‘brainwashing’ and remain faithful to the commandments of love left to us by Christ.”
He added that relations between Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox in Belarus are warm, and that “we now see a very strong solidarity of people regardless of religion.”
Protests have taken place across Belarus since the August election, and thousands of protesters have been detained. At least four people have died in the unrest.
Electoral officials said that the opposition candidate, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, earned 10% of the vote. The opposition claims that she actually garned at least 60% of votes.
Tsikhanouskaya was detained for several hours after complaining to the electoral committee. She and several other opposition leaders are now in self-imposed exile in Lithuania or other nearby countries.