Religious Leaders Meet with New State Committee: Theses, Practices, Expectations
Yurii HOFMAN, legal adviser at the Administration of the Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church in northwestern Ukrainian Lutsk, comments on a meeting of religious representatives held at Ukraine’s State Committee on Matters of Nationalities and Religions on 25 May 2007.
On 25 May 2007 at the Department on Matters of Religions and Protection of Freedom of Conscience of Ukraine’s newly-established State Committee on Matters of Nationalities and Religions, the first meeting of a round table “Priorities of state policy in the area of freedom of conscience: Ways of implementation” was held with the participation of church representatives. State officials and scholars were also invited.
The round table raised yet another time the rather urgent question of support and implementation of state policy in the area of freedom of conscience, which question has for several years in a row been submitted for discussion at various meetings, round tables, and work teams at various state levels. Unfortunately, no substantial changes in this area have been made so far.
The speakers raised quite a number of questions in the area of the life and activity of the church.
For instance, Petro Lavrentiiovych Yarotskyi, Ph.D., chief researcher at the Department of Religious Studies of the Institute of Philosophy of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, covered in his report the history of persecutions of the Roman Catholic Church [RCC] under the Soviet Regime and the beginning of its revival with Ukrainian independence. The speaker gave examples of the special role of the monastic orders of the RCC in the revival of spirituality and the rebuilding of churches, and pointed to the powerful scholarly basis and considerable charitable activity of the Roman Catholic Church in Ukraine. He stressed that the revival of the RCC in Ukraine, not only in the western area but all over Ukraine, consists in the combination of culture and spirituality.
Candidate of Theology Fr. Yevstratii (Zoria), press-secretary of the UOC-KP [Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate], pointed to the efforts of politicians to completely separate the church from secular life and their regular statements to the church that its role is limited only to the celebration of religious services. He also expressed his concern over the regular reorganization of the state structure on matters of religions and high-position appointments in that structure, especially, at the local level, and asked: “Are the people who work there at least familiar with religion?” Archimandrite Yevstratii also pointed to the inability of Parliament to pass laws which would support the activity of the church.
Sheikh Achmed Tamin, head of the Spiritual Direction of the Muslims of Ukraine, mufti of Ukraine, expressed his concern over the registration of religious organizations which use Islam as a shield to preach destructive tendencies and called for interreligious dialogue on the consolidation of religions.
Professor Viktor Dmytrovych Bondarenko, Ph.D., former head of the former National Committee on Religious Matters and now head of the Department of Cultural Studies of the M.P. Drahomanov National Teacher Training University, stressed that legal nihilism should not apply to the area of religion and freedom of conscience in order for the new law “On freedom of conscience and religious organizations” not to diminish the rights of religious organizations. He also stressed the need for continuous improvement of current legislation in the area of freedom of conscience. Professor Bondarenko also said he believed that it is not acceptable for the church to step on the political “rake” [repeat political mistakes] regarding addresses of the AUC CRU [All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations] to the citizens of Ukraine and for religious organizations to hold any specific position in political life. He also approached the management of the committee with a request to appeal to religious organizations for prayer against its further reformation.
Bishop Markian Trofimjak, assistant head of the Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops of Ukraine and ordinary of the Lutsk Diocese, in his report pointed to the fact that, on 30 March 2007, the first meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine’s Committee on the Restitution of Church Property to Religious Organizations [CRCPRO] was held under the headship of Vice-Prime Minister of Ukraine Dmytro Tabachnyk. The commission includes heads of numerous ministries and departments and is engaged in solving issues associated with the return of former religious buildings which are not used any more, or are used for non-intended purposes, to religious organizations. He also was surprised at the fact that church representatives were not invited to be members of the commission.
Bishop Trofimjak in his speech appealed to the leadership of the committee, as the organizational and technical support of the activity of the [CRCPRO] is entrusted to the State Committee on Matters of Nationalities and Religions, with a request to support the address of the AUC CRU to D. Tabachnyk containing a proposal to involve authorized representatives of the working group of the AUC CRU on matters of the restitution of former religious property in the work of the [CRCPRO].
Therefore, I wish to emphasize the urgency of Bishop Trofimjak’s thesis about the need to abandon the practice of solving issues regarding the existence and activity of the church without its representatives: questions of legislative support of church-state cooperation, fulfillment of provisions of current legal acts regarding the restitution of church property which is state or communal property, and many others.
Candidate of Philosophy Mykhailo Yukhymovych Babii, senior researcher of the Department of Religious Studies of the Institute of Philosophy of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, stressed the need for normative regulation of the free space of activity of believers and recalled the principle of the secular state and the non-fulfillment by the church of state functions. He added that, in his opinion, such violations, unfortunately, are made by both sides and that it is inadmissible to make the recognition of any church obligatory.
Fr. Roman Nebozhuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s Bureau for Contacts with State Authorities and possessing a master’s degree in civil administration, stressed that the church and the state became sovereign institutes with Ukrainian independence. There were attempts to switch to a partner form of coexistence in church-state cooperation, but one can observe regress in recent times. Fr. Nebozhuk stressed that it is obligatory for the AUC CRU as the representative structure of the churches to express its opinion on events happening in society. He also noted that there is no understanding between legislators and the church in matters of legislative support of the activity of religious organizations, and that the wish of the churches to cooperate with state officials is viewed as a violation of separation.
Candidate of Philosophy Serhii Ivanovych Zdioruk, head of the Department of Humanitarian Policy of the National Institute of Strategic Research, stressed the need for religious organizations, among others, to learn to use freedom and develop a culture of living at liberty, and the need for the genuine legal equality of all denominations and the acceptance of the atheistic worldview and respect for such a conviction as for all religious beliefs. He also expressed his opinion that the church loses the confidence of the faithful when it interferes in political processes. At the same time, he stressed the need for church-state partnership in the study of the European experience in the area of freedom of conscience and the practical use thereof in our legislation.
Unfortunately, due to the limited time allotted by the organizers of the round table, the participants did not have the chance to hear the report of Candidate of Philosophy Mykola Romanovych Novychenko, assistant head of the State Committee on Matters of Nationalities and Religions, “Restitution of church property as a priority of state policy on religion and the church,” and the report of Candidate of Philosophy Volodymyr Pimonovych Liubchyk, head of the Department of Scholarly-expert Work of the State Committee on Matters of Nationalities and Religions, “Modern aspects of church-state relations in Ukraine.”
Therefore, the representatives of the churches again stressed their readiness to cooperate in the matter of improving the current law in the area of ensuring freedom of conscience and the activity of religious organizations and ways of its realization.
In my opinion, it is not expedient to settle the question of legislative support of church-state cooperation without representatives of the churches. I believe that, in addition to questions of a legal character, there are also questions of the individual needs and specificities of religious communities which are impossible to settle objectively without the participation of representatives of the churches, for the cooperation of state structures with the church in this question is very rarely practiced.
Therefore, one can only hope that the leadership of Ukraine’s State Committee on Matters of Nationalities and Religions will not ignore the proclaimed statements and proposals of the heads of the churches and make necessary steps to ensure the freedom of conscience and activity of religious organizations, for, in my opinion, only the joint efforts of the churches and state authorities will allow the positive solution of problems which are likely to rise in the course of preparing and executing the current law in the area of freedom of conscience and the activity of religious organizations in Ukraine.