Ukrainian Churches Discuss State Religion Policy

26.07.2004, 15:57
A regular meeting of the permanent round table discussion entitled "Religion and Authorities in Ukraine: Problems of Mutual Relations" was held in Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, on 14 May 2003. The subject of the discussion was "The Appropriateness of the Development of the Draft of State Policy on Religion and Church in Ukraine." Participants of the discussion were asked to look at the draft worked out by the National Committee on Religious Matters in 1996 and the latest legislative bill "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations."

A regular meeting of the permanent round table discussion entitled "Religion and Authorities in Ukraine: Problems of Mutual Relations" was held in Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, on 14 May 2003. The subject of the discussion was "The Appropriateness of the Development of the Draft of State Policy on Religion and Church in Ukraine." Participants of the discussion were asked to look at the draft worked out by the National Committee on Religious Matters in 1996 and the latest legislative bill "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations."

Among the organizers of this event were the Oleksandr Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies, the National Committee on Religious Matters of Ukraine, and the branch of the Konrad Adenauer Fund in Ukraine.

Among the participants in the discussion were representatives of various Christian jurisdictions of Ukraine, national deputies, representatives of the presidential administration, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, the National Committee on Religious Matters, the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine, various ministries and departments, as well as experts and journalists.

Dr. Adolf Hampel, professor at the Institute of Catholic Theology at the University of Giessen, Germany, delivered a report "The Basics of State Policy on Religion in Germany." He stressed the basic formula of church-state relations, which is a free church in a free state. Prof Hampel also noted that human dignity in Germany is inviolable, schools have religious instruction, and pastoral work is conducted among the military, in hospitals and in prisons. According to Prof. Hampel, different democracies have established different types of church-state relations: "total" separation of the church from the state (France); "mild" separation (the USA); combination of the church and state (Greece, Scandinavian countries); and the system of cooperation (Germany, Austria, Switzerland).

Archbishop Auhustyn of Lviv and Halych, head of the Synodal Theological Commission of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP), noted that the problem of the development of the concept of state policy on religion is a question that needs to be put rather to the state than the church. This is because the latter has a traditional and stable attitude towards the former, which is fixed in the holy Scriptures and church canons, as well as in the "Fundamentals of the Social Concept of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [UOC-MP]," which contains a separate chapter entitled "The Church and The State." He stressed the need to answer a number of general questions without which a long-lasting concept of state policy concerning the church cannot be formed. According to the archbishop, this concerns the distinction between the notions of "traditional" and "new" religions in Ukraine and the corresponding state policy on them. He added that the state should pay attention to the "canonicity" of Orthodox churches from the point of view of their international legitimacy and define its position on the distribution of church property confiscated by the antireligious former regime. While doing this, it should be governed not by the principles of political or other benefits, but by legal norms and justice, which will prevent church-state and interreligious misunderstandings in the future. "Only on condition that these issues will not be swept under the carpet or remain unnoticed by state analysts may a long-lasting concept be developed," said Archbishop Auhustyn.

Pastor Peter Zakhi of the German Evangelical Lutheran Church in Ukraine emphasized the common responsibility of the church and civil authorities for the moral decline in society, impoverishment of people and social injustice. He also called upon the participants to be cautious regarding what he referred to as "sects," mentioning in particular the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses.

Bishop Stanislaw Shyrokoradiuk, vicar general of the Kyiv and Zhytomyr diocese of the Roman Catholic Church in Ukraine, stated that there is no trust between jurisdictions, as well as between jurisdictions and the state. He also stressed that almost nothing has been done to implement the presidential decree on the restitution of church property and added that there are still many state officials who justify the existence of museums, organ halls, cafes, and so, on the premises of former churches or monasteries, because this is a business for somebody.

Mykhailo Panochko, head of the All-Ukraine Union of Churches of the Evangelical Christian Faith-Pentecostals. and Volodymyr Matviiv, deputy head of the All-Ukraine Union of the Association of Evangelical Baptists, and the representative of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church said that such a concept was needed, but they also expressed distrust for the authorities in connection with the events of approving a new version of the law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations."

Mykola Malomuzh, deputy head of the National Committee on Religious Matters, pointed out that amendments need to be introduced to the basic law on religion so that it will meet the challenges of the present concerning issues raised by the participants of the discussion. These issues include granting the church the status of legal entity, religious instruction in schools, property rights for religious groups, charitable activities and social service. Mykola Novychenko, first deputy head of the National Committee on Religious Matters, proposed creating a working group at the Razumkov Center and taking the concept of 1996 as the foundation.

Dmytro Stepovyk, professor of the Theological Academy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate, stressed the need to approve the concept by the majority of votes at the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches.


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• http://www.orthodox.org.ua/