UOC MP is a Structural Subdivision of the ROC, - Kyiv District Administrative Court
This decision was reported by Glavkom, referring to the ruling dated May 15.
The conclusion was reached by analyzing the lawsuit filed by the Kyiv Metropolia of the UOC-MP and the Pochayiv Holy Assumption Lavra against the Ministry of Culture, which was submitted in 2019. The clergy refused to comply with the Law of Ukraine "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations" and the Ministry of Culture's order, which obliged them to make changes to their statutes and establish canonical ties with the Russian Church. The list of religious organizations subject to re-registration was published in the newspaper "Uriadovyi Kurier" in January 2019.
However, the plaintiffs attempted to persuade the court otherwise. Specifically, they argued that the religious expertise conducted by the Ministry of Culture in 2019 had numerous flaws, such as the absence of references to the statutes of religious organizations and information about the time and/or terms of the respective expertise. They also claimed that the religious expertise report lacked any arguments, justifications, or evidence that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church belongs to the Russian Orthodox Church, according to the logic of the plaintiffs.
In turn, the representative of the Pochayiv Holy Assumption Lavra argued that the ministry did not properly examine the monastery and used data for expertise that was not provided for by law.
Ultimately, the representatives of the UOC-MP lacked arguments to sway the court in their favor. Judge Aliona Kushnova reminded that in December 2022, the Constitutional Court declared constitutional changes to the law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations, which had been introduced by parliament in 2018. The essence of these changes is straightforward: a religious organization (association) operating in Ukraine that is part of another religious organization, the central administration of which is located in an aggressor state, must reflect its affiliation with a foreign religious organization in its name.
Additionally, the court decision quotes the religious expertise, which the plaintiffs disagree with. Let us present the key theses:
"An analysis of the Statute on the Management of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) shows that Section 1, Article 5 of the Statute clearly indicates that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is a self-governing part of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC)."
"Directly in Section 2, Article 1 of the Statute, it is stated that the highest authority in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church belongs to the Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, whose responsibilities include preserving the canonical unity of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, as well as its canonical unity with the Russian Orthodox Church and all Local Orthodox Churches. The Council also oversees the implementation of decisions made by the Local Councils of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Councils of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and the statutes adopted by them."
"In Section 3, Article 1, it is mentioned that the governing body of the UOC, which has full authority, acts based on the sacred canons of the Church, resolutions of the Local and Hierarchical Councils of the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as the Councils of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church."
"In Section 5, Article 1 of the Statute, it is stated that the leader of the UOC, the Metropolitan, is elected for life by the episcopate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and receives the blessing of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. The Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine is a permanent member of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, the governing body of this religious association."
"An analysis of the Statute of the Russian Orthodox Church shows that in accordance with Section X of this document, the UOC is a self-governing church within the ROC, and the hierarchs of the UOC are members of the governing bodies of this religious association, namely the Local and Hierarchical Councils of the ROC (Section 9, Section X)."
"Further evidence of the dependence of the UOC on the ROC is the fact that the official network of websites of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (dioceses, monasteries, cathedrals, churches) operates on web resources registered in the aggressor state - the Russian Federation."
In this regard, the court expressed its observations: the registered Statute of the Kyiv Metropolia, the Statute of the Pochaiv Holy Dormition Lavra, and the Statute on the Management of the UOC-MP were subject to evaluation during the religious studies examination. These documents cover all aspects, including internal matters of the religious organization.
The court specifically drew attention to the assessments made by the head of the legal department of the UOC-MP, Protodeacon Oleksandr Bakhov, voiced during a press conference in December 2022. In particular, the church official stated that from the Statute on the Management of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, adopted at the Council on May 27, 2022, "all norms that in any way hinted or spoke about the connection with Moscow were excluded."
"The court considers that... such publication (information voiced by Bakhov, which was posted on the UOC-MP website - editor) additionally indicates that the representative of the UOC effectively agreed with the conclusions of the religious studies examination," the court decision states.
The court also added that the plaintiffs, in substantiating their claims, did not provide any refutations of the findings presented in the religious studies examination. Instead, the clergy only emphasized procedural violations by the Ministry of Culture, which were not established during the consideration of the case.
"The court believes that within the scope of this administrative case, the plaintiffs have not provided proper and sufficient evidence to prove the absence of circumstances that would exclude them from the structure (component part) of the Russian Orthodox Church, while the evaluated information provided by the respondent asserts, as a whole, the inclusion of the UOC as a religious association, within which the plaintiffs belong, in the structure (component part) of the ROC," the court noted.
Separately, Judge Aliona Kushnova took into account the results of another religious studies examination of the Statute on the Management of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church regarding the presence of church-canonical connection with the Moscow Patriarchate (Russian Orthodox Church), conducted in 2023 by the State Service of Ukraine for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience. According to this examination, the adoption of the new version of the Statute on the Management of the UOC (as of May 27, 2022) and the resolutions of the UOC Council did not lead to a rupture of the church-canonical connection between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church. The status of the UOC as a structural subdivision of the ROC, enjoying certain autonomy rights but not forming an autocephalous Church, remains unchanged.
It was also established that the UOC maintains a church-canonical connection with the ROC as a part of the whole. The relationship between the UOC and the ROC is not the relationship between two independent (autocephalous) Churches. The UOC also does not have the status of an autonomous Church recognized by other Churches and, therefore, from the perspective of ecclesiology and canonical law, it is a structural subdivision of the ROC with certain rights of independent formation but without its own canonical subjectivity.
"The current activities or inactivity of the highest bodies of church authority and administration of the UOC indicate that the UOC continues to be in a relationship of subordination to the ROC. It does not act as an independent (autocephalous) Church and does not declare its own autonomy (autocephaly). There are no documents or actions that indicate the transformation of the UOC into an independent religious organization relative to the ROC," the court quoted the religious studies examination of the State Service of Ukraine for Ethnopolitics.
"In summary, the court concludes that all the evidence provided by the plaintiffs, which they used to substantiate their claims, did not find confirmation during the substantive resolution of the dispute and, therefore, cannot be the basis for a decision to satisfy the claims," the court summarized in its decision.
An important detail: By this decision, the Kyiv District Administrative Court overturned the ruling of the Kyiv District Administrative Court dated April 22, 2019, which prohibited registrars from making changes and carrying out any registration actions and entries regarding the religious organizations of the UOC-MP.
It should be noted that the decision of the Kyiv court takes legal effect after the expiration of the deadline for filing an appellate complaint to the Sixth Administrative Court of Appeal. A period of 30 days is allotted for this.
Another significant remark is that the Kyiv District Administrative Court reviewed the church lawsuit in one month (on April 12, the liquidated Kyiv District Administrative Court transferred this case). Prior to that, the case had been pending in the Kyiv District Administrative Court for over three years.