#6 - JRL 7019
Russian Orthodox Church denies violation of Catholics' rights
MOSCOW. Jan 13 (Interfax) - The Russian Orthodox Church believes the concerns of Pope John Paul II about the situation of Catholics in Russia, which the pontiff mentioned while meeting with ambassadors in the Vatican on Monday, are ungrounded.
The pope said that one of the things that aggravates him most is that several Catholic priests were denied visas to Russia in 2001.
Vsevolod Chaplin, an official from the Moscow patriarchate, told Interfax that it is surprising that "the Vatican is trying to make it look like there is total persecution of Catholics in Russia based on individual cases of visa denials, something every country has the right to do."
He also said he is surprised that "it was Russia that became the object of such unprecedented criticism" from the pope. According to Chaplin, there are countries where Catholics are really persecuted, where catholic priests cannot be freely appointed and where Catholic parishes are facing real problems.
Russia has "a very small Catholic minority, which is fully free to pray and engage in public activities," he said. "This freedom is enough, because the few Catholic churches that exist in Russia barely have enough believers to fill them, as the idea of a large-scale Catholic mission to Russia has failed," Chaplin said.
Russian government official Alexei Volin said the Russian government will not react to the pope's statement.
"There are many religions, and our law envisions freedom of religion. Every person is free to pray or not to pray," Volin told Ekho Moskvy radio on Monday.
"Russian Catholics have never told the government that they do not have enough shepherds," he said.