WARSAW, Poland — A Catholic bishop in Belarus has accused officials of arbitrarily denying residence and work permits to visiting Catholic priests and nuns, when the country still lacks enough people to serve in ministry.
Nearly three decades after the end of communist rule, “nothing has really changed here; there are still problems over their presence,” Auxiliary Bishop Yuri Kasabutski of Minsk, Belarus, told Poland’s Catholic Information Agency, KAI, during a visit to the Polish capital.
“Under the current law, every foreign priest or religious sister must have permission from the government’s Religious Affairs Office to work with us. Whether that permission is given depends on the official dealing with such matters,” he said.
Speaking during a visit to Warsaw, Kasabutski said Belarus has around 500 priests of its own. He said the 30 native clergy ordained annually from the country’s two seminaries were insufficient for the Catholic community’s “huge pastoral needs.”
However, he said one priest had been ordered to leave Belarus for “violating the law of the state” after being accused of speeding in his car.
“We’re grateful for help from dozens of foreign priests, who’ve planted seeds in our land, including the seeds of vocations,” Kasabutski said. “But we’ve recently heard of priests and nuns from Poland and Ukraine, as well as from Lithuania and Russia, being refused admission to our country. The authorities have given various reasons for their decisions, some strange, even ridiculous.”
With four dioceses and about 500 parishes, the Catholic Church makes up around 6 percent of the 9.6 million inhabitants of predominantly Orthodox Belarus, according to U.S. State Department data. The nation’s constitution recognizes it as a “traditional faith” in the state constitution, which enshrines the “determining role” of Orthodoxy.
Complaints of discrimination have frequently surfaced under President Aleksander Lukashenko, who has been elected five times since 1994 amid claims of ballot-rigging.
In 2012, the European Union expelled Belarusian diplomats and withdrew its ambassadors during a dispute over Western sanctions. The country has refused entry or shortened the visas of visiting Catholic priests, especially from neighboring Poland, citing legal infringements and their failure to speak Belarusian or Russian, the two official languages.
In 2017, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of Minsk accused Lukashenko’s administration of “artificially lowering the number of Catholics attending services” and called on the Interior Ministry to “provide truthful information about Catholics in (the) future.”