ROME — Pope Francis on Sunday accepted the resignation of Minsk’s archbishop who had been blocked for months by Belarusian authorities from returning to his homeland after criticizing a crackdown on anti-government protesters there.
Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, in charge of the Minsk-Mohilev diocese, had only returned to Belarus on Dec. 24, just in time to celebrate Christmas Mass. That was nearly four months after he was blocked entry while traveling back from a religious visit to Poland. The impasse ended last month after Francis sent a former Vatican ambassador to Belarus to Minsk to meet with the country’s authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.
Church rules require bishops to submit their resignation ahead of their 75th birthday, and the Vatican said Kondrusiewicz, who turned 75 on Sunday, had done so. The pope immediately allowed him to step down. Often popes allow bishops to stay on for months, even years, after turning 75.
The day after Kondrusiewicz had tried to return to Belarus, Lukashenko accused him of “delving into politics and dragging believers” into it. Weeks of massive protests had seen Belarus citizens flood into the streets in daily protests demand Lukashenko’s resignation.
The president’s victory after an Aug. 9 election was widely viewed as fraudulent. Protests have continued in defiance of a brutal police crackdown that has detained more than 30,000 demonstrators.
Francis named an apostolic administrator to head the archdiocese for now, Bishop Kazimierz Wielikosielec, who has been serving as an auxiliary bishop in the Pinsk diocese.