MOSCOW (ChurchMilitant.com) - A new bill in Russia forbids foreign-taught religious leaders, potentially posing a problem for Catholic clergy.
The bill was presented by the Russian government to its parliament on July 22. It prohibits participation in religious activities of religious extremists, foreigners and those who have studied abroad — including in Rome.
According to an explanatory note, the changes to the law "will make it impossible for priests or religious personnel who have received religious education abroad to spread extremist religious ideologies."
According to Article 7 in the Russian federal law titled "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations," only Russians and "other people who live permanently and legitimately on the territory of Russia" can be active in religious groups. The law defines "religious group" as a "union of people who profess the same faith, who do not require state registration."
Article 7 also states that leaders and participants of religious groups have the right to celebrate common liturgies and religious rites, as well as aggregate and educate new members in their faith. However, prayer meetings must be held in specially authorized premises — not in private homes.
In addition to foreigners, the ban extends to people classified as extremists and terrorists — anyone whose actions the court deems "signs of extremist activity." For years, Jehovah's Witnesses, various groups of Baptists and other sects have been included on this list.
In the majority Russian Orthodox nation, the ban will create difficulties not only for Muslim preachers and Protestant pastors, but also for Catholic priests, many of whom are foreign missionaries struggling to obtain permanent residence permits.
Even interpretations of Scripture "different from tradition" can be considered "extremist," according to the measure. Since there is no official version of the Bible in the Orthodox tradition, and no single Magisterium believed to be established by Christ, the question of interpretation lends itself to ambiguity.
Without prejudice to this new law, Russia has been a world leader of late in staving off secular values and ungodly movements.
In March, Russian President Vladimir Putin submitted a proposal to establish in the country's constitution a ban on same-sex "marriage." On July 1, Russians voted to approve a series of amendments to the Russian constitution. Among them is the mention of "faith in God" and the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Last month, Putin said Russia would never legalize same-sex "marriage" as long as he remains president, asserting that homosexuality and gender fluidity are out of step with traditional Russian values.
Homosexuality in Russia was officially criminalized until 1993 and considered a mental illness until 1999. In 2013, Putin signed a federal law banning the "public promotion of homosexuality," considering it a crime. As an example of this playing out, a self-proclaimed gay rights activist from Britain, Peter Tatchell, was arrested by Russian police at Red Square in 2018 as the World Cup was about to get underway. As part of a one-man protest, he was holding a poster that read, "Putin fails to act against Chechnya torture of gay people."
Currently in Russia, only heterosexual couples can adopt children.
American conservatives such as Pat Buchanan and Franklin Graham have written extensively on the Russian transformation, taking notice of how the former Communist superpower is now putting the West to shame in defending natural law and Christian values.
International observers note that only time will tell if the new Russian law will stifle progress in the religious development of this former Communist nation.