March 6, 2001
volume 12, no. 65

Visa Refusal for Senior Catholic Priest in Russia

Also Priest Detained in Vietnam for Undermining Government

    MOSCOW, Mar. 5, 01 (CWNews.com/Keston) - A Polish Jesuit priest who for most of the past decade has played a crucial role in rebuilding Catholic institutions in Russia was refused a Russian entry visa on February 27 for the third time in a row.

    Father Stanislaw Opiela, the secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Russia and the rector of the St. Thomas Aquinas College of Catholic Theology in Moscow, has now been unable to return to his duties for more than six months. Russian Foreign Ministry officials have so far refused to explain to Catholic leaders why he has been repeatedly refused a visa. An official at the foreign ministry's department of consular service likewise declined to comment on Father Opiela's visa refusals.

    Father Jerzy Karpinski, the current provincial of the Society of Jesus in Russia, said the third successive refusal was issued without explanation by the foreign ministry. The first time, Father Opiela was invited by the Russian section of the international Catholic charity Caritas. The second time, he was invited by the Apostolic Administration for European Russia as secretary of the bishops' conference. On February 6, the Aquinas College invited Father Opiela to teach at the college.

    "We are in a critical situation," said Father Karpinski. "He is the only one who can teach some Christian disciplines. Furthermore Father Stanislaw remains the secretary of the bishops' conference and rector of [the college]. I am having to carry out his duties for the moment."

    Father Bogdan Sewerynik, vicar general of the Apostolic Administration for Latin-rite Catholics in European Russia, said he was perplexed as this was the first such case involving a Catholic priest in Russia. "It's difficult to say what the reason is," he said. "Maybe it's connected with the registration of the Jesuit order. The consular service of the Foreign Ministry refuses to tell us the grounds for refusal." He confirmed that Father Opiela remains secretary of the bishops' conference, adding optimistically: "We believe Father Stanislaw will be able to return to Russia."

    The Ministry of Justice three times refused to reregister the Jesuits under Russia's controversial 1997 religion law, but Father Opiela insisted on the registration of the order in accordance with its own canonical rules and finally won this right through the Constitutional Court.

    Meanwhile in Hanoi, a Catholic priest was detained last week by Vietnam's Communist government for actions which the government claims were part of a plot to undermine socialism.

    The state-run Hanoi Moi newspaper said Father Nguyen Van Ly was one of many anti-Communists becoming more active in advance of a major meeting of the Communist Party. "Ly's tricks were part of the plot to undermine the regime, to cause political instability," it said. "(It is) a wicked plot in a chain in the peaceful evolution movements by hostile forces against socialism."

    Father Ly, 54, was put under "administrative detention" in the central province of Thua Thien Hue last week and branded a traitor in state newspapers after he urged the US Congress not to ratify an historic bilateral trade pact because of rights abuses.

    The trade pact was signed last July and will give Vietnam access to US markets, but it has still to be approved by the US Congress and Vietnam's National Assembly. The pact is vital to Vietnam's plans to boost exports and attract foreign investment.

March 6, 2001
volume 12, no. 65
News from the Universal Church
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