Church backs Vladimir Putin's ban on Americans adopting Russian children
Russian Orthodox church criticised for supporting Kremlin again
The Russian Orthodox church has been attacked for supporting a new law
banning Americans from adopting Russian children, at the end of a year
that saw it plagued by scandal and accusations of collusion with an
increasingly authoritarian Kremlin.
Father Vsevolod Chaplin, a high-ranking priest and a spokesman for the
church, said the law was "a search for a social answer to an elementary
question: why should we give, and even sell, our children abroad?"
Speaking to Interfax, a state news agency, last week, Chaplin said the
path to heaven would be closed to children adopted by foreigners. "They
won't get a truly Christian upbringing and that means falling away from
the church and from the path to eternal life, in God's kingdom," he said.
Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, signed the controversial ban into
law on Friday, in retaliation for a new US law that bans Russian
officials accused of human rights abuses from travelling to or having
bank accounts in the United States.
The ban, which effectively targets the hundreds of thousands of children
condemned to Russia's decrepit orphanage system, has been widely
criticised by many Russians, including some of Putin's most loyal
ministers. Chaplin later said the law should include exceptions for ill
children who required medical treatment abroad.
Critics say the church's support for the law is the latest example of
its submission to the Kremlin, in which it acts more like a government
ministry than an independent spiritual body.
"Everything is repeating – it's like the 19th century, when the church
lay completely under the state," said Valery Otstavnykh, a theologist
and Kremlin critic. "Everything was calm and fine until churches started
getting blown up in 1917 and they all asked, 'Why?' "
The arrest of Pussy Riot thrust the church into the spotlight this year.
When members of the feminist punk band performed a song inside Moscow's
Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in February, begging the Virgin Mary to
"drive Putin out", their goal was to highlight the church's explicit
politicisation. Patriarch Kirill, the church's leader, repeatedly
praised Putin during his contentious presidential campaign, once calling
the era of his rule a "miracle of God".
Maria Alyokhina, a Pussy Riot member serving a two-year jail sentence
after being found guilty of charges of "hooliganism motivated by
religious hatred", said during the trial: "I thought the church loved
all its children, but it seems the church loves only those children who
believe in Putin."
The case opened the floodgates on church scandals, with particular
attention on its alleged corruption. The church has grown rich under
Putin, and has been given vast tracts of valuable land and property. It
also runs several businesses, including a bank. The Cathedral of Christ
the Saviour maintains several firms on the site, including a car wash
and a business centre it rents out for conferences.
In early April, Patriarch Kirill was involved in a dispute over a
property he owned in the House on the Embankment, once home to the
Soviet elite. A renovation by his neighbour, a former health minister,
prompted a lawsuit in which Kirill won 20 million roubles (£400,000) –
which he later said he would donate to charity. The lawsuit revealed
that a woman – identified as a "keeper" named Lidia Leonova – was living
in his flat, prompting widespread speculation.
On the heels of that scandal, came another. The church apologised for
publishing on its website a photograph of Patriarch Kirill in which an
expensive watch had been airbrushed from his wrist. The $30,000 Breguet
still appeared in a reflection in the photograph.
In August, a priest crashed a BMW with diplomatic plates in central
Moscow. In October, another priest assaulted two women pensioners in a
fit of road rage in St Petersburg. Later that month, Russia's opposition
cried foul after the church decreed that priests could run for political
office. Two weeks later, the state news agency RIA-Novosti cited an
anonymous source as saying that a bordello was uncovered in a Moscow
"The church has also done a lot of good," said Otstavnykh. "But the
church as an organisation must change."