2019-03-22 15:06:00

Metropolitan Onufry calls on Poroshenko to put end to takeovers of UOC churches

Kiev, March 22, Interfax - Metropolitan Onufry of Kiev and All Ukraine has drawn the attention of President Pyotr Poroshenko to mass takeovers of churches of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church by supporters of autocephaly and the persecution of the UOC clergy.

"I am confident that everything that is happening to our Church now, including among Orthodox people in general, is not the path we should be taking. It's definitely not a path that will lead us to unity. We have to admit that this way is wrong, draw conclusions from mistakes made, and look for other ways toward Church unity. The takeovers of parishes only put the process of unity decades back," Metropolitan Onufry said at a meeting between members of the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations with the president of Ukraine.

The heads of village councils, city councils, and deputies are calling meetings of territorial communities and organizing illegal voting on changes to the accountability of parishes, which contradicts the Ukrainian law stating that this can only be done by a religious community according to two-thirds of the votes, not by a territorial community, the metropolitan said. "This leads to forcible takeovers of our churches, our communities are thrown into the streets, our communities have to pray in village houses," Metropolitan Onufry said, adding that the police often do nothing in such situations.

One of the most recent outrageous situations happened in the town of Baranovka, Zhitomir Region, where Oleg Kovalsky, a Radical Party deputy, held a "popular assembly" on Shrove Sunday, after which he sent some 400 people to take over a UOC church. The crowd broke into the church and its attendees were battered, thrown down church stairs, and pushed behind the fence, the metropolitan said.

"No official bears any responsibility for such illegal actions, for provoking a religious feud, for this attempted takeover," he said.

The metropolitan denied reports that 450 UOC parishes have gone over to the newly created Ukrainian church. According to the UOC, only 42 parishes have decided to join the new church, and nine of those parishes went over without their priests. "The remaining 55 so-called 'voluntary transitions' were characterized by the cutting out of locks and battering of parishioners," the metropolitan said. Additionally, there have been 137 situations when territorial communities voted for transition to the new church against the will of the religious community, he said.

"Situations of threats, pressure on the UOC clergy, discrimination and other violations of the rights and freedom of our Church have already come to the attention of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and have been published in their report," Metropolitan Onufry said.

He asked the president to order local officials "to stop these artificial initiatives to change accountability."

The metropolitan said that the UOC supports an integral and unified state, calm, peace, mutual understanding, and unity of the people, he said. "We have always defended and declared that. All the things I mentioned above harm people. Stop it. I am certain it's within your power," Metropolitan Onufry said.