Turkish Nationalist Highlights Missionaries

A Turkish organisation has produced yet another report designed to fan paranoia about missionaries. The New Anatolian reports:

There’s more missionary activity in Istanbul than anywhere else in the country and the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses is on the rise, according to a recent Ankara Chamber of Trade and Commerce (ATO) report.

…Stating there are an overall some 50,000 Christian communities in Turkey, the report added that outside Istanbul Christians have over 300 places of worship, numerous bookstores, one library, six periodicals, dozens of foundations, numerous printing houses, five radio stations, several monasteries, two cafes, one gathering place, six commercial companies, one hotel, one translation office, seven newspapers, two museums, and dozens of associations dedicated to missionary activity. Underlining that in 2003 alone there were 190 instances of missionary activity, the report said that the Bahais were responsible for 27 of them, adding that the Bahais concentrate on Sivas and Erzincan, while Christians tend to focus on Nevsehir, Adiyaman, Adana, Bursa, Diyarbakir and Mersin. The report listed the various groups in Turkey involved in missionary activity as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Bahais, Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox and Syrian Orthodox.

The report includes the following details:

Protestants: Their headquarters are in Schormdorf, Germany. In Ankara there’s the Turkish Protestant Churches Union as well as 19 other Protestant churches established in 2000.

…Orthodox: They’ve been attempting to create an Orthodox separatist movement in the Eastern Black Sea region since the 1980s

…the activities of the Protestant community are organized by the 10 Protestant churches linked to Kurtulus church in Balgat, adding that they distribute books and leaflets to the public in Ankara.

This comes just over a year after a report on the same theme was produced by the Turkish army; I discussed that at the time. That report also claimed that Christians were involved in separatist activities on the Black Sea; the far-right Grey Wolves have made the same allegation, and this was probably a factor in the recent murder of the Catholic priest Andrea Santoro.

The Ankara Chamber of Trade and Commerce is the mouthpiece of Sinan Aygun, a prominent Turkish nationalist. Last year the Orthodox Patriarch himself was the target for his ire:

Leaders of Orthodox churches across the world gathered in Istanbul yesterday for a rare meeting to discuss whether or not to stop recognizing the embattled patriarch of Jerusalem, Irineos I…Istanbul-based Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartolomeos, recognized by the participating Orthodox leaders as the “ecumenical patriarch,” presided over the synod.

…In Turkey, nationalist critics say his acting as “ecumenical patriarch” is a breach of the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, on which the independent Republic of Turkey was established.

Sinan Aygün, who heads the Ankara Chamber of Commerce (ATO), issued a call to state prosecutors to launch an investigation into the Orthodox meeting, which he called “a Christian Shariah tribunal.”

“The Patriarchate has no authority to bring together representatives of other churches and hold a religious trial. This is a breach of the Turkish Constitution and of the Lausanne Treaty,” Aygün said in a statement.

…Outside the meeting hall, about a dozen nationalist protestors shouted slogans and waved Turkish flags, accusing Bartolomeos of trying to form an independent state like the Vatican inside Turkey.

(The murky circumstances surrounding the Irineos dispute, meanwhile, have been covered by me here).

Soon afterwards, Aygun made news when he arranged for a DVD denying the Armenian genocide to be distributed through Time magazine:

A DVD attached to latest number of Time edition published in US denies the Armenian Genocide in Ottoman Turkey at the beginning of last century. The DVD recorded in Turkey informs that the “events of 1915 in Turkey was not genocide but exile and the Turkish authorities provided the Armenians with the daily meal and often they were fed better than the Turkish escort.” The film authors presented former Minister of Interior Talaat Pasha as a national hero. Azerbaijani representative in the film assures that Armenians, who once annihilated Turks, are annihilating Azeris at present. The film tells that “Armenians fought for Hitler and then committed terrorist acts against Turkish diplomats.” Head of the Turkish Chamber of Commerce and Industry Sinan Aygun informed that the film was shot thanks to $1 million collected as donation and the shooting lasted for half a year. This week 500 000 Europeans will watch the film, IA Regnum reports.

Time later apologized for “a one-sided view of history that does not meet our standards for fairness and accuracy”. In 2001 Aygun attempted to organise a boycott against France when the country officially recognised the genocide; in 2004 he tried to have Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movies banned when the governor declared 24 April as the official memorial date.

Aygun is also a prominent Euro-sceptic, and he has complained that

Europe…did not treat Turkey the same way it is treating other applicants.

In particular, he has spoken against any plans for Turkey to withdraw from Cyprus in return for EU membership, and he is unhappy that the Kurdish PKK and the Marxist DHKP-C are not included on the EU’s list of terrorist organisations.

Sinan also favours Turkish involvement with Iraq. A report on the Iraq News Wire from 2002 relates that:

In a meeting held by the Iraqi Turkoman Intellectuals’ Association…President of [the] Turkish Chamber of Commerce in Ankara Sinan Aygun mentioned the efforts to establish a Kurdish state in the region and said: ‘With God’s will, we will take the lost territory back. We would want nothing but to have Mossul and Kirkuk back as our land.’

(Hat tip: Cult News Network)

(Name variations: Ankara Trade House; Ankara Trade Chamber)

Poland Anti-Semitism Update

More complaints about anti-Semitism in Poland, via the Daily Telegraph:

Poland was again forced on to the defensive over its attitude towards Jews yesterday after the Simon Wiesenthal Centre complained of the “anti-Semitic tenor” of a Good Friday procession.

…Beards and Stars of Davids worn at the Way of The Cross ceremony at the Kalwaria Zebrzydowska sanctuary “perpetuated medieval stereotypes of Jews”, Shimon Samuels, the centre’s head of international relations, said in a letter to the foreign minister. It also contravened Poland’s responsibility to combat anti-Semitism under its obligations to the European Union, Mr Samuels said.

A Krakow tourist information site gives a bit of background to the site:

In 1600 Poland’s first Calvary sanctuary was established in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, a town in the Carpathian Foothills 33 km southwest from Krakow, to provide pilgrims with a substitute of Jerusalem lost to the Muslim Turks and thus unavailable. With its 42 churches and chapels of all shapes and sizes in addition to the central basilica and the Franciscan monastery, the vast complex of buildings scattered among woods on the slopes of the 527-meter Zar mountain grew to be the biggest such compound in Europe. It is also Poland’s second most important destination for pilgrims. Over ages the pilgrimage to Kalwaria Zebrzydowska influenced millions of Poles…And the Good Friday feasts, when the famous traditional lifelike Passion plays are enacted in the scenery of the sanctuary, draw huge crowds every year.

An article in Krakow Life, meanwhile, makes mention of

the surreal case of the synagogue in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska which is now a furniture store.

An anti-Semitic painting at the site had been removed at some point in the past, as noted in Magda Teter’s book Jews and Heretics in Catholic Poland:

One…controversy centered around a painting, formerly known as Infanticidia or “Ritual Murder by Jews,” in the cathedral church in Sandomierz…Following the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Poland and Israel in the 1990s and the appointment of a Jewish-Catholic committee on reconciliation, a demand arose that this painting be removed from the church, as other paintings of this sort had been in Poland, as in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, near Pope John Paul II’s hometown of Wadowice.

Of course, this sort of thing is not just a Polish phenomenon; a while ago I wrote a blog entry which discussed the Great Passion Play established by the American anti-Semite Gerald L.K. Smith in the Ozarks. I’ve also made mention of the yearly pope-burning that takes place in Lewes, not far from my home town in the UK.

Meanwhile, the Telegraph report has a worrying postscript (link added):

The fraught Polish-Jewish relations were not helped by reports yesterday that Andrzej Lepper, who is in line to become deputy prime minister, has received an honorary degree and supported a private Ukrainian university with a reputation for anti-Semitism.

This is the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management (MAUP), which I discussed in detail here; the institution and its head have links with David Duke. These new concerns come shortly after reports of anti-Semitic rhetoric emanating from the popular religious radio station Radio Maryja.

Meanwhile, Doug Ireland over at Direland continues to chart how the Polish far-right is targeting Poland’s gays in acts of violence. One of the groups inciting the attacks is the anti-Semitic League of Polish Families, which I discussed here.

(Hat tip: Christianity Today Weblog)

Lukashenko Praises Orthodoxy, Warns Against “Alien Way of Life”

Interfax-Religion reports that Belorussian dictator Alexander Lukashenko has delivered a bullish Easter message, in the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Minsk:

Lukashenko stated ‘those who seek world domination try to trample down our country and make the Byelorussians reject their religious roots, traditions and culture.’

‘We are not going to blindly copy an alien experience and way of life, especially today when it is evident that many principles imposed on us do not fortify but rather destroy our moral and religious values’.

…He also gave a high appraisal to the role of the Orthodox Church, ‘which in all times has always been with her people, sharing with them the joy of gains and the bitterness of losses, always defended the interests of the Fatherland and served the cause of unity and consolidation of society’.

Well, the Orthodox church has certainly “defended the interests” of Lukashenko: a few weeks ago I noted that Moscow Patriarch Alexy II had in 2002 awarded him with the Order of St. Sergius of Radonezh, “for strengthening unity of Slav peoples”.

So how is “Father” protecting Belarus from the malign influences of outsiders? Christian Solidarity Worldwide has the low-down:

A prominent human rights activist in Belarus was arrested, tried and sentenced to 10 days imprisonment, on Friday, 24 March, for organizing an “illegal religious activity.”

Sergey Shavtsov, a lawyer who represents most of the Protestant church unions in Belarus, and who authored the “White Book,” issued in 2002 which documented violations of international law on religious freedom in Belarus, was detained by state security forces after taking responsibility for organising an inter-denominational conference featuring an American humanitarian aid worker.

Further charges may lock up Shavtsov for two years, while the other conference participants are at risk of six-month sentences. Also,

…Shavtov, who is married and has two children, is the second person in Belarus to be convicted for this offence which was made a crime under legislation passed in October 2002 and later amended in November 2005. The first was Pastor Georgi Vyazovsky of the Minsk-based Christ’s Covenant Reformed Baptist Church who was sentenced to 10 days imprisonment for conducting religious worship in his home on March 3.

Meanwhile, Forum 18 notes that a Pentecostal leader is facing a fine for organising a Bible study in his own home, and that other church leaders have suffered harassment. To get the full story, Forum 18 called up Tatyana Zhitko, head of the local “Ideology Department”:

“Why are you calling me?” she complained. “I don’t know your publication and I’m not prepared to give you any information.”

As I noted previously, satire is also seriously circumscribed in the country. For example, this cartoon is one of several accused of “offending the honour of Lukashenko”:

lukashenko

Further details about what is going on in the country can be found at the Belarusan American Blog.

Mugabe Passes Anti-Witchcraft Law

From the Harare Herald (via AllAfrica):

WITCHCRAFT practices will, with effect from July this year, be legally recognised in Zimbabwe following the amendment of some sections of the Witchcraft Suppression Act.

Until the amendment, it was a criminal offence to brand anyone a witch or wizard or to accuse someone of meddling in the supernatural, even where there was tangible evidence. In an interview yesterday, the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Cde Patrick Chinamasa, confirmed the amendment of Part VI of Chapter V of the Witchcraft Suppression Act, which will be implemented in the courts of law with effect from July 1, 2006. “Yes, the Witchcraft Suppression Act was amended and is now at the criminal courts. “Judicial officers are currently being trained so that they can easily implement it.

…”Any person who engages in any practice knowing that it is commonly associated with witchcraft, shall be guilty of engaging in a practice commonly associated with witchcraft if having the intention to cause harm to any person. “Such practice inspires in the person against whom it was directed, a real fear or belief that harm will occur to that person or any member of his or her family, and be liable to a fine not exceeding level ten or imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years or both,”…

Apparently the law has now been reworded to clarify that witchcraft that is not aimed at causing harm is allowable.

The law in fact addresses a serious problem. A recent report from over the border in South Africa provides a salient example of what can happen when someone claims to have a magical power to cause harm:

Hlalaleni Ndimande was hacked to death on April 2 at her home in the Umvuzane Reserve in Umbumbulu, in front of her three children, by her father, Mkhishelwa John Ndimande, 72, and her brother-in-law, Frederick Khethukuthula Njapha, 37.

The court was told last week that Hlalaleni had allegedly been practising witchcraft and that she had threatened family members with her “good muthi”.

However, in the case of Zimbabwe, Mugabe is in large part dealing with the symptoms of a society he has himself created. Way back in 1999, the Detroit Free Press spoke to traditional healers in the country, who observed that:

…the black-market demand for human body parts, which are used in making evil potions, has been soaring since the country’s economic decline started in 1997.

…”Witchcraft and tokoloshis [a kind of goblin] are making a comeback,” said Gordon Chavanduka, chairman of the 50,000-member Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association. “It’s obvious the cause is economic. The worse the economy gets, the more political tension there is in society, the more frustrated and frightened people get. They turn to witchcraft to gain riches or to hurt their enemies.”

A 2001 report in the Sunday Times adds that senior Zanu-PF members have a real fear of the supernatural:

Emmerson Mnangagwa, the much feared former head of the secret police and Mugabe’s designated successor, was visibly troubled when he went on television last week to discuss recent setbacks, including the deaths of two ministers in separate road accidents.

“We don’t know what is hitting us,” he lamented. “It’s not natural. Something else must be happening.”

A regional leader of the ruling Zanu-PF party went further, saying: “We fear the hand of Lucifer is at work.”

…Although Mugabe is notionally a Catholic, he has increasingly fallen back on the tribal religions that many Zimbabweans combine to a greater or lesser degree with Christianity.

…many of Mugabe’s rural supporters belong to the Va Pastori church, whose followers proclaim a brand of Christianity but are frequently caught up in witchcraft rituals.

On the other hand, it has also been reported that

President Mugabe has refused to meet with leaders of some native African churches outside the traditional mainline denominations for several years because he suspects them of being subversive.

Mugabe has also himself invoked the supernatural. In 2002 he made a dire warning about the forthcoming election:

“EVEN IF I DIE, I will turn in my grave if the MDC wins the presidential election. Let me warn you that even goblins will be unleashed on you if Morgan Tsvangirai wins.”

For what it’s worth, WND carries the claim that Mugabe once “staged a witchcraft ceremony asking for rain” during which he claimed to be possessed by the spirit of “Murenga”; accusations of occult interests also appear on some evangelical Christian websites.

Using witchcraft for harm is not just illegal in parts of Africa. Writing in British pagan magazine White Dragon, Barry Walker warns that when it comes to casting spells against someone

…you have to be very careful about choosing a single person as your target, forget all that bad karma stuff, you could end up in Court as actions you take might be interpreted as, “Threatening Behaviour” if your target found out what you were doing… It would be too easy for things to get out of control real fast which could result in people finding them looking at the sharp end of British Justice. Because of the risks involved I would not advise these type of actions being taken.

The last trial for witchcraft in the UK took place in 1944, although the prosecution couched its case in terms of the person “pretending” to have a supernatural power. The law under which she was prosecuted was repealed in 1951.

Some Notes on the Act

Those of us brought up to believe that truth was an absolute justification in the matter of libel may be caught up short by section 8 of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. Magazine Law: A Practical Guide has the following piece of information that will be of interest to any blogger based in the UK (or indeed, who deals with subjects based in the UK):

Truth is a complete defence to an action for libel…The two possible exceptions to this principle are convictions regarded as ‘spent’ under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974…and cases of criminal libel…But even in such cases the defence of truth will be defeated only if the plaintiff can prove that publication was malicious; that there was no justifiable reason for reporting them; and that the journalist was simply being spiteful or had some other improper motive.

How this Act relates to the internet age is a question that remains unanswered. For example, here’s a report from the BBC News from 2004:

A cyclist who slashed 1,728 car tyres after being soaked by a motorist has been jailed for 16 months.

Ashley Carpenter, who admitted slashing the tyres in 10 days, was sentenced at Bournemouth Crown Court on Thursday.

The jailing for 16 months means that Carpenter’s conviction will be “spent” in 2014. Anyone using this information after that date risks actions against them based on the Act, even if it continues to be freely and widely available on the BBC website and elsewhere! In fact, even the BBC and this site might be liable. Even trickier is this example, from 2002:

A solicitor who stole and defaced road signs because they were in metric has been found guilty of theft and criminal damage…

However, bloggers beware: the conviction for theft was later quashed, while the conviction for criminal damage was later reduced from 50 hours community service (which would become spent after five years) to an absolute discharge (which would become spent after six months). Even giving his name today might therefore be libellous, even though it appears on the BBC site. Of course, a defence in this case could be that the person concerned was undertaking a political act, which is therefore part of the public historical record. But how can we be sure the judge would see it like that?

Of course, the Act was actually designed to protect private individuals from being forever tainted by past indiscretions. If I say “Ms X was convicted of shoplifting some years ago, as I discovered in an old newspaper”, and it is clear that all I want to do is to damage Ms X’s reputation, then the law will apply (although free-speech campaigners may find it an objectionable restriction). I’m currently not sure what would happen if I just wrote “to find out something interesting about Ms X, see the Evening Standard 6 Nov 1982!”

But what about a public figure whose past entanglement with the law might be of current political interest? Well, you may be able to make a strong case that you are not motivated by “malice” in revealing the details, but if the plaintiff is determined that information about an old conviction should not re-enter the public domain, then you’re going to need deep pockets if you want to stand your ground.

However, with so much old information now readily available online, this is clearly an antiquated Act in need of serious reform…

The blog entry which was originally posted here was removed in June 2006 on legal advice. Thank you to all those who offered me moral support and practical advice, and who were willing both to vouch for my personal integrity and to stand in support of free speech.

Catholic Magazine Stirs New Muhammad Cartoon Controversy

The Guardian reports on yet another Muhammad cartoon controversy, this time from Italy:

A cartoon depicting Muhammed in hell has been published by an Italian magazine close to Opus Dei, bringing angry criticism from Muslim groups and disapproval from the Vatican.

The drawing in Studi cattolici takes its inspiration from Dante’s Divine Comedy, in which the 14th-century poet imagines being guided through hell by the Latin poet Virgil, and sees the prophet cut in two as his punishment for spreading division. In the cartoon, Virgil points out another figure to Dante, saying: “And that one there with his pants down, that’s Italian policy towards Islam.” The caption uses a play on words to suggest Italy has chickened out in its attitude to Muslims.

However, the reports are somewhat inaccurate; Muhammad doesn’t actually appear in the cartoon in person (see reproduction at this virulently anti-Islam blog). An Agence France-Presse report in the Washington Times gives the magazine editor’s view:

Sometimes a politically incorrect satirical cartoon can do some good. It’s only a reference to a passage in [Dante’s] Divine Comedy,” Mr. [Cesare] Cavalleri said.

Cavalleri’s perspective, though, does not appear to be shared by his Opus Dei colleagues. In response to the Da Vinci Code movie, Opus Dei’s press office made the following statement back in February:

…we continue to hope that the final version of the film will not contain references that might hurt Catholics. A conciliatory gesture like this would be much appreciated, especially in these times when we are all lamenting the painful consequences of intolerance.

A 2003 article from La Chiesa gives a bit of background for the Studi Cattolici magazine:

The “Studi Cattolici” (“Catholic Studies”) monthly is directed by Cesare Cavalleri, an Opus Dei numerary, and is printed by Ares, the publishing house that has exclusive rights in Italy for the works of St. Josemaría Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei. While it doesn’t officially represent the thinking of Opus, the journal was born of the group and moves in the same direction.

The reason for La Chiesa’s interest at that time was because Cavalleri had decided to produce a special issue attacking “anti-Americanism” and offering “a robust eulogy of America – as well as the America that fought in Iraq”. More recently, Cavalleri has been a prominent signatory of the “Manifesto in Defence of the West and Its Christian roots”, launched by Forza Italia party MP Marcello Pera. Views from Rome explains:
 

[Signers] include Roberto de Mattei (editor of Radici Cristiane), Giovanni Cantoni (editor of Cristianità), Cesare Cavalleri (Studi Cattolici), Giovanni Cesana (Comunione e Liberazione), and Bruno Dallapiccola, president of the Committee Scienza & Vita and a member of the Bioethics Committee.

In what some considered a sign of support, Benedict XVI received Pera in the Vatican on March 4, on the very last day allowed by the Vatican protocol for institutional audiences to be held, namely 35 days prior to an election.

Roberto de Mattei featured on this blog a few weeks ago, when he appeared in reports about a curiously mysterious academic conference that sought to revise historical understanding of the Crusades; Comunione e Liberazione is a charismatic Catholic grouping which includes Rocco Buttiglione among its members – Buttiglione was profiled on this blog here.

Meanwhile, why exactly Studi Cattolici believes that “Italy has chickened out in its attitude to Muslims” is not explained (at least in English-language media).

(Hat tip: Cult News Network)

Moscow Jehovah’s Witnesses Raided

A couple of days ago I noted the response of the Papal Nuncio in Russia to a question about religious freedom in the country. Antonio Mennini told Interfax-Religion that:

Unfortunately, I am not aware of any specific facts prompting the US Congress to make this kind of reproaches.

He went on to praise Russia for allowing Roman Catholicism in the country to “exist normally”, and to back Moscow’s ban on a proposed gay rights parade.

Alas, Mennini’s toadying comments appear to have been unfortunately timed. Moscow News now reports:

Police have broken up a Moscow prayer meeting attended by about 200 Jehovah’s Witnesses and detained about 20 worshippers, a representative of the religious group told the Associated Press Thursday.

Vasily Kanin, a member of the small Russian community of Jehovah’s Witnesses, said police in 10 squad cars arrived Wednesday at a public hall which the group had rented over the past few months and forced the worshippers to end their service.

…Kanin said police told the worshippers they were enforcing a ban on the group. But Kanin said a recent court ruling had prohibited only a legal status for the denomination and the accompanying rights to hold bank accounts and property.

…A June 2004 ruling by the Moscow City Court upheld a lower court decision earlier that year that prohibited Jehovah’s Witnesses from engaging in religious activity in the Russian capital…Prosecutors claimed the group was destroying families and endangering followers’ health by forbidding medical procedures such as blood transfusions. They also said Jehovah’s Witnesses were violating privacy by distributing religious pamphlets on the street and by mail.

(Hat tip Cult News Network)

Christian Traditions Minced

Good Friday in the UK is traditionally marked by the consumption of Hot Cross Buns. The Telegraph gave us some background back in 2003:

The tradition dates back to pagan times when the cross represented the moon and its four quarters. It was claimed for the Christian church in 1361 when Father Thomas Rockcliffe distributed the buns to the poor of St Albans.

It became traditional to eat the buns on Good Friday after Elizabeth I passed a law limiting their consumption to religious festivals.

(Wikipedia currently states that this latter detail is an “urban myth”)

Christmas in the UK is traditionally marked by the consumption of “mince pies”. History Online explains:

Three centuries ago, a mince pie was a huge dish called “Christmas pye” and described as “a most learned mixture of Neats-tongues (ox tongue), chicken, eggs, sugar, raisins, lemon and orange peel, various kinds of spicery, etc.” Over the years, the pies grew smaller, and the meat content was gradually reduced until the pies were simply filled with a mixture of suet, spices and dried fruit, previously steeped in brandy. This filling was put into little pastry cases that were covered with pastry lids and then baked in an oven. Essentially, this is today’s English mince pie.

But now, cake manufacturer Mr Kipling brings us the patented Hot Cross Mince Pie:

hotcrosspie

Apparently these came out last year, while I was in Japan. Meanwhile, Polly Toynbee comments in today’s Guardian:

The DJ wasn’t joking when he burbled: “Happy Good Friday!” His audience probably didn’t wince, since a recent poll showed that 43% of the population have no idea what Easter celebrates, with the young most clueless. Eggs, bunnies, lambs?

Next year: chocolate-flavoured Passover matzos…

(Pic via Heuristic Blog)

Papal Nuncio Backs Moscow Gay Parade Ban

Back to Russia, where Papal Nuncio Antonio Mennini is backing the mayor of Moscow’s ban on a Gay Pride parade. Interfax-Religion reports:

I think it is a wise decision. Complying with all the arguments dictated by Christian faith against such public actions, I would like to point out what is essential and indisputable to any reasonable person: such a manifestation would certainly lead to an aggravated tension in Russian society and possibly even to violence, which is inadmissible in any case.

And there’s nothing worse than “tension” in society, so clearly it’s far better if the authorities simply enforce public conformity.

As is well known, the Vatican is very keen to improve relations with the Russian Orthodox Church, and it seems that homophobia is providing at least some common ground for the two churches. This is part of a wider interfaith trend: Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy recently ditched links with the Church of Sweden over gay rights and made common cause with Iranian Islamists to “counter attempts to impose secular values all over” (see my entry here). The ban on the parade has also been praised by acting mayor of Jerusalem Yigal Amedi (as I blogged here).

Mennini also discounted US concerns about religious freedom in the country:

Unfortunately, I am not aware of any specific facts prompting the US Congress to make this kind of reproaches. Therefore, it is easier for me to base my answer on what I know not through hearsay. I am delighted to testify that the current Russian legislation provides for a real opportunity for the communities and structures of the Catholic Church in Russia to exist normally and to develop.

Why should Mennini care if Jehovah’s Witnesses, followers of ISKCON and other groups are being denied freedom of religion? The Catholic Church is doing OK, and that’s all that matters, it seems. As I blogged some time ago, the Jewish leadership in Russia has a similar policy of failing to criticise religious persecution; their caution may be understandable, but it has proved disastrous, with increased anti-Semitism resulting anyway. Mennini may find that his similar refusal to stand up for basic freedom of expression will make his position, and that of Russian Catholics, more comfortable in the short term; but the final consequences are likely to be grim.