The criminal case for non-recognition of schismatic sacraments demonstrates unacceptable unprofessionalism of Ukrainian law enforcers. The Incompetence manifested by Ukrainian law enforcement officials in the matters of Church-State relations testifies to excess of their authority.
It has turned out that public prosecutors in Zaporozhsky region are not only unaware of basic teachings of the Orthodox Christianity, which is the largest confession in Ukraine, but are also ignorant of guideline documents of religious entities they are trying to strictly control. What is worse, law enforcement officers do not understand the core principles of Church-State relations in the secular state and do not know where their own authority has a limit.
Nevertheless, Ukrainian law enforcement organizations mindlessly and overtly interfere in Church affairs, thus bringing forth incidents unthinkable for the European society.
On January 11, 2018 an announcement under the headline “Law enforcers began to investigate the facts of deliberate acts committed by certain representatives of the UOC-MP and the “Orthodox Union Radomir” aimed at inciting ethnic, religious hatred and enmity, as well as insulting citizens’ religious feelings” was published on the official website of the Zaporozhsky Regional Prosecutor’s Office.
The text of this report could be read as stating that there is a proven or a possible guilt of specific individuals who are representatives of the Zaporozhsky eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC-MP). However, at the current stage of merely prejudicial inquiry such statements seem to be premature and violating the presumption of innocence. As the cases of Allenet de Ribemont vs. France and Andrew Butkevicius vs. Lithuania show us, the ECHR follows this very approach.
As to the matter of the announcement, the investigation was initiated because a priest of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church denied to perform the burial service for a tragically deceased baby that had been christened by the self-proclaimed Kyivan Patriarchate. The boy’s father was so morally destroyed by the accident that he attacked the clergyman. However, Prosecutor’s Office of the Zaporozhsky region noticed only the priest’s behavior and so accused local UOC-MP clergy of practicing “a selective approach to the exercise of religious rites” and “providing benefits to those who underwent a baptismal ceremony with the UOC-MP”, which allegedly offends religious feelings of other citizens.
However, “a selective approach to the exercise of religious rites” is established religious practice throughout the world. It is consistent not only with the current Ukrainian legislation but with the international law as well. International legal practice recognizes and respects the right of believers to observe the rules of faith and cult practice. Ministers of various churches usually deny sacraments to those who are members of other denominations.
Moreover, according to the ECHR decision on the case of Siebenhaar vs. Germany (No. 18136/02), a religious organization can provide benefits to some individuals in matters of employment and other civil rights related to the teaching of their faith. Besides, the second part of Article 180 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine establishes responsibility for compelling a clergyman to perform a religious rite and states that the participation of all parties in the rite should be voluntary. That is, according to the Ukrainian legislation it is the father of the deceased infant who might face criminal charges.
In spite of these facts, the man leaked the story to the press. The story about the Zaporozhsky infant and the hard-hearted priest was broadly covered by the media and got full of new controversial details. In turn, that has triggered several incidents and a lot of accusations against the UOC-MP though some of them were fake. All this aggravated the situation further. A wave of protests, insults and threats against the UOC-MP continues up to this day.
The message of the Zaporozhsky Regional Prosecutor’s Office about inciting hatred and hostility also states that “these persons condemn the communication of representatives of the Church in Ukrainian language” and “allow statements for the unity of the Slavic Orthodox peoples under the spiritual guidance of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC)”.
The Zaporozhsky Prosecutor’s Office’s announcement also claims that “the European direction of development of Ukraine and ATO (Anti-Terrorist Operation – author’s note)” are condemned among the parishioners of the churches, moreover “the aggressive actions of the Russian Federation towards Ukraine” are justified and even “information about the need to unite Ukraine with Russia is disseminated”. It remains unclear what connection there is to religious feelings of Ukrainian citizens and why such serious allegations aren’t investigated separately.
I whole-heartedly support the European choice of Ukrainian people that have finally managed to escape from Moscow’s grasp. However, actions of the Zaporozhsky Prosecutor’s Office make me acknowledge that country’s authorities aren’t ready to truly follow the European path of development. If the violation of the presumption of innocence and the biased allegations were caused by the incompetence of Ukrainian officials, it is appalling to have such unprofessional officers in the civil service. It would be even worse if the employees of the Prosecutor’s Office were executors of a well-planned political act, provoking religious riots and deliberately violating their own country’s law as well as international regulations. Unfortunately, it’s highly unlikely that we can exclude this scenario here.
* Jelena Rakocevic graduated from University of Montenegro in 2013 with a Master in International Relations degree and currently lives in Podgorica, Montenegro and works for the National Tourism Organisation of Montenegro.