So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Friday, March 17, 2017

Then and now: Britain or post-communist Russia? Anti-Catholicism alive and well in the UK?

From the Catholic Herald (UK) comes a tale that sounds strangely familiar: a government bureaucracy antagonistic toward Catholics; and political inertia rooted in ignorance. Call it what you will, the Catholic Herald article exposes a prolonged injustice by the British Home Office against a bona fide Catholic educational institution that has contributed significantly (half a million pounds annually!) to the local economy.
Catholic institute leaves Britain after years of ‘mental torture’ over visa applications
The Institute of St Anselm in Margate is relocating to Rome
A Catholic institute training priests and nuns has been forced to leave Britain following a dispute over visa applications for foreign students.
The Institute of St Anselm in Margate, Kent, is relocating to Rome after the Home Office withdrew its license for visas.
Institute founder Fr Len Kofler said that dealing with the Home Office over the years had been like “mental torture”.
He said that a Catholic priest was recently refused a visa to study at the Institute because he wasn’t married. A nun was also denied entry to the UK because she did not have a personal bank account because she belonged to a religious order.
Fr Kofler said: “All our priests and religious are sent to train and go back to their own countries after their studies. I think its a total misunderstanding and religious illiteracy from the Home Office.
“At the age of 82, I am no longer able to work in a situation where my hands are bound due to the Home Office’s inability to function. To work in that mess is not my desire any longer.”
A spokeswoman for the Institute added: “There is clearly a non-understanding in the Home Office of Catholic and religious priestly life or it is not taken in to consideration. We lost our licence for having more than 10 per cent refusals… All these refusals count against us and we are then considered responsible and even criminalised as encouraging the wrong people to come.
“All our inspections have been highly positive – some directly by Home Office personnel. It seems they do not even read what is sent. There is no one to explain or negotiate the situation, just letters of supreme authority.
“Because of our closure up to 10 local people will be made redundant and half a million pounds that goes to the local economy – not to mention what the students put into it through their travel and purchases – is lost to the local economy.”
The Institute of St Anselm was founded in 1984 to train formators, leaders and evangelisers in the Church.
The Home Office - such a warm and fuzzy name for a government office that is inhospitable to a reputable Catholic education service.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose?
National Post (Canada) January 17, 2003
Visas revoked: Orthodox Church accuses priests of proselytizing
by Matthew Fisher
Catholic Russians fear renewed oppression by the Kremlin
MOSCOW - When she was baptized as a Roman Catholic 15 years ago, Tatyana Titova was so terrified of retribution from the Communist authorities that she went to Lithuania for the ceremony.
Thanks to perestroika and glasnost, Ms. Titova now worships openly in a small church in the shadow of the former KGB's infamous Lubyanka headquarters in Moscow.
But in common with other Russian Catholics, after a decade of religious freedom, she fears tougher days lie ahead.
The Russian Orthodox Church, which had its own problems when all religions were ruthlessly suppressed during the Soviet era, now enjoys the backing of the Kremlin and is undergoing a renaissance.
However, its leader, Patriarch Alexei II, is worried that other religions are attempting to win over Orthodox converts. He has accused Roman Catholic priests of proselytizing in Russia.
In what may be a related development, Russia recently revoked the visas of a Roman Catholic bishop and several European priests. The priests found out they were no longer welcome when they tried to re-enter the country from abroad.
"Explanations are not given. They just say it is a government's right to deny entry to their territory," said Ms. Titova, a former representative of the Keston Institute, a British-based organization that monitors religious freedom in communist and post-communist countries. (Ironic, no? Britain, once the protector of religious freedom, now the bully. How Trumpian of the Home Office!)
The dispute reached the point last week where Pope John Paul II openly complained about the expulsions.
The pontiff, who has often said one of his remaining ambitions is to visit Russia, told diplomats at the Vatican he was distressed at "the plight of Catholic communities in the Russian Federation, which for months now have seen some of their pastors prevented from returning to them."
The expulsions directly affect Russian Catholics, Ms. Titova said, because "without priests, we will have no way to practise our faith."
There are about 250 Catholic priests in Russia. More than 90% of them are foreigners and all depend on visas that are renewed annually.
Although upset that fellow priests have been prevented from continuing their work, Father Michael Ryan, an Anglo-Irish Marist priest assigned to one of Moscow's two Catholic churches, said it was too early to view what was happening as a campaign against Catholicism in Russia.
"There is a genuine wish here to protect the country," Fr. Ryan said.
"Given the international fear of terrorism, there is a general tightening up on entry to countries all around the world. People are changing laws everywhere to monitor unusual characters. In Russia, that ties in with a fear of foreigners as spies."
Only two foreign religious workers were denied visas to enter Russia in 1997, according to the Slavic Centre of Law and Justice. Last year, the number had grown to about 20.
"The figures speak for themselves. It is gradually getting more and more difficult to get visas for religious purposes," said Tatyana Tomiyeva, an official at the centre.
"We do not suffer persecution," said Ms. Tomiyeva, a Catholic. "But there is pressure supported by the Home Office Russian Orthodox Church, which is thoroughly anti-Catholic."
Bibliography

  • Brown, F. Polish Missionary Returns to Russian Parish After Being Denied Permit. Catholic News Service: 13 May 2003.
  • Fisher, M. Visas revoked: Orthodox Church accuses priests of proselytizing. National Post (Canada), 17 January 2003.
  • Teahan, M. Catholic institute leaves Britain after years of ‘mental torture’ over visa applications. Catholic Herald: 16 Mar 2017.

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