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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Catholics Complain of Harassment

The leader of Russia's Catholics said the church was being subjected to an "organized campaign" of harassment and discrimination and urged defense of religious freedom in Russia.

Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz published an open letter Monday calling attention to what he termed a serious threat to religious freedom. He said that numerous aggressively anti-Catholic rallies had been held outside Catholic churches and that law enforcement officials had failed to respond. The next such rally was scheduled for April 28 and would be held in several sites across the country, he said.

Kondrusiewicz also protested the banning of a Catholic priest, Reverand Stefano Caprio, from re-entering Russia. Passport officers ripped Caprio's multiple-entry visa from his passport as he was leaving for Italy earlier this month, and officials confirmed that he was on a blacklist of foreigners who would not be allowed into Russia. No explanation for the ban has been given.

The archbishop said lawmakers were discussing a bill protecting Russia's so-called traditional religions -- Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism. He said such a bill could "lead to dividing society and violating the constitutional norm on the equality of all religious associations before the law."

"All of this leads to the perception that an organized campaign is being conducted against the Catholic Church," Kondrusiewicz wrote.

Kondrusiewicz's letter was the latest sign of tension around the Catholic Church in Russia. Earlier this year, the Vatican upgraded its presence in Russia to full-fledged dioceses, infuriating the dominant Russian Orthodox Church, which views the Catholic presence in Russia as an attempt to convert Orthodox believers.

Kondrusiewicz quoted an appeal to President Vladimir Putin from an Orthodox Church archbishop opposed to construction of a Catholic Church in the northern city of Pskov as saying "do not offend our people with a Catholic presence."

Kondrusiewicz added: "To our surprise, this appeal has not provoked any reaction from official organs, the prosecutors office in particular."