Russia has alleged that the US is meddling in the religious affairs of Belarus amid anti-government protests in the country.

– Washington “interfering unceremoniously” trying to play Orthodox and Catholics off against each other

“According to available data, the US has… been interfering unceremoniously in the religious situation in Belarus, seeking to make representatives of the Orthodox and Catholic branches of Christianity clash with one another”, director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Sergey Naryshkin alerted in an SVR press release, according to the Interfax news agency,

“By trying to draw [the] Vatican, which has so far exercised restraint, into Belarusian affairs, the Americans are working to get Catholic priests more actively involved in anti-government protests”, the Russian official denounced.

Naryshkin continued: “The clergy of the Roman Catholic Church are being exhorted to openly criticize Belarusian authorities and use religious events, including sermons, prayer services and processions, to carry out the political opposition propaganda among the flock”.

The director of the SVR explained: “The Americans’ plan is that this should force Minsk to take tougher countermeasures in regard to the Roman Catholic Church.

“According to available data, the extremist opponents of the current Belarusian authorities, who are now hiding abroad, are hatching a plan for a high-profile provocation where an authoritative Roman Catholic priest would be arrested, or even injured or killed.

“They calculate that this would substantially raise anti-government sentiments among Catholics and spur them into more active involvement in street protests”.

– Belarusian Catholic Church denies Russian “provocations”

For his part, spokesman for the Belarus Catholic Bishops, Bishop Yury Kosobutsky, denied the SVR claims that the Church is being manipulated by the US in the service of regime change in the country.

“The Roman Catholic Church in Belarus now tells the truth about the situation in the country, it speaks against violence and calls on people to have solidarity, unity, accord, peace and forgiveness”, Kosobutsky, who is also the vicar general of the Minsk-Mogilev archdiocese, said in a press release also published by Interfax.

The bishop denied the SVR “provocations… that the United States, the CIA and other organisations are trying to use the Catholic Church to undermine the state system” in Belarus. He warned that the Russian intelligence reports “should be treated with some irony”.

– Orthodox Metropolitan keeps neutrality, Vatican calls for “peaceful and just resolution” to tensions

The newly-appointed Orthodox Metropolitan of Belarus, Veniamin, has been attempting to maintain a studied neutrality on the anti-government protests that have shaken the country since President Alexander Lukashenko was returned to office after 26 years in disputed elections August 9.

Last September 22, for example, the Orthodox hierarch pleaded with the faithful in Grodno: “Do not collect any signatures, on either side… No signatures, no oppositions”.

In contrast with Veniamin’s neutrality on the upheaval, the Catholic Church – through Holy See Permanent Observer to the United Nations, Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič – has renewed its appeal “for a peaceful and just resolution to the tensions through sincere dialogue, the rejection of violence, and respect for justice and fundamental human and civil rights”.

“In the search for a peaceable solution to the current crisis, the Holy See considers it indispensable that demonstrators present their requests in a peaceful way”, Jurkovič insisted in a UN Human Rights Council session September 18 in Geneva.

The Vatican diplomat added that “it is also necessary that governing authorities exercise restraint and listen to the voices of their citizens and remain open to their just aspirations, assuring full respect for their civil and human rights”.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.