A Russian Orthodox official has accused the US of inciting inter-Christian division in Belarus and “deliberately expos[ing]” Catholics in the country.

– Washington’s task “is to escalate the situation to the limit”

Belarusian Catholics “understand that they are under attack and are trying in every possible way to avoid this situation”, Alexander Schipkov, the first deputy chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Synodal Department for Church Relations with Society and the Media, told Russian news agency RIA Novosti October 1.

Belarus has been gripped by protests since August 9, when President Alexander Lukashenko – who has in office since 1994 – was returned to power in disputed presidential elections with a reported 80.1% of the vote.

Schipkov – who is also the deputy head of the World Russian People’s Council, led by the Patriarch of Moscow – denounced that in Belarus “the Americans deliberately expose the Catholics: they do not protect them, their task is to escalate the situation to the limit, and then say: ‘look what is going on there'”.

Schipkov noted that “any revolution, any coup, any street political action requires a lot of money, moreover, cash, since the special services are tracking bank transfers”.

He referred to the alarm sounded September 29 by Sergei Naryshkin, the director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, who accused the US of using “the most unscrupulous methods” to meddle in Belarus, including by “interfering unceremoniously in the religious situation” in the country, “seeking to make representatives of the Orthodox and Catholic branches of Christianity clash with one another”.

“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”, Naryshkin deplored.

Schipkov – who may or may not have been speaking in an official capacity as a representative of the Moscow Patriarchate – said that Naryshkin’s assessment of US interference is “absolutely right” and “absolutely consistent with the situation that is developing in Belarus today”.

But he implored that “every effort must be made to prevent religious organisations from being drawn into a political confrontation so that the political confrontation does not turn into a religious one”, especially given the “history of tragic confrontation in Belarus between Orthodox and Catholics”.

Schipkov recalled that in the 16th and 17th centuries Christians in the country were forcibly transferred from Orthodoxy to the Greek Catholic (“Uniate”) Church.

He added that since “the people’s religious memory is much deeper than political memory… the… people keep the memory of the atrocities that accompanied this forced transfer to Uniatism”, and that much “almost at the genetic level”.

– Belarusian Catholic Church decries “fake news”

At a Mass on the evening of September 29 – the same day on which Naryshkin sounded the Russian intelligence alarm – vicar general of the Minsk-Mogilev archdiocese Bishop Yuri Kasabutsky described the reports of the US trying to use the Belarusian Catholic Church to work for regime change in the country as “complete nonsense, fake news, lies that have nothing to do with the truth”.

“The Roman Catholic Church… 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”, Kasabutsky insisted. The Catholic Church spokesman also stressed that he saw no divisions between Belarusian Catholics and Orthodox.

However, Kasabutsky also decried – in a reference to the Belarusian authorities – that “people who are called to be the guarantors of our peace, so that when we go outside, we are not afraid that someone will attack us, today, unfortunately, perform a slightly different function”.

“Today, on the contrary, they are attacking peaceful people.  We see a lot of these situations today, we see this injustice…”, the bishop lamented.

That kind of open criticism of the government has not been forthcoming from the Orthodox Church over the duration of the post-presidential election protests.

More news on Belarus, on Novena:

Russia alleges US meddling in religious affairs of Belarus amid anti-government protests

Belarus archbishop doubles down on call for “just solution” to “socio-political crisis” despite having passport annulled by Foreign Ministry

Lukashenko sets sights on Churches in attempt to undermine civic solidarity

Divine intervention? Catholic Church in Belarus sides with anti-Lukashenko protesters

Opinion: White-West bullying raises its head again, this time in Belarus

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. Lecturer in ethics at Loyola University Maryland, Alcalá de Henares (Spain) campus. Religion journalist with 4 years experience.