Source AP ©

Patriarch Alexy II claims morality council to regulate mass media

Patriarch Alexy II, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, claimed that television and radio were promoting "vicious behavior" in the country. He called for tighter controls on the content of television and radio broadcasts.

Patriarch Alexy II's comments, made at a Kremlin meeting with President Vladimir Putin, come as concerns increase over the church's growing influence on government policy.

Russia must establish a public council to oversee issues of morality in the mass media, Alexy II said.

"Many television and radio programs shows the permissibility of vicious behavior and it makes one contemplate the moral criteria of what mass media are allowed to do," he said.

"Our society needs a public council that will assume appropriate regulating functions," he said.

He spoke after a ceremony in which a government museum turned over to church officials a piece of cloth that the Orthodox faithful believe was part of the robe of Jesus Christ.

Some analysts say the meeting between Putin and the patriarch was part of an effort by the Kremlin to encourage religious Russians to vote in the Dec. 2 parliamentary election.

The dominant political party in the lower house of parliament, the Kremlin-backed United Russia, is expected to win a commanding victory in the vote. Putin, who has pledged to step down as president next year, is heading the party's ticket, and some have speculated that the Kremlin is angling for a way to keep him on for a third term, or in some other supra-political position.

"This is yet another action of the Kremlin to gain support from the church," said Stanislav Belkovsky, a political analyst believed to have close ties to Kremlin insiders. "Possibly, the Kremlin will engage the church hierarchy to participate in the 'For Putin' movement."

"For Putin" is a political movement that has sprung up to urge Putin to remain as a major political leader.

Church spokesman Father Vladimir Vigilyansky denied that Monday's ceremony had political overtones. The Church does not support particular candidates in the election, Vigilyansky said, but individual priests are free to advocate for politicians they like.

"This event has nothing to do with politics," he said.

Government and religion are officially separated under Russia's post-Soviet constitution, but some Russians without religious beliefs have complained that Orthodox doctrine is as pervasive today as atheism was during Soviet times.

Putin, perhaps conscious of criticism that the Kremlin is too close to the Orthodox hierarchy, noted that the government respects the role of "all traditional religions and other faiths" in Russia's public life. But he also raised the issue of the parliamentary vote.

"The stability of the country directly depends on the upcoming election," Putin told the patriarch and dozens of archbishops and bishops who had gathered for the ceremony.

The Russian church has experienced a revival since the Soviet collapse in 1991 and now claims about two-thirds of the country's 143 million people as followers.

The piece cloth said to be from Christ's robe was acquired by Russian czars in the mid-17th century. The purple swath of cloth is set in a silver frame with diamonds and figures of saints. It has been kept at various government museums since the 1917 Bolshevik revolution.

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