Russian and foreign mass media released a variety of comments regarding the recent appearance of the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexy II, at a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.
It was the first time in history that a senior religious leader of Russia’s largest confession appeared in front of PACE delegates. More importantly, it was the first visit of Alexy II to a Catholic country.
The Novye Izvestia newspaper reports that the appearance of Alexy II before delegates in Strasbourg gave rise to an active discussion even long before the visit to France. Journalists conjectured whether the Patriarch would speak as a good preacher or as a stern denouncer. In April Alexy II said that during a planned appearance before the Council of Europe he would speak about the Christian values that Western Europe was unfortunately losing when propagandized sin.
In an interview to La Vie journal the Patriarch said that Russians brought up according to the Orthodox Christian tradition had their own view upon many of modern problems. A truly All-European cooperation can not be established if this view is not taken into consideration, Alexy II said.
The Patriarch’s speech at the Council of Europe is treated as an appearance of a high-ranking politician. Le Figaro calls the Russian Orthodox Church “the only stable institution in unstable Russia”. The manner of Alexy’s speaking is always smooth and non-aggressive, right the way it is typical of heavyweight politicians.
In his speech in PACE the Patriarch did not mention openly that mentioning “the unique code”, Christian values, was not included into a draft constitution of the European Union in spite of the fact that representatives of Catholic Spain and Poland had insisted that they must be included into the document. The Russian Patriarch emphasized that the present-day gap in the correlation between human rights and morals was disastrous for the European civilization. He said the gap was aggravated with “the appearance of a new generation of rights that contradict morality and the attempts to justify immoral doings with human rights”. Alexy II thinks that when morality is not applied for estimation of authority’s doings this makes social problems even more insoluble.
According to the Russian patriarch, poor knowledge of religion fundamentals paves the way for extremism and terrorism including those that use religious slogans as a cover. It is important he says for people to start learning religious tradition of their own and also other religions. For people of different religions to have normal co-living in one society they should be taught religion fundamentals at public schools. Younger generations he said should have an opportunity to study their own religious traditions at school and also have a notion of other religions’ traditions.
However, the Russian Patriarch revealed a categorical attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church to gay parades and sexual minorities. Alexy II said that the Russian Orthodox Church treated attempts to organize gay pride parades in Moscow as propaganda and advertising of a sin. He said homosexuality was an illness and distortion of the human personality like kleptomania and asked: “Why don’t we have advertising for kleptomania?” But at the same time Alexy II added that his religion told him to love sinners despite their sins. The Patriarch’s comparison of homosexuality with kleptomania won a storm of applause of Russian delegates while others abstained from demonstrative comments on the issue.
The Patriarch warned Council of Europe delegates that a break between human rights and morality threatened the European civilization. At that Alexy II emphasized that people should fight against the sin not sinners and respect the moral teaching of the Bible.
But the Russian Patriarch added that the government must not interfere with a human’s private life as it is an individual’s free choice to be moral or immoral.
The Rossiiskaya Gazeta newspaper states that the Patriarch’s appearance before the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly was the first one of such a top level. The Russian Orthodox Church is the first and the only confession represented in the Council of Europe as a state. In 2005, the Patriarch approved opening a representative office of the Church in the Council of Europe for establishment of a steady and regular dialogue.
According to the Russian Patriarch, no ideology including a secular one can enjoy monopoly in Europe or all over the world. And this is why he thinks that religion can not be forced out from the public space. It is time to admit that a religious motivation can exist in the public sphere as well, Alexy II said.
One of the delegates asked the Patriarch his attitude to death penalty, and Alexy II responded that the church always stood up for keeping the lives of both unborn babies and criminals. At that his speech was highly emotional.
As the Patriarch said, technological progress gives a new interpretation of human rights. The faithful have their own opinion on biological ethics, electronic identification and other branches of technological progress that make many people anxious. The Kommersant newspaper cited the Patriarch as saying that a human must always remain a human not an article under the control of electronic systems always available for experiments.
Europeans felt that Alexy II was most critical when touched upon Europe’s very popular religion of political correctness.
Yesterday, Gazeta GZT.ru reported upon the Patriarch’s appearance in the Council of Europe in a publication titled “Russia disregards engagements in the Council of Europe but Patriarch Alexy II teaches Europe morality”.
Russia is the main respondent in the European Court for Human Rights but the Court is not satisfied with cooperation with Russia. Delegates of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly adopted a resolution that requires that member countries should maintain cooperation on all stages of the judicial procedure. According to the Assembly, violation of the law in Northern Caucasus was the most scandalous.
Translated by Maria Gousseva