Archbishop calls move to regulate religion in Kazakhstan disastrous

LONDON – A proposed law to regulate religion in Kazakhstan could force the expulsion of Catholic missionaries and the closure of churches, a Catholic archbishop said.

In an interview with the London branch of Aid to the Church in Need, a charity helping persecuted Christians, Archbishop Jan Lenga of Karaganda, Kazakhstan, called the planned legislation a “disaster.”

“This proposed law is against all non-Orthodox (and non-Muslims) and will hit us,” he said in a June 11 statement issued by the charity.

If approved, the law severely would restrict the activities of all religious faiths and denominations except for the approved Russian Orthodox Church and a state-controlled form of mainstream Islam.

Some analysts believe the law is aimed principally at growing fundamentalist Islamic groups and some evangelical sects which the authorities fear and seek to control.

The archbishop predicted that the law, which has the support of Prime Minister Karim Masimov, could force more than 70 of the country’s missionary priests to stop ministering, leaving only seven priests with Kazakh citizenship active. It will restrict the publication and distribution of religious literature and tighten up planning regulations that could lead to the closure of church buildings, he said.

Children wishing to take part in religious activities would require written permission from their parents while foreign aid to Catholic parishes and institutions would be banned along with collections at Masses, said the charity in the statement.

The law has been passed by Kazakhstan’s lower house of Parliament and awaits approval before Dec. 1 by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who is believed to have reservations about some of its proposals.

“The new religion law is a threat and a fear and we hope it won’t turn into a reality,” said Neville Kyrke-Smith, the London-based director of Aid to the Church in Need who recently returned from a fact-finding mission to Kazakhstan. “It would be an appalling step backwards in a place where there has been terrible oppression and suffering in recent times.”

There are an estimated 200,000 Catholics in Kazakhstan, a country of 15 million people.

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.