Updated at 14:37,26-01-2021

Authorities change their mind, allow three Polish Catholic priests to stay

By Zakhar Shcharbakow, BelaPAN

Belarusian authorities have reversed their decision not to renew religious work permits for three Polish priests of the Roman Catholic Church, Yury Sanko, spokesman for the Conference of Catholic Bishops in Belarus, told BelaPAN.

On Thursday, the office of Leanid Hulyaka, the Belarusian government's commissioner for religious and ethnic affairs, informed Roman Catholic clerics that the priests would be allowed to continue their service in Belarus.

Earlier this summer, the government announced that priests Roman Szulc, Lech Bochanek and Jerzy Kotowski would have to leave Belarus. The priests have served in parishes in Mahilyow, the city of Ivyanets in the Minsk region and Kalodzishchy, a village near Minsk, respectively.

«We are grateful to the government for understanding the situation, for their desire to look deeply enough into the matter,» said Mr. Sanko. «We are grateful to them for hearing the voice of the Catholic Church.»

«We are thankful to everyone for solidarity, that shows that the Belarusian people is a single whole. The government and the Catholic Church are performing one and the same task, they are working for the benefit of people,» he said.

It was not immediately clear for what periods the permits had been extended.

Foreign priests are denied extensions on their religious work permits on very rare occasions, said the spokesman. «And if that happens there is always a reason for that,» he said.

«We are open to dialogue with the government. It is this body's function to warn the curia of some misunderstandings, establish contacts, secure dialogue,» Mr. Sanko said in a reference to the office of the government's commissioner for religious and ethnic affairs. «There is such dialogue today and we are grateful for that.»

Earlier this week, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, chairman of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in Belarus, met with Mr. Hulyaka in an attempt to find out the reasons for the permit extension denials and request that the government revise its decision. The official gave no specific reasons for the decision and said that the government would not change its mind, according to the cleric.

The archbishop described the priests' service in Belarus as «long and very fruitful,» praising them for restoring churches and carrying out educational and charity projects.