Podoliak: Politicians should not interfere in church life; they should only create opportunities and then step away

The Verkhovna Rada has voted for the draft law No. 4128-D on changing the subordination of religious communities. This law concerns not only Christians, not only Orthodox, it concerns all religious organizations. Since 2016 – the time when the first bill was registered – there have been various consultations with a very wide range of stakeholders held – religious scholars, human rights activists, representatives of churches, and the Council of Churches (which includes representatives of all religious organizations). Samopomich deputy Iryna Podoliak asks the authorities and politicians not to speculate on this law.

“The Ukrainian parliament has in no way set itself the goal of interfering in the religious life in any way; this is unacceptable and contrary to the provisions of the declaration of human rights. However, we understand that for many decades – and especially now, in the last period – for the believers who want to change their religious affiliation in connection with obtaining Tomos, it is quite difficult to launch this process nationwide,” says Podoliak.

After receiving Tomos about the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, the communities began to gradually move into its subordination. Podoliak noted that it is such a gradual transition that is the right way. “These should be calm, conscious decisions. Such a gradual dynamic is also caused by the fact that people do not know how they can do it, what steps are needed for this, and in this law, the legislator has created such an algorithm for people.”

So, under the new law, religious communities hold meetings, where they decide to change their subordination. The decision to change the subordination is made by at least two-thirds of the religious community’s members. Such a decision must be signed by the members of the religious community who supported it. This is all according to the current Ukrainian legislation, says Iryna Podoliak. While the adopted law simply describes this procedure and this algorithm in more detail. Although all the main issues on the organization of their religious life should be presented in the charters of the religious communities.

The new law in no way interferes with the organization of the life of a particular religious community. In addition, when the process of transition from one subordination to another is launched, no actions can be taken in relation to the property of the community – one can neither sell it or put it in pledge. So people can be sure that churches or other immovable property which they have built at their own expense will remain in their possession.

What will happen to those who did not support the decision? Podoliak explains, “We assume that there may be a part of a religious community that does not want to change its subordination, and they have the right to do so. They must then create a separate religious community and conclude an agreement on the joint use of the religious building. This is nothing new, we have cases like this in Ukraine between various communities and between communities and the state. We profess the principles of freedom of conscience, and everyone has the right to their religious expression. We must ensure everyone’s right to it.

Also, the law protects society from the so-called “guest performers”. “The law states that these are only the members of this particular religious community that have the right to decide the fate of transition and subordination. If a person is a member of a particular church, then they know the other members of their religious community, don’t they? A village community and a religious community are not identical concepts. In such a way, all extraneous initiators of conflicts can be eliminated.”

Unfortunately, many politicians tend to use the religious life of citizens for their own goals. This is especially true with the start of the election campaign. Iryna Podoliak says this is absolutely wrong. “There are so many provocateurs, the society is electrified, I don’t want to turn a blind eye to this. I think it’s wrong that the President of Ukraine is using the situation with Ukraine getting Tomos in order to receive political dividends. No one denies the merits of Petro Poroshenko in this process, but since this topic is used by him, it feels like we have not broken away from the Kremlin, but have just transferred the control centre of the church to Bankova Street. This is unworthy and it should be stopped.”

The intention of Samopomich is to give an opportunity and an instrument to people, religious communities for whom the church, faith in God are the value of life, to solve their problems, but in no way to create conflicts. “Politicians should not interfere in church life; they should only create opportunities and then step away. We must behave with dignity and let the citizens of Ukraine behave with dignity as well.”

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