No sooner was Minsk Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz allowed to return to his homeland than the Pope accepted his resignation — just in time for his 75th birthday. Birthday. In Belarus there is speculation about a deal with the ruler.
The fate of Minsk Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz is very moving for many Catholics in Belarus. In an unprecedented punitive action, dictator Alexander Lukashenko had banned him from re-entering his native Belarus for four months after the archbishop had visited Poland for a few days. Only when Pope Francis sent a letter to the Belarusian ruler asking him to allow the president of the bishops' conference to return home to Minsk did the green light arrive.
Clouded joy over Kondrusiewicz's return home
But the faithful's joy at Kondrusiewicz's return to the capital on Christmas Eve turned to disappointment when Francis, on 75. On the occasion of the clergyman's 50th birthday, he accepted his resignation shortly afterwards. Bishops are required by church law to offer their resignation at this time. However, it is not uncommon for the pope to extend terms of office by a few years.
"Like all Catholics in Belarus, I was very happy to see our archbishop come back," Minsk historian Iryna Kalinovich told ID editors. During the services with him on 24. and 25. December many would have cried. "But the news of his immediate resignation has saddened many believers. We ame that this is the price for his return home," says the Catholic. "Nevertheless, we are proud of him and grateful to him for his humanity."
Lukashenko makes an example
Lukashenko apparently made an example of Kondrusiewicz so that the Catholic Church would refrain from criticizing him. It went against the grain for him that the archbishop and also other Catholic clergy defended people who protested against the ruler and the presumably rigged presidential election of early August. Kondrusiewicz prayed, for example, in front of the Minsk prison where, according to his own statements, imprisoned government critics were tortured. The archbishop would have liked to visit the prisoners. But he was not allowed to do so.
Lukashenko then accused the Catholic Church of conducting propaganda against him. Kondrusiewicz had taken instructions from Warsaw, he claimed. The archbishop, on the other hand, stressed that he was answerable only to the pope and not to any government.
Circumstances of resignation remain uncertain
Kondrusiewicz did not elaborate on the circumstances of his resignation, referring only to canon law. At a mass in Minsk Cathedral, he himself announced that the Pope had granted his request to release him from his duties: "It is a reality. We can not avoid."He asked that his successor be received with an open heart. "The church shall live. People change, but the Church remains," he added.
At the same time as the resignation, the Vatican also announced the appointment of an administrator for the Minsk diocese. Whereby the personnel surprises to some extent. Kazimierz Wielikosielec, auxiliary bishop in Pinsk in the southwest of the country, is the oldest bishop in office in Belarus. He was born on 5. Lukashenko was born in May 1945 near Brest, more than half a year before Kondrusiewicz. And unlike the latter, Francis had extended Wielikosielec's term on his 75th. birthday by two years.
Prere on the Catholic Church in Belarus
The auxiliary bishop showed himself to the Belarusian church portal catholic.by then also surprised by his appointment: "This is a great confidence in my humble person. For this I am grateful to Pope Francis."He has not been particularly critical of Lukashenko's repression of the democracy movement. Minsk Auxiliary Bishop Yuri Kasabutski (50), who had to replace Kondrusiewicz during his four months of forced exile in the archdiocese, on the other hand, had complained "that attempts are being made to put prere on the Catholic Church in Belarus". He spoke in early September of a "persecution of the church".
The next important personnel decision in the Belarusian church is the election of a new chairman of the bishops' conference. Since Kondrusiewicz retired, the current deputy chairman, Bishop Aleksander Kaszkiewicz (71) of Grodno in the west, has been leading the episcopate on a provisional basis.
Was there a deal between Lukashenko and the Vatican?
Lukashenko says he hopes for an invitation to the Vatican. He had already visited the pope in 2016 and invited him to Belarus. In late December, he praised Catholics as "people of a special stamp". Literally, he said: "They have never caused us any problems. I thought that we could do something good for them by allowing the return of their archbishop. Mr. Kondrusiewicz no longer poses a threat after all."In his decision, he had "no ulterior motives".
In Belarus, however, many see it differently. There is talk of a deal between Lukashenko and the Vatican. In any case, one thing that is striking is that the bishops have recently been reticent to criticize the government. And Francis has said nothing about Belarus for months — to the disappointment of many Belarusians.