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Pope makes personal plea to Putin about bishop expelled from Russia

Pope John Paul II has personally appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to allow a bishop barred from the country to return but Putin hasn't responded, the Vatican said on Saturday.

Monsignor Jean Luis Tauran, the Vatican's foreign minister, publicly complained about the silence from Moscow in an interview with Vatican Radio, saying the Russians hadn't even explained the reasons behind the "expulsion of sorts".

Bishop Jerzy Mazur was turned back at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport on 19 April, after arriving from his native Poland en route to his diocese in Siberia.

The incident, which came two weeks after another priest had his visa withdrawn, escalated tensions between Russia's minority Catholics and the dominant Russian Orthodox Church, which has accused the Vatican of poaching believers on its territory.

Those tensions have been on the rise ever since the Vatican announced in February that it had decided to elevate the status of four "apostolic administrations" in Russia to full-fledged dioceses.

The Holy Father wrote Putin on 8 May asking that he intervene in the Mazur case "so that a pastor, who we believe has always shown himself to be generous and loyal, be returned to the Catholic community of such a vast part of the Russian Federation," Tauran said.

The Vatican also wanted to know the reasons why the immigration authorities had turned Mazur away in the first place, he said.

"Up until today, no one has been in a position to tell us the reasons why this decision was taken a particularly serious decision," he said.


25 Jun 2002