The Pope’s decision to meet his “brother”, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in, delightfully, Havana (you can find some details here of the way that the persecution of Christians has spiked since last year’s Francis-brokered deal between the Cuban dictatorship and the US) says quite a bit about Francis’ equivocal (I’ll be kind) attitude to individual liberty.
As for Kirill, well, here’s David Satter writing in Forbes back in 2009:
The installation of Kirill I as the new patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church last month will not end the subordination of the church to the Putin regime. On the contrary, the church is likely to emerge as an even stronger supporter of dictatorship and anti-Western ideology.
Kirill, who was the Metropolitan of Smolensk, succeeds Alexei II who died in December after 18 years as head of the Russian Church. According to material from the Soviet archives, Kirill was a KGB agent (as was Alexei). This means he was more than just an informer, of whom there were millions in the Soviet Union. He was an active officer of the organization. Neither Kirill nor Alexei ever acknowledged or apologized for their ties with the security agencies.
…On the day after his accession to the Patriarchy, Kirill elaborated on his ideas for “harmoniously” combining the demands of the state and human rights. He said that he wanted to base church-state relations on the Byzantine concept of “symphonia,” in which a distinction is drawn between the imperial authority and the priesthood, with the former concerned with human affairs and the latter with matters divine. The two are regarded as closely interdependent, and neither is subordinated to the other.
Church scholars have pointed out that there is no example of symphonia successfully defining church-state relations in our times, and the recent history of the Russian Orthodox church indicates that, faced with the power of the Kremlin, it has no interest in becoming a moral force.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the church received official privileges including the right to import duty-free alcohol and tobacco. In 1995, the Nikolo-Ugreshky Monastery, which is directly subordinated to the patriarchate, earned $350 million from the sale of alcohol. The patriarchate’s department of foreign church relations, which Kirill ran, earned $75 million from the sale of tobacco. But the patriarchate reported an annual budget in 1995-1996 of only $2 million. Kirill’s personal wealth was estimated by the Moscow News in 2006 to be $4 billion.
Thus the affair of the disappearing watch.
The BBC explains:
The Russian Orthodox Church has apologised for showing a photo of its leader Patriarch Kirill that was doctored to airbrush out a luxury watch he was wearing. The gold Breguet watch is estimated to be worth more than $30,000 (£19,000) and was spotted by Russian bloggers. The watch’s reflection could be seen in the 2009 photo on the church’s website.
Clearly—to borrow Francis’ term—a ‘church of the poor’.
Meanwhile, writing in The Catholic Herald last year, Geraldine Fagan explains how the Kirill’s (superficially spiritual) vision of a “Russian World” (Russkiy Mir, a term also used by Putin) that spreads beyond Russia’s current orders has given support to the Kremlin’s adventures in the ‘near abroad’, adventures that have not been good news for religious minorities:
Although ostensibly upholding religious freedom, the Donetsk People’s Republic [a ‘state’ in occupied Ukraine] retains the right to “protect the population from the activity of religious sects”. These “sects” are not defined by the territory’s constitution – but you only have to watch Russian state television to work out who they are. A popular talk show broadcast on the day of Crimea’s annexation focused on “false religions that have destroyed the Ukrainian nation and soul”, including Baptists, charismatic Protestants and Eastern Rite Catholics.
Catholics and Protestants are already reporting difficulties in the pro-Moscow areas. Protestant communities are particularly strong in south-east Ukraine, following a 19th-century spiritual revival among German settlers originally invited there by Catherine the Great. In the separatist regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, Protestants report confiscations of their churches as well as the Donetsk Christian University, previously among the largest Protestant institutions of higher education in the former USSR. In one particularly grave incident in June 2014, four Pentecostal men known for their active mission work were kidnapped by separatists in Slavyansk and later found shot dead, their bodies showing signs of severe beatings.
A small Catholic convent founded 18 years ago in the Crimean city of Simferopol was forced to close in late 2014, according to Forum 18 News Service. The convent’s three Franciscan nuns – citizens of Poland and Ukraine – were denied extensions to their residency permits. Six of the peninsula’s 12 Roman Catholic priests had similarly been forced out by the end of last year. Forum 18 also reports that only one of Crimea’s five Eastern Rite Catholic parishes currently has a priest. Being citizens of Ukraine, their seven priests may spend only 90 days at a time on Russian territory before leaving the country for a further 90 days.
Doubtless they will have been delighted by the spectacle in Havana.