In Belarus, the growing tension of recent months between the Catholic Church and the state ruled with an iron fist by Alexander Lukashenko has subsided with the resignation of the Archbishop of Minsk being accepted by the Holy See.
On January 3, 2021, the day of his seventy-fifth birthday, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz received a letter from the Holy See indicating that Pope Francis had accepted his renunciation of the archiepiscopal see of Minsk, due to the age limit set by the canon law in force in the Catholic Church.
In his place, the Holy Father appointed Msgr. Kazimierz Wielikosielec as apostolic administrator, pending the appointment of a new ordinary of the place.
The speed of the Roman decision created amazement, and soon gave way to suspicion: Reuters thus emphasizes that it is “very unusual for the Pope to accept the resignation of a bishop precisely on the day of his seventy-fifth birthday, and even more to announce it on a Sunday.”
The German press agency relies on a Roman diplomatic source to affirm that “the speed with which the resignation was accepted suggests that there ahs been an agreement negotiated between the Holy See and the Belarusian state, in order to obtain the prelate’s return from exile.”
In fact, Archbishop Kondrusiewicz had been blocked for nearly four months at the Polish border by the Belarusian authorities who accuse him of having taken an active part in the protest movement to which President Alexander Lukashenko—one of the last Soviet era “dinosaurs in the world,” according to Le Monde—has been facing since his re-election in August 2020.
To appease the situation, and prevent the Catholic minority in Belarus (15 to 20% of the population) from being targeted in retaliation by the powers in place, the Secretariat of State of the Holy See dispatched a special envoy to negotiate the return of the archbishop, who was finally able to reenter the country on December 24.
But that’s not all. The appointment of Msgr. Kazimierz Wielikosielec—a consensual figure who has remained discreet about the political situation, and who, for his part, is already older than 75 years—de facto removes from management of the archdiocese, the Vicar General, Bishop Yuri Kasabutsky, a prelate who did not hesitate to take a stand in favor of the demonstrations organized against the head of state, arousing the latter’s ire.
Given this context, Jonathan Luxmoore writes in the columns of The Tablet, that the resignation of the Archbishop and the appointment of an administrator, would have “caused shock and consternation among the members of the Church, who see it as a victory for the regime in place.”
If Belarus is particularly watched, it is also because it is a pivotal country between two states which constantly expose their rivalry: Poland and Russia. “The authorities felt that the Archbishop’s action was piloted by Warsaw. Poland is very close to Catholics,” notes a researcher specializing in the area and who was cited by La Croix, on condition of anonymity.