Leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church have the right to give their opinion during ongoing presidential campaign, church spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin said on Friday.
“It would be strange if the holy patriarch and other leaders in the church were to stay silent during election campaigns and stop giving any appraisals of the situation or public have public meetings with candidates for state jobs and their representatives,” Chaplin said at a press conference in Moscow.
His words were a reaction to numerous accusations on blogs and social networks that the church head, Patriarch Kirill, is implicitly endorsing Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in his bid to return to the presidency in the March 4 elections. Church rules forbid it to formally endorse a candidate.
On February 8, Kirill, along with leaders of other prominent Russian religious confessions, met with Putin, who acted in his capacity as a presidential candidate, not a state official.
Kirill praised Putin at the meeting, thanking him for his crucial role in helping the country overcome “the crisis of the 1990s,” which he compared to World War II. Putin came to power in 2000 and stayed in the Kremlin until 2008.
Last month, Kirill also spoke against public rallies, saying that “Orthodox Christians don’t know how to rally.” Though he did not elaborate, it is assumed he was referring to recent mass anti-Putin protests, which were triggered parliamentary elections in December, which protesters claim were fraudulent. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets as part of three grassroots opposition rallies against Putin and United Russia in Moscow.
The Patriarch’s words in February were a departure from his own position voiced in a televised Christmas sermon in January, when he urged protesters and the authorities to seek dialogue, saying the government should react to “rightful” protest.
Kirill’s official confessor Schema-Archimandrite Iliy Nozdrin explicitly and repeatedly spoke against believers attending anti-Putin protests. However, Chaplin said on Friday that participating in a political rally “is not a sin.”