WARSAW, Poland (CNS) — Church spokesmen in Belarus said Catholics are “uneasy and disquieted” by the lack of information on the status of a parish priest arrested in early June for alleged spying.
Father Vladislav Lazar, 46, pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in Borisov in central Belarus, remained in custody Aug. 8, weeks after he was taken into custody by the State Security Committee, or KBG.
“All we know is he’s still in prison, with no prospect of being freed,” Father Yury Sanko, press director of the Belarus bishops’ conference, told Catholic News Service.
“We await clarification of the charges against him, as well as proper notification of his arrest. For now, we can’t make a formal statement or lodge a complaint,” Father Sanko said.
The spokesman said church relations with the government of President Alexander Lukashenko were “continuing normally,” without “special tension,” but added that parishioners in Borisov were “exhausted and worried” by the lack of contact with him.
Meanwhile, an editor at the church’s Catholic.By online news agency, Father Yury Martinovic, told CNS that Catholics nationwide had been left “uneasy and disquieted” by the arrest of Father Lazar, who disappeared June 1 after visiting his family home at Konyukhi in the predominantly Orthodox former Soviet republic.
Speaking July 26 in Minsk, Lukashenko said the KGB had detained a “traitor who served in special services and was connected with foreign states through representatives of the Roman Catholic Church.” He said the arrested man had “not only surrendered information, but also done damage to people working abroad.”
Father Sanko confirmed July 29 the arrest of the priest, who had been pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in the Archdiocese of Minsk-Mohilov since April.
A local parishioner, Natallia Darashkevich, told the independent satellite TV station, Belsat, Aug.1 Father Lazar was an “excellent priest and good man,” who had “never engaged in political activity.”
“His accusation of espionage is totally absurd,” she told Belsat, which broadcasts from neighboring Poland under the auspices of Polish state TV.
Catholics make up about 17 percent of the 10.3 million inhabitants of Belarus, widely considered Europe’s most repressive state. They have complained of discrimination under Lukashenko, who has been elected four times since 1994 amid claims of ballot-rigging and intimidation.
The Belsat channel reported Aug. 7 that Catholics had collected signatures via the Internet for a petition to Belarus’s Supreme Court demanding information about Father Lazar and a public trial, and for a separate petition to Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of Minsk-Mohilev urging him to speak out “against gossip, slander and misunderstanding dishonoring the church’s reputation.”
Yanina Lazar, the priest’s sister, told Belsat that his family had heard nothing about him until he telephoned from police custody two weeks after disappearing. She said family members had since been shadowed and “controlled severely” by police.
Father Filippo Champanelli, first secretary at the Vatican nunciature in Minsk, told CNS Aug. 8 that the church would not comment on Father Lazar’s arrest.