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Bulgaria: bishops against law on cults, “it threatens the freedom of religions”

“The amendments to the law on cults, already approved in the first vote, are particularly worrying and have a discriminatory content that threatens the freedom of religious denominations. This is an unacceptable meddling by the State in the autonomy of the Churches and religions in Bulgaria”. The members of the Bulgarian Bishops’ Conference said this about the law on cults in their position statement sent to Parliament and signed by the President of the Bulgarian Bishops, Mgr. Christo Proykov. The draft legislation, which contains a series of articles that are unacceptable to religious denominations, has been approved in the first vote by Parliament on 11 October. Contrary to the amendments are also the Orthodox Church, which is the main religion, Muslims and Protestants. “The law – the bishops said – reintroduces the permissions that were required during communism, treats registered religious denominations unequally, violates the principles of the rule of law, and threatens the freedom of religions – something which is in conflict with both the Constitution and the international laws that Bulgaria has pledged to respect”. The most worrying provisions for Catholics are the authorization foreign priests would need; the total control by the Direction on Cults over all revenue generated by religious denominations; and the permission that would be required for donations from abroad which would be granted again by the Dicastery for religious denominations. The Bulgarian Bishops also lament the decision to grant the state aid provided for by law only to the Orthodox Church and Islam, the only two religions accounting for more than 1% of the population. This – Mgr. Proykov stated – discriminates against traditional denominations in Bulgaria, such as the Catholic Church; indeed, aid should be granted based on the number of members a community has, whatever their number”. Even a group of scientists from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences has criticised the law. The authorities promised to introduce the necessary amendments before MPs vote a second time. Meanwhile, a working group has been set up with representatives of the different denominations.

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