Calls for UK to work with Ukrainian church

Bishop Stephen Platten sees important role for churches in building reconciliation in Ukraine


The Bishop of Wakefield, the Right Reverend Stephen Platten, has called upon the UK Government to work more closely with churches in Ukraine to help avoid a descent into a more undemocratic future.

Explaining what might be done, Bishop Platten recalled events he was involved in during the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s.

"I remember that at that time I was working at Lambeth as the archbishop's foreign secretary, as it were, and on one occasion the telephone was brought to me in the bath," he said.

"There was a call from the gatekeeper telling me that Mr Gorbachev was in captivity in the Crimea and he thought that I ought to know so that I could do something about it.

"Some very good and quite low-key, and low-cost, initiatives were taken by Her Majesty's Government at that time to support the development of democracy in the various republics that resulted from the collapse of the Soviet Union, including Ukraine."

Relating his experiences to the current situation, Bishop Platten asked the Government whether "once things become a little more stable, those sorts of initiatives might be looked at again?"

"I am suggesting not carbon copies but that sort of thing," he said. 

Bishop Platten noted the strong tradition in European churches of working across the divides of the past few decades.

"The churches never recognised the division of Europe. The Conference of European Churches always worked across Europe."

He acknowledged challenges in the Ukrainian context: "There are very serious divisions in the churches in the Ukraine, often reflecting some of the fragmentations that exist in the country as a whole."

However, he concluded that the churches working in partnership with the UK Government could be an avenue for success. 

"Again, that is another area where Her Majesty's Government might work with others to see how one moves towards a more democratic situation," he said. 

Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who was chairing the discussion on the situations in Ukraine, Syria, and Iran, said in reply to Bishop Platten: "I continue to learn how close church links can be across national boundaries. I was in Armenia some months ago and was met by a very chatty archbishop, who seemed to know almost every bishop I had ever met in this country."

Nevertheless, he sounded a cautious note about getting more involved with the Church in Ukraine: "We all know that the Orthodox Church in and across the former Soviet Union is a very complex and divided entity.

"Not all its branches are committed to anything that we would recognise as a liberal approach to organised religion. Sadly, the different branches of the Church in Ukraine represent that rather well."