The head of the Georgian Orthodox Church has urged the country’s lawmakers to ‘suspend’ the approval of legislative amendments granting five minority religious groups, including the local Armenian church, the status of ‘legal entities of public law’ in Georgia.
In a written statement Catholcos-Patriarch Ilia II said that such an important document should only be passed after public discussions and reaching a “consensus” with the Georgian Orthodox Church, reports Georgian online daily news portal Civil.ge.
Last Friday the Parliament of Georgia adopted, in the first reading, amendments to the Civil Code that have long been sought by the country’s religious groups, including the local diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Under the amendments, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Evangelical Baptist Church, the Muslim and Jewish communities in Georgia will have the right to be registered as legal entities of public law.
The move initiated by Georgia’s ruling party lawmakers came about two weeks after the issue was high on the agenda of talks between the Armenian and Georgian church leaders as Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II paid a pontifical visit to Georgia. However, contrary to expectations, no document in that regard was signed between the Armenian supreme patriarch and his Georgian counterpart.
Patriarch Ilia II then said that the Georgian Church in Armenia should have the same status as the Armenian Church would have in Georgia.
“[The Georgian Orthodox] Church has never been against and has always supported granting status to other religions in Georgia, but this process has not seen an appropriate follow-up, meaning that no comprehensive state commission has been established by the authorities to study and agree on the issue,” Ilia II said in his July 4 statement.
The bill, which was approved in the second and final reading on Tuesday, had earlier met opposition from lawmakers representing the Christian-Democratic Movement, a leading party in the Georgian legislature’s small minority group, who called on the ruling party not to hurry with the final approval of the draft.
Meanwhile, the Georgian Foreign Ministry has welcomed the change in the status of religious communities.
Georgia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Nino Kalandadze confirmed at a press briefing on Tuesday that the issue of the registration of minority religious groups in this legal form was also discussed during a recent visit by Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian to Georgia.
“Georgia Online” quotes Kalandadze as saying that “the issue has been raised by a lot of friendly countries.”