Staunton, August 20 – Russians have seldom viewed Roman Catholicism as part of their national tradition, and the Kremlin today does not include that faith in its list of “traditional” religions. But now the Vatican has taken a major step forward to “nativizing” the church in Russia by appointing a native-born Russian bishop.
That may seem like a small thing, but until now, even after 1991, all the hierarchs and most of the priests serving Roman Catholics in Russia are non-Russians from other countries. The current ruling archbishop, Paolo Pezzi, for example, is an Italian. Now, for the first time, he has a Russian deputy.
On July 30, the Vatican named Nikolay Dubinin, 47, to be auxiliary bishop of Moscow and thus deputy head of the Catholic Church in Russia. He has now given an interview in which he describes how he rose to his current post (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2020/08/21/86767-teper-dveri-katolicheskoy-tserkvi-otkryty-dlya-vseh).
Born in Rostrov Oblast to a Catholic mother and an Orthodox father and a graduate in 1993 of the Catholic Higher Spiritual Seminary in Moscow, Dubinin joined the Fransciscans and received most of theological education in Poland. But in 2004, he was made a priest by Archbishop Tadeus Kondrusevic, the current head of the Catholic Church in Belarus.
When he was growing up, Dubinin tells religious affairs journalist Aleksandr Soldatov, “showing your religiosity was not secure.” Moreover, he couldn’t easily follow his mother’s faith because the nearest Catholic church was “on the order of a thousand kilometers away.” Consequently, he was baptized Orthodox.
When he and his mother visited relatives in Belarus during the summers, however, he did attend Catholic services there; and later, he joined a newly-restored Catholic church in Rostov where he had the spiritual encounter that changed his life direction, Kondrasevic visited, dedicated a statue of Jesus which lacked hands and said Dubinin must be “Christ’s hands.”
A year later, he ended the just opened Moscow Catholic Seminary and then went to Poland for further training. Dubinin tells Soldatov that he doesn’t know why the Vatican chose him or whether there were any conversations between the Catholics and the ROC MP about this choice.
Dubinin says that he will assist Pezzi with the supervision of the widespread Catholic church in Russia but has no plans to engage in proselytism among Russians. He is giving up his work as head of the Franciscan publishing house in Russia but will not move from St. Petersburg to Moscow.
Asked about his breakthrough appointment, the new bishop says that until there there haven’t been any ethnic Russian bishops, although, he points out, there have been bishops from other nations indigenous to Russia. But if he is minimizing his new status, Russians both religious and political are unlikely to.
This status will make it more difficult for the Kremlin to continue to exclude Roman Catholicism from the “traditional” faiths, although it is more likely to lead to the demise of that categorization than to its enlargement; and it may help open the way for a papal visit to Russia, although that too remains problematic given opposition from conservatives in the ROC MP.