Catholic leaders in Ukraine say they are “profoundly disturbed” by the government's use of security forces to break up a massive protest in Kiev's Independence Square.
“We declare our support and solidarity with all those on the Independence Square who are standing with dignity and witnessing to the dignity of their fellow citizens and of the whole nation,” the Permanent Synod of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church said Dec. 11, according to Vatican Radio.
“We strongly support the peaceful character of this civic gathering and declare our rejection of any type of violence,” they continued. “We pray to God Almighty for peace, justice and the triumph of truth for our people.”
Police moved into the protest camp early in the morning of Dec. 11. They detained at least nine people and some police reportedly used violence.
The protests began after the government's Nov. 21 announcement that it would not sign a major economic partnership agreement with the European Union.
Protesters occupied government buildings and at times filled the square with more than 100,000 people.
A Nov. 30 police effort to break up a student protest left dozens injured. On Dec. 8, protesters toppled and broke apart a statue of communist leader Vladimir Lenin.
The Dec. 11 police action started to dismantle protest camps and tear down barricades the protesters had put up in front of municipal buildings. One opposition political party, the Fatherland Party, said government troops broke into its offices on the evening of Dec. 9, National Public Radio reports.
Both the European Union and Russia are competing to strengthen their ties in the Ukraine. The Russian government is advocating that Ukraine, a former Soviet republic with a long history of control from Moscow, enter a Eurasian customs union with several other former Soviet republics.
Ukrainians in the Kiev area and in western Ukraine tend to favor the European Union, while those in the Russian-speaking east tend to have an affinity for Russia, the BBC reports.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry voiced “disgust” at the Ukrainian government's reaction to the camps, while the U.S. State Department is considering several responses, including sanctions.
The Greek-Catholic bishops condemned actions restricting civil liberties, free expression and “peaceful civic manifestation.” Their statement was signed by the head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, and other members of the permanent synod.
The Roman Catholic bishops’ conference of Ukraine said it “strongly condemns” the use of force against the protesters, warning that the actions increase social tensions and could provoke “unforeseen consequences.”
The Roman Catholic bishops said limits on human rights, including free expression of beliefs, is “unacceptable and shameful,” according to a statement published on the website of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Lviv.
The Roman Catholic bishops’ conference of Poland also voiced their “prayerful solidarity” with the people of Ukraine.
The Lviv-based Ukrainian Catholic University adopted a statement against the government action at a Dec. 11 general meeting that characterized the police as “brutal invaders” who “violently attacked peaceful demonstrators.”
The Society of the Ukrainian Catholic University announced support for civil disobedience against the government and called for the current government’s resignation. The statement also cited the Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishops’ call for prayers for peace and justice.
EU Foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has said that Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych still intends to sign an agreement to establish closer ties with the EU.
Yanukovych's main opponent, former Prime Minsister Yulia Tymoshenko, is now in jail on charges she exceeded her authority regarding a gas deal with Russia in 2009. Her supporters, including many EU politicians, charge that her trial was politically motivated.