CHISINAU -- Moldova's Orthodox Church has criticized a UN official for suggesting it has too much influence in the country, RFE/RL's Moldovan Service reports.
The Orthodox Church said comments by Heiner Bielefeldt, UN rapporteur for religious freedom, were "shameless and disrespectful." Bielefeldt visited Moldova earlier this month to gather information for a report he will publish next year.
At a press briefing in Chisinau last week he said the Moldovan government generally respects religious freedom but that the Orthodox Church is "excessively privileged" compared to others.
Bielefeldt pointed out that the top Orthodox priests in Moldova carry diplomatic passports and that the country's law on religious freedom singles out Orthodox Christianity as the country's most-important faith.
He also criticized the church for not distancing itself from a crowd of Orthodox believers that tore down a Jewish menorah in central Chisinau during the 2009 Christmas season.
In a statement on its website on September 9, the Moldovan Metropolitan said Bielefeldt's remarks are "unfounded" and "based on lies."
The Orthodox Church's statement said Bielefeldt wants to push Moldova "back into the old Soviet days" when the church was persecuted. It also suggested that his views are "dictated by sexual minorities."
The Moldovan Orthodox Church has been active in preventing the government from passing a law that bans discrimination against homosexuals and other minorities.
In its statement, the Moldovan Metropolitan called on the government to recognize the Moldovan Orthodox Church's special status not only in religious freedom laws but also in the country's constitution.
An estimated 95 percent of Moldovans are Orthodox Christians.
The Moldovan Orthodox Church is autonomous but operates under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Romanian Orthodox Church's Metropolis of Bessarabia is the country's other major church.