CHISINAU -- Moldova's Prime Minister Vlad Filat has warned the country's powerful Orthodox Church to stop meddling in state affairs, RFE/RL's Moldovan Service reports.
"Every citizen has a right to protest, but since the state does not interfere in the activities of the church, the church should also stop interfering in the business of the state," Filat said on September 23.
Filat also defended the government's formal registration earlier this year of Islam as one of the country's religions. He explained that recognizing Islam and other reforms are part of Moldova's drive to join the European Union, and promised that the government will continue on that path.
Filat's comments were the first time a leading Moldovan politician has expressed such direct criticism of the Moldovan Orthodox Church.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Orthodox priests and believers gathered on September 23 in downtown Chisinau to protest the recognition of Islam and government plans to adopt an antidiscrimination bill that would protect homosexuals and other minority groups.
One of the priests who spoke at the rally also condemned abortion, which has been legal in Moldova for several decades.
The demonstrators marched through the city center, stopping outside the local UN office, where they protested recent comments by the UN special envoy for religious freedom who said that Moldova's Orthodox Church has too many privileges and too much political influence.
More than 90 percent of Moldova's population of 4 million describe themselves as practicing 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.