CHISINAU -- The influential Moldovan Orthodox Church has stepped up its criticism of a UN envoy for religious freedom who suggested last week that it wields too much power, RFE/RL's Moldovan Service reports.
Speaking at a press conference in Chisinau, Bishop Marchel, who leads the church in northern Moldova, said on September 15 that UN rapporteur Heiner Bielefeldt's secret agenda is to "outlaw" Moldova's dominant church and to impose "homosexuality and Islamization."
Bishop Marchel, who insisted he was speaking for the Moldovan Orthodox Church, said Bielefeldt has a personal interest in doing so because his brother is gay.
At a press briefing in Chisinau last week, Bielefeldt said the Moldovan government generally respects religious freedom but that the Orthodox Church is "excessively privileged" compared to others.
He added 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.
Bielefeldt also criticized the church for not distancing itself from a crowd of Orthodox believers who tore down a Jewish menorah candelabrum in central Chisinau during the 2009 Christmas season.
Bishop Marchel and other Orthodox priests have organized street rallies against the government's decision to recognize Islam as a religious denomination and against an antidiscrimination bill that would have protected sexual and other minorities.
The Moldovan nongovernmental organization Human Rights Resources Center (CRDO), for its part, condemned on September 15 earlier Orthodox Church criticism of Bielefeldt and applauded his recommendation that Moldova amend its legislation to ensure that all faiths and denominations are treated equally.
CRDO Director Sergiu Ostaf said at a press conference in Chisinau on September 15 that the Orthodox Church should also drop its opposition to the antidiscrimination bill, which the government shelved in spring due to public protests.
Ostaf said the legislation would benefit not just homosexuals but also other minorities such as women and unemployed youth.