Prostitution Ploy Targets Franciscans in Moscow

Religious Denounce Scheme

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MOSCOW, OCT. 14, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The Moscow community of the Franciscan Order of Conventual Friars Minor has denounced an attempt to implicate it in a prostitution scandal.



After Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls defended the community today in a press statement, the religious community here also made an announcement.

"The Franciscans have not organized any brothel," the religious said in a statement. "What is more, they are victims of a maneuver that they are attempting to clarify."

The Franciscans said their effort to clarify the situation has the support of the Russian police and justice officials. But the religious haven't been able to evict the people who are behind the prostitution, which is taking place in an apartment the Franciscans rent out.

The apartment was rented Feb. 1 by Leonidovna Tikhonova, who claimed she wanted "to organize welfare activities" there. A month later, the friars were told that the apartment was being used for prostitution. They then notified the police.

The Franciscans said they repeated their request in writing on April 12. Afterward, they said, "they began to receive physical threats, if the police intervened again." Moreover, Tikhonova said she would no longer pay the rent.

The Franciscans complained again June 10, and presented the petition for eviction a second time, on Sept. 12. On Oct. 3 the first court hearing took place, but the accused failed to appear.

On the night of Oct. 1, the superior of the Moscow Franciscans was invited by a "justice official" -- who did not give his name -- to go to the apartment. His arrival was recorded by cameras and his presence in the apartment has been used to discredit him, the Franciscans said.

Last Monday the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda published an article entitled "The Moscow Convent Is a Brothel," signed by Anna Selivanova.

"We note," the religious said, "that Mrs. Selivanova violated the norms of journalism by not speaking to any representative of the Franciscans during the writing of the article," which offers a "falsification of the facts."