Russia's lower house of parliament rejects draft appeal to restrict Catholic Church in Russia

MOSCOW - Russia's lower house of parliament on Wednesday turned down a draft appeal to President Vladimir Putin that asked him to restrict the activities of the Roman Catholic Church in Russia.

The appeal received only 169 votes of support in the State Duma, far short of the 226 necessary to adopt the document. Thirty-seven deputies voted against it, and four abstained.

Tensions have risen recently in Russia between Catholics and the dominant Russian Orthodox Church, which contends that the Vatican is poaching on their traditional territory. Two foreign Catholic priests have been denied entry to Russia in recent weeks.

Viktor Alksnis, a member of the centrist Russian Regions faction, initiated the draft appeal earlier this year, shortly after the Vatican decided to upgrade its presence in Russia to full dioceses. The Vatican's move was strongly protested by the Orthodox Church.

"The actions of the Roman Catholic Church testify to its continued belief that in spite of its millennium-old Christian tradition, Russia is a 'spiritual wilderness,'" the appeal said.

The appeal also accused the Vatican of "consciously provoking" Japanese claims to islands off Russia's Far East coast, by using the Japanese name of Karafuto Prefecture to identify the region encompassing the southern part of Sakhalin Island and the disputed Southern Kuril Islands.

"Insofar as these actions by the Roman Catholic Church present a threat to the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, the activities of the Catholic Church dioceses should be prohibited," the draft appeal said.

If adopted, the appeal would have pressed Putin to ban the Catholic Church by instructing the Justice Ministry to nullify its registration.

About two-thirds of Russia's 144 million people are Orthodox. There are approximately 600,000 Catholics.