A church leader in Ukraine who blamed the pandemic on the “sinfulness of humanity” and same-sex marriage has tested positive for Covid-19.
The Honorary Patriarch Filaret of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is in hospital after he tested positive for the disease.
The 91-year-old church leader is one of Ukraine’s most prominent religious leaders and has amassed around 15 million followers.
His comments on the causes of the Covid-19 outbreak sparked outrage from LGBT groups who raised concerns about his “harmful statements”.
Filaret said in a TV interview in March that the outbreak was “God’s punishment for the sins of men, the sinfulness of humanity. First of all, I mean same-sex marriage”.
He has also developed pneumonia, but he is in a stable condition, reports the Ukrainian website 112.international.
A statement shared on his Facebook page confirmed his diagnosis.
“We inform that during planned testing, His Holiness Patriarch Filaret of Kyiv and All Rus-Ukraine tested positive for Covid-19,” said the statement.
“Now His Holiness Bishop is undergoing treatment at a hospital.”
When challenged on his statements about gay marriage, Filaret’s representatives insisted his views were “consistent with Ukrainian laws”.
The Patriarchate’s press service said in a statement: “As the head of the church and as a man, the Patriarch has the freedom to express his views, which are based on morality,.
“The Patriarchate reserved the right to bring counterclaims against those who sought to abuse judicial protections to encroach on Ukraine’s traditional family values.”
Same-sex marriage is still illegal in Ukraine and homophobia is rife in the country.
In response to his comments, Maria Guryeva, a spokeswoman for Amnesty International Ukraine, said: “Such statements … are very harmful because they could lead to increased attacks, aggression, discrimination and acceptance of violence against certain groups.”
Kiev-based LGBTQ+ group Insight told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in April that it would be taking legal action against Patriarch Filaret following his comments.
“Our aim is to show people that there is no longer place for such statements from church leaders in Ukraine,” said Insight’s head Olena Shevchenko.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged religious leaders in May to challenge “inaccurate and harmful messages” fuelling ethno-nationalism, stigma, hate speech and conflict amid the coronavirus pandemic.
He called on faith leaders to promote solidarity based on human rights and human dignity as well as social cohesion, mutual respect and understanding.
Religious leaders can play “a pivotal role” in their communities and beyond “to deliver solutions to not only address the pandemic, but to recover better (and) promote non-violence and reject xenophobia, racism and all forms of intolerance,” Mr Guterres said.