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Ukrainian Orthodox Church Leader Blamed Gays for COVID. Now He Has It

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Patriarch Filaret is now hospitalized for the disease, which has killed 3,000 Ukrainians.

A prominent religious leader in Ukraine who blamed the COVID-19 pandemic on same-sex marriage now has the virus himself.

Patriarch Filaret, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate, said in a March interview on Ukrainian television that the pandemic was God's punishment for the "sinfulness of humanity; first of all, I mean same-sex marriage," according to several media outlets.

Last Friday, the church's press office posted a statement online saying the 91-year-old Filaret had tested positive for the virus and was hospitalized. In a follow-up statement Wednesday, church officials said he was in stable condition and was still undergoing treatment. "We ask you to continue to pray for His Holiness Patriarch Filaret, so that the All-Merciful and Almighty Lord God will heal the Patriarch," the Wednesday statement concluded.

Ukraine has seen more than 14,000 COVID-19 diagnoses and almost 3,000 deaths from the virus, NBC News reports.

A Ukrainian LGBTQ+ rights group filed suit against the patriarch in April over his comment on same-sex marriage. "Our aim is to show people that there is no longer place for such statements from church leaders in Ukraine," Olena Shevchenko, head of Insight, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at the time.

Amnesty International's Ukraine affiliate likewise condemned his remarks, The Independent reports. But the church press office defended him, with a statement saying, "As the head of the church and as a man, the Patriarch has the freedom to express his views, which are based on morality."

Same-sex marriages are not legally recognized in Ukraine, and anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment has run high in the nation, often fueled by the Orthodox Church, the leading Christian denomination in much of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. However, a poll in 2017 found 56 percent of respondents supported equal rights for LGBTQ+ people, "a significant rise" from earlier surveys, The Independent notes.

The Kiev Patriarchate, a breakaway group from the Orthodox governing body for Ukraine, includes 4,000 congregations in that nation alone as well as several in other parts of Europe, the U.S., and Canada. Filaret, who led the schism, "has been a high profile and contentious figure in the Eastern European nation for decades," according to The Independent.

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