* Patriarch Kirill makes call in Russian Orthodox Christmas
* Putin signed law last month barring Americans from
adopting Russian children
* Critics say law puts political consideration above the
welfare of children
By Steve Gutterman
MOSCOW, Jan 7 The head of Russia's dominant
church urged its citizens to adopt children, speaking in a
Russian Orthodox Christmas address on Monday after President
Vladimir Putin signed a controversial law barring Americans from
adopting Russian children.
Patriarch Kirill paid particular attention to the issue in a
Christmas message, lending support to Putin's promises - issued
along with a law that outraged liberals and child rights
activists - that Russia will take care of its own.
"It is very important for our people to adopt orphans into
their families, with joy and a special sense of gratitude to
God, giving them not only shelter and an upbringing but also
giving them their love," the Russian Orthodox Church head said.
The ban on American adoptions is part of a law Putin signed
on Dec. 28 in retaliation for U.S. legislation designed to
punish Russian human rights violators, which the Kremlin chief
said is poisoning relations.
Critics of the Russian legislation say Putin has held the
welfare of children trapped in a crowded and troubled orphanage
system hostage to political manoeuvring, reducing their chances
of finding loving homes or adequate medical care.
The numbers of adoptions by Russian families are modest,
with some 7,400 adoptions in 2011 compared with 3,400 adoptions
of Russian children by families abroad - nearly 1,000 of those
In signing the legislation, Putin echoed Russian lawmakers'
arguments that American parents who have been accused of abusing
their adopted Russian-born children have been treated too
leniently by U.S. courts and law enforcement.
He also signed a decree ordering improvements in the care
for orphaned Russian children and appealed to patriotism,
suggesting that Russians have an obligation to care for the
country's disadvantaged children.
Kirill added a religious element to that message, saying
that "the Lord tells His followers that if they want to reach
the Kingdom of God they must ... share their opportunities with
the needy - primarily invalids, the elderly, and children."
"'Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them,' says
the Lord. These words from Him should ... make us all realize
how important children are in the eyes of God," he said.
"And as we celebrate Christmas I would like to appeal to
everyone with a request: If you can take this important step in
life aimed at adopting children, supporting orphans, take this
step," Kirill said. "There should be no orphans in our country."
More than 650,000 children are considered orphans in Russia,
including those rejected by their living parents or taken from
dysfunctional homes. Of that total, 110,000 lived in state
institutions in 2011, according to government figures.
More than three-quarters of Russians consider themselves
Russian Orthodox, but far fewer attend church regularly despite
a resurgence of religion following the demise of the communist
The Russian Orthodox Church uses the Julian calendar and
celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7.
Kirill's midnight service at Moscow's Christ the Saviour
Cathedral was shown live on state television, which also showed
Putin - a former KGB officer who has cultivated close ties with
the church - attending a service in the southern city of Sochi.