MOSCOW – Russia’s top Orthodox clerics on Saturday asked for mercy for the punk band Pussy Riot for its anti-government protest in a Moscow cathedral, but the church’s forgiveness is unlikely to change the band’s punishment in a case that caused an international furor over political dissent.
Despite its plea for clemency for the three rock activists, a leading cleric called the demonstration “awful” and defiant of the powerful church that is the heart of Russia’s national identity.
The case, which ended Friday with the three band members’ conviction for hooliganism and sentence to two years each in prison, became an emblem of Russia’s intolerance of dissent.
Tikhon Shevkunov, who is widely believed to be President Vladimir Putin’s spiritual counselor, said on state television Saturday that his church forgave the singers after their “punk prayer” in the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow in February.
“We did forgive them from the very start. But such actions should be cut short by society and authorities,” said the cleric, who heads Moscow’s Sretensky Monastery.
Archpriest Maxim Kozlov agreed, but he also said on state TV that his church hopes the young women and their supporters change their ways.
“We are simply praying and hoping that these young women and all these people shouting in front of the court building, committing sacrilegious acts not only in Russia but in other countries, realize that their acts are awful,” he said. “And despite this the church is asking for mercy within the limits of law.”