Politics, religion and pricey watches

  • Article by: SUSAN HOGAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 6, 2012 - 11:22 AM

Controversy erupts over a pro-Putin, Russian church leader's $30,000 luxury watch.


Photo of Patriarch Kirill I, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, wearing what appears to be the controversial luxury wristwatch.

Photo: Courtesy, Russian Orthodox Church

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Nowhere in the New Testament does it say that Jesus was the kind of Messiah with a fondness for fancy jewelry. So it’s no stretch to conclude that, as an advocate for the poor, he would bristle at a church leader sporting a Swiss luxury wristwatch valued at around $30,000.

Apparently, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church — Patriarch Kirill I — wasn’t pondering “What would Jesus wear?” when he was photographed wearing a lavish Breguet watch while meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in February.

That infuriated faithful and unfaithful alike. After all, church leaders representing the Prince of Peace shouldn’t be living like worldly princes. That’s especially true in a country where many people are struggling for basic living needs.

But that’s only part of the outrage. The rest has to do with the church’s support for Putin, the role it may have played in last month’s presidential election and its refusal to speak out against election fraud.

(The church, on the other hand, has been outspoken against Pussy Riot, a feminist punk band, arrested in February for an unauthorized performance of anti-Putin songs in Moscow’s main cathedral.)

The Putin episodes put the patriarch on the watchful radar of Russian bloggers, who recently spotted a doctored photo of the religious leader on the church’s website. The original 2009 photo showed him wearing a Breguet wristwatch. In the new version, the watch was edited out of the picture.

Now, “Breguet-gate” is garnering worldwide headlines, from the BBC to the New York Times. The Times reported that the original photo was taken in Ukraine while the patriarch was doing a “televised interview on the importance of asceticism.”

The church has taken down the doctored photo and says it’s investigating the matter. “The guilty will be severely punished,” a statement said.

But the controversies of the role of the church in Russian politics, as well as the lifestyles of church leaders, will rage on — and rightly so.


Susan Hogan is a Star Tribune editorial writer.


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