New Roman Diocese in Russia Strains Relations

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ECUMENICAL NEWS INTERNATIONAL

Moscow

The Vatican has set up Roman Catholic dioceses in Russia, satisfying the repeated requests of its small Russian flock but plunging to new depths in its relations with the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Vatican claims that the move is an administrative measure. "The Holy See has done nothing other than bring the organization of the Catholic community in Russia into line with that in other parts of the world, as set down by church law," Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said..

For the Orthodox, however, the Vatican's decision amounts to the establishment of a rival church.

The Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church described the establishment of a "Catholic Church of Russia" as a "challenge to Orthodoxy." The patriarchate said the decision revealed the Vatican's true "missionary aims" and called into question its overall ecumenical commitment.

The decision also deals a blow to the possibility of the Pope's long-desired visit to Russia in the foreseeable future, it said.

The Moscow Patriarchate announced in February that it was postponing indefinitely the visit to Moscow of Walter Cardinal Kasper - president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity - who was scheduled to meet Moscow Patriarch Alexei II.

Patriarch Alexei's consent is considered necessary for any visit by the Pope to Russia. President Vladimir Putin said last month that he was ready to invite the Pope to Moscow at "any time", but that relations between the churches should improve first. …