Russian patriarch blasts Catholic proselytizing

MOSCOW, June 9 -- Patriarch Alexiy II, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Friday accused the Roman Catholic Church of proselytizing in Russia and Ukraine, in a move that makes the chance of a visit by the pope to Russia even more remote. Speaking on national television to mark his 10th anniversary as Patriarch of All the Russias, Alexiy II said the Uniate Church in Ukraine, which is loyal to Rome, had attempted to convert Russian Orthodox followers.

"I find it hard to understand when, in the 20th century, I see three Orthodox dioceses being crushed by Catholics in Ukraine, when people are run out of their churches, priests are beaten and saints are blasphemed against," Alexiy said.


"Maybe I would be able to ignore this fact if it had happened in the Middle Ages," he added.

The patriarch accused Pope John Paul II of failing to condemn the actions of the Uniate Church, which has occupied a number of Russian Orthodox churches and let other Orthodox sites be desecrated. "This is not how you should treat a sister church, as the Catholics call the Orthodox," he said.

"Proselytism, which turns people who have been baptised into Orthodoxy, or who are Orthodox by their very roots, to Catholicism- this also cannot take place between sister churches," Alexiy said. "This makes our relations difficult today," he added. Earlier, the patriarch thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for respecting the Russian Orthodox Church's decision not to issue an invitation to the pope.


Putin, who held an audience with the pope at the Vatican this week, had avoided issuing an invitation to the pontiff to visit Russia, despite the pope's obvious hope that such an invitation would be forthcoming.

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and Russian President Boris Yeltsin had issued invitations to the pope, but the patriarch's continued opposition to such a visit has placed the Vatican in a difficult position.

Putin told reporters after his meeting with the pope that John Paul could visit Russia as soon as both Churches resolved their difficulties.

Ever since the Great Schism of 1054 split the Church in two, Eastern Orthodox and Western Christianity have argued over the issue of proselytism, with no end to the disagreement in sight. Looking back on his 10 years as patriarch, Alexiy II said they had "not been easy years," but he added that the "incredible spiritual revival" in Russia since the collapse of the atheist Soviet Union was cause for rejoicing.

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