Meeting With Alexy II Viewed as a Step Forward

Patriarch Airs Old Criticism, but Cardinal Kasper Sees New Hope

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MOSCOW, FEB. 23, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity said his weekend meeting with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II was a "first step" in the resumption of dialogue.



Cardinal Walter Kasper was received by the patriarch on Sunday at the end of a visit to Moscow aimed at overcoming the misunderstandings between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches.

During the meeting, Alexy II, who turned 75 today, insisted on repeating the accusations he has made for some time against Catholics in Russia, Cardinal Kasper told Vatican Radio.

"In any case, it was a first step," the cardinal said in a phone call from Moscow. "I am pleased because the meeting actually took place. At the beginning, the patriarch repeated the issues known for years. In the second phase, we had an exchange of opinions on the different issues."

The cardinal added: "I hope it was useful. In the near future, we will see if the tone of the debate is calmer and if we arrive at a dialogue, a collaboration."

The cardinal's arrival in Moscow was preceded by the Moscow Patriarchate's spread of the Orthodox Churches' criticisms of the institution of a Greek-Catholic Patriarchate in Ukraine.

Proscribed under the Stalin regime, the Greek-Catholic Church in Ukraine, which preserves the Eastern tradition and liturgy but is loyal to Rome, has flourished since the fall of Communism.

In a statement Feb. 14, Cardinal Kasper explained that the Holy See has taken these protests "seriously into consideration."

During Sunday's meeting, Alexy II expressed his opposition to John Paul II's decision in 2002 to establish four dioceses in the Russian Federation, which he described as "not a very friendly step," Interfax reported.

The Russian patriarch also criticized what he described as "direct proselytism and the work of the Catholic Church in Russian orphanages," ITAR-Tass said.

There were, however, points of agreement during the conversation with the patriarch. Among the common concerns of the two Churches is the defense of Christian values in the context of the redaction of the European Constitutional Treaty, a "topic on which the patriarch showed particularly responsive," Vatican Radio commented.

A fruit of Cardinal Kasper's visit was the proposal to establish a joint working group for the solution of specific outstanding issues between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches.

The proposal arose in a meeting Thursday between the cardinal and Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, president of the Department for External Ecclesiastical Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Another result of Cardinal Kasper's visit was the discussion, at the Ecclesiastical Academy of the Moscow Patriarchate, of possible collaboration at the academic level with Catholic institutions, including exchanges of professors.