Moscow Patriarchate Says Preaching by Catholics "Unacceptable"

New Attack on Religious Liberty in Russia

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MOSCOW, JULY 31, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The Russian Orthodox Church has denied the Catholic Church the right "to preach the Gospel to all people," particularly in territories under the Moscow Patriarchate.



The patriarchate made that announcement through its Department for External Church Relations. The department published a statement after the Catholic Church responded to the agency's charges of "proselytism."

The response forms part of the letters sent by Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and Catholic Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz at Moscow.

The Orthodox patriarchate stated that in the letters, the "Catholic hierarchs insist on the right of their Church 'to preach the Gospel to all people.'" It adds, "This position is unacceptable for the Russian Orthodox Church."

"From the experience of the last years, we know that by this they mean missionary work aiming to convert to Catholicism as many people as possible, including those who belong to Orthodoxy both by baptism and national and cultural tradition," the patriarchate's statement says.

"All these facts not only complicate dialogue with the Vatican and its Church structures in Russia and other countries of the commonwealth, but also make it doomed to failure beforehand," the document adds.

"An even more serious damage to relations between the two Churches has been caused by the recent Vatican decision to establish new dioceses in historically Orthodox regions of Ukraine," it further states.

The statement says: "No lesser concern is aroused by the plans of the leadership of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church to move from Lviv to Kiev and establish their patriarchate there."

The original accusations of proselytism were presented in a letter by Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, chairman of the patriarchate's Department for External Church Relations.

Cardinal Kasper and Archbishop Kondrusiewicz said that the problem in the dispute consisted in defining the world "proselytism."

Cardinal Kasper previously explained: "'If a women's religious congregation is called, for example, 'Missionaries of the Sacred Heart,' the fact that the name includes the term 'missionary' is not a proof for the accusation of proselytism. The Church itself is missionary, but it does not proselytize." (See Zenit.org)

"There are many facts that are not convincing, and yet it is possible to engage in dialogue," the cardinal had added. "The Holy See's policy with the Russian Orthodox Church is clear: We want dialogue, we want collaboration, we reject proselytism, we want ecumenism, we want to promote the pastoral care of our Catholics."

The Holy See believes that the Orthodox refusal to allow the Catholic Church to have its own hierarchy in the country is a serious attack against religious liberty.

In recent statements (see Zenit.org), Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Vatican secretary for relations with states, reminded the Orthodox that this position is a violation of the final document of the 1989 Vienna Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which the Russian Federation has followed.