While government representatives have in recent weeks made their warmest overtures yet regarding a papal visit to Russia, representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate are raising ever sterner objections, reports Keston's Geraldine Fagan.
The chancellor of the Moscow archdiocese, Father Igor Kovalevsky explained to Keston that the Pope would only visit Russia on receipt of both a government invitation and, at the very least, the consent of Patriarch Alexei II.
In an interview with the Polish magazine Gazeta Wyborcza, Russian President Vladimir Putin remarked that he could not control the Patriarch's actions. However, he made it quite clear that he hoped the Russian prelate would give his approval for a papal visit. Since Patriarch Alexei has repeatedly insisted that the time is not right for a papal visit, the public statement by Putin was generally interpreted as an effort to put pressure on the Moscow patriarchate.
Since the appearance of Putin's comments, the statements published by Russian Orthodox officials regarding a papal visit have been even more negative. Metropolitan Hilarian of Kerch said that no such meeting should be contemplated now, because relations between Moscow and the Holy See are "highly unsatisfactory." Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk-- the chief ecumenical spokesman for the Orthodox Church-- told Agence France Presse that matters would not improve until the Catholic Church "passes from proselytism to bilateral and multilateral cooperation."
In a still more direct slap at the Catholic Church in Russia, Metropolitan Kirill added: "We are convinced that a Russian Catholic Church is something with no future or prospects. There is no need to profess the Catholic faith here, but to work with the Orthodox Church to reinforce Christian values."
Some analysts believe that the conflicts in public statements between the government and the Moscow patriarchate may be the result of a tacit agreement between the two parties. One Catholic source in Moscow recently commented to Keston that the Russian government and Orthodox Church could be sending conflicting messages intentionally: "This is consistent with both Russian government and Russian Orthodox policy." Another possibility might be that the Moscow Patriarchate's increasing intransigence towards a papal visit is providing a useful backdrop against which the Russian government stands out in relief as conciliatory and pro-western.