Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Vatican secretary for relations with states, made this appeal public in an interview Sunday with the Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera. He was commenting on the charges of "proselytism" leveled against Rome by the Moscow Orthodox Patriarchate.
"It is an attitude that very much saddens me," Archbishop Tauran told the paper.
"First of all," he said, "because we have a considerable common heritage with the Orthodox Church and, in the second place, because I am a direct witness of the desire—more than that, the longing—of John Paul II to be able to contribute to mend the tear of the schism that for centuries has separated our two Churches."
Archbishop Tauran believes, in part, that the present situation is due to the fact that Russian Orthodox Church leaders regard the Catholic Church as a "church of foreigners."
Yet, there had long been consolidated Catholic structures in the territory, such as the Archdiocese of Mohilev, erected in 1773, and the dioceses of Tiraspol and Vladivostok, the archbishop said.
Catholics in Russia "are Russian citizens—not foreigners—and, therefore, have a right to pastoral care, like all Catholics spread throughout the world and like all Orthodox Christians in Russia and in any other place," he explained.
Regarding the charge of proselytism, Archbishop Tauran said that in general this word means "to win over followers of another religion, using deceitful and fraudulent methods."
On the contrary, the pastoral activity of the Pope and of Catholic bishops manifests "the great respect that the Catholic Church has for Russian Orthodoxy," he stressed.
"I think the moment has arrived for the Pope to be given recognition of his right/duty to secure for the children of the Catholic Church in Russia and in bordering countries their own ordinary structures," Archbishop Tauran said.
To achieve this, there might be an agreement in the future "between the two Churches, in the territories in which history has put them in contact," he added.
"This would also help to overcome that psychological attitude of 'besieged fortress' that impedes the Orthodox Church, which suffered so much during the years of Communism, to offer Europe and the world the contribution of its great spiritual riches," Archbishop Tauran concluded.