Catholic / Orthodox Relations
Statement by Patriarch Alexy II on the Decision of John Paul II.
Moscow Patriarchate, 2/12/2002
Moscow - It was announced on February 11 in the Vatican that the Pope John Paul II of Rome decided to elevate the status of the administrative structures of the Roman Catholic Church in the territory of Russia to the level of dioceses. From now on the Vatican in its documents will name the territory of our country a “church province” led by a metropolitan.
The Russian Orthodox Church has been presented with a fait accompli, whereas such matters, in our opinion, require a preliminary discussion. We see this step as unfriendly and undermining the prospects for better relations between the two Churches.

Historically the Catholic Church in the territory of our country took pastoral care of the flock that traditionally belonged to it – Poles, Lithuanians, Germans, etc. Precisely for this reason the territory of Russia was not divided into Catholic dioceses and the Catholic ethnic parishes were part of the dioceses of Mogilev and Tiraspol. The establishment of a “church province”, a “metropolitanate”, means in fact the establishment of a national Catholic Church in Russia having its center in Moscow and claiming the Russian people, who are the flock of the Russian Orthodox Church culturally, spiritually and historically, as its flock.

The formation of such a church in Russia means in fact a challenge to Orthodoxy which has been rooted in the country for centuries. Nothing of this sort has ever happen in the history of our country. Moreover, this form of the organization of Catholic church life is atypical even of Catholic countries where there are no church provinces or dioceses governed actually by a metropolitan.

The fact should be pointed out that in taking care of its faithful in Catholic countries, the Russian Orthodox Church has never tried to establish church institutions parallel to Catholic ones. Our dioceses are established to take care of the Russian-speaking Orthodox diaspora, that is the children of the Russian Church who are far from their Motherland, not to carry out missionary work among the local population. If the Catholic Church worked in Russia with the same tact and good will as we do in Catholic countries, then no difficulties would arise in our relations.

We see as absolutely wrongful the references made by representatives of the Roman Catholic Church to the Catholic structures which existed in Russia before the 1917 Revolution and which they say they restore. Almost all the Roman Catholic dioceses that existed in the Russian empire by the early 20th century were in the territory of what today are Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and Belorussia and did not have one center in the Russian capital city or any other city. The boundaries of our country as well as the ethnic and confessional composition of its population have considerably changed since. The number of Catholics in the present-day Russia is incomparably smaller than it was in the Russian Empire of the 20th century.

We are convinced that to take care of the Catholics who are not so many in our country it was not necessary to elevate the status of the already existing Catholic church structures, the more so to establish a special church division. Such actions of the Roman Catholic Church, not conditioned by any real pastoral needs, expose the missionary purposes of the changes made. This is corroborated by numerous facts of missionary work carried out by Catholic clergy among the Russian population. This is the activity we call proselytic and keep pointing to as one of the basic obstacles for improving relations between our two Churches.

It is especially regretful that the Vatican has taken this decision just before the next round of official talks between our Churches is to take place in the end of this February. As a result, a serious threat has emerged for the fragile negotiation process, which in its turn will make extremely difficult the settlement of problems and perplexities existing between us.

The leadership of the Roman Catholic Church is now responsible before God and history for a sharp aggravation of our relations, for the frustration of the hope for their normalization that has just begun to shape. The Vatican’s action has put in jeorpady the ability of the Catholic West and the Orthodox East to cooperate as two great civilizations for the benefit of Europe and the world. The opportunity for common Christian witness before divided humanity has been sacrificed for momentary benefits.

The question arises: Does the Vatican still regard its relations with the Orthodox Church as those of dialogue and cooperation, as it has continually stated, or it sees Orthodoxy as an undesirable rival? If the latter is the case, any agreement between us is out of question.

Nevertheless, we continue to remind the Vatican that at a time when the confused world expects the Orthodox and the Catholics to take common public action, we should work together rather than be at enmity. We still have good relations with dioceses, parishes and monasteries of the Catholic Church and cooperation with Catholic humanitarian organizations and educational institutions. These examples make it possible to hope that, whatever difficulties provoked by the Vatican’s mistaken policy towards the Russian Orthodox Church, relations between the Orthodox and the Catholics will develop to become an important factor in the preservation of Christian values in the life of Europe and the world.

Addressing our flock, we call them to be faithful to Holy Orthodoxy. Let us respond calmly and peacefully but firmly to any attempts to divide our people spiritually. “Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:14-15).
© Moscow Patriarchate