Thursday, December 06, 2007

Top Russian ecumenical official to meet with Pope

Vatican, Dec. 6, 2007 ( - Pope Benedict XVI will meet on December 7 with the top ecumenical-affairs official of the Russian Orthodox Church, L'Osservatore Romano reports.

Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk-- who is in Rome this week for festivities marking the feast of St. Catherine of Alexandria, the patron of Rome's Russian Orthodox Church-- met on December 6 with Cardinal Walter Kasper, the president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity. Informed sources said that Cardinal Kasper would convey an invitation for Patriarch Alexei II to attend the next meeting of the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, which is scheduled to take place in 2009.

Metropolitan Kirill-- who is regarded as a likely eventual successor to Patriarch Alexei as leader of the Russian Orthodox Church-- has praised Pope Benedict for his commitment to ecumenism. But earlier this week he criticized the Catholic Church for establishing new dioceses in Russia. The Orthodox prelate said that the four Catholic dioceses of Russia, established in 2002, should be downgraded to their previous status as apostolic administrations. Catholic dioceses in Russia are an affront to the Orthodox claim that the country is the "canonical territory" of the Orthodox Church, he said, and "we shall never recognize them." The Vatican does not accept the Russian argument regarding "canonical territory."

In related news, in an interview with the KAI news agency, the general secretary of the Russian Bishops Conference, Father Igor Kowalewski, said the country's Catholic bishops are ready to discuss the Moscow patriarchate's claims to special canonical status in Russia. He said that the recent remarks by Metropolitan Kirill upset many Russian Catholics, and the country's bishops will bring up the subject at a meeting with Orthodox leaders in January.