The Vatican Secretary of State told reporters yesterday that the Roman Catholic Church is not engaging in proselytism in Russia and “poaching for converts” among members of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone made this comment after journalists asked him to comment on Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II's appeal to the Vatican to stop its "extremely unfriendly policy" toward the Russian Orthodox Church, reported Zenit.
"I do not know Patriarch Alexy's statement, but I believe that relations between Moscow's patriarchate and the Holy See are sufficiently good and talks are taking place, with frequent visits," the cardinal reportedly said.
According to Interfax, Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow told clergy at the Christ the Savior Cathedral yesterday that “the Catholic mission continues” among Orthodox Christians in Russia and other ex-Soviet states.
He expressed the hope that the Vatican will “take concrete steps to change the situation for the better.”
If the situation remains the same, he said, "our meetings with representatives of the Roman Catholic Church will be just formal events, which will not help relieve the pain of people who suffer from the non-brotherly actions" of the Catholic Church.
There are 144 million people in Russia; about 600,000 are Roman Catholic.
The ongoing conflict over the Catholic Church’s duty to minister to its faithful in a majority Orthodox country has prevented the two churches from moving forward toward Christian unity and reconciliation.
The Russian Patriarch’s comments come following a successful meeting between Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and Pope Benedict XVI in Turkey, and as Greek Orthodox Patriarch Christodoulos announces he will make a first ever official visit to the Roman Pontiff at the Vatican.
Despite centuries of separation, the Catholic Church considers the worldwide Orthodox Church a sister Church. The Holy See has repeatedly stated its desire that the Body of Christ breathe once again through "both lungs" in reference to the reunification of the Eastern and Western Churches.