“The Vatican is nevertheless willing to take this risk,” he said, because they have hope the meeting might help “prepare the way for a just peace in situations of conflict and for closer union between these thousand year-divided Churches.”
Turning to the days of St. John Paul II, Moynihan noted that the Polish Pope, who was very familiar with Russia and the Soviet regime, had said that “the Church needs to breathe with two lungs, that we need to have closer relations with the Orthodox.”
Russian Orthodox themselves were “brutally and cruelly suppressed” under the Soviet Union, he said, noting that thousands of churches were burned, many thousands of Orthodox Christians were arrested, and hundreds of priests executed.
“The atheist, communist regime was a brutal regime for our Christian brothers in the Soviet Union and in Russia, so I think this is a cause for us to feel compassion toward them,” Moynihan said.
When faced with accusations that the Russian Orthodox Church is nationalistic and is being used as a puppet of the government, the journalist said he insists that, in his opinion, the Russian government “is attempting to become more of a normal country's government.”
“It's in reaction to the ideological rigor of the communist system that they are still torn by the mixture of nostalgia for the Soviet time and the attraction of this Western, liberal democratic culture.”
“They're right in the middle of this transition process,” he said, noting that in recent years they have been rebuilding their churches and re-studying Christian tradition.
In his opinion, Moynihan said efforts are those of a people trying to return to the “wellspring of faith” that was cut off for 70 years by “a very pitiless, tyrannical, atheist regime.”
“For this reason I feel up and down the line we ought to engage with the Russians and with all Eastern Europeans, and that we should gain from them a sense of how Christians can survive under cultural and political pressure as we ourselves face our own challenges in our increasingly post-Christian Western societies.”
In this sense, Cardinal Parolin's visit marks “one more step in a multi-decade, multi-century process in which the Church tries to keep communications with the Eastern Churches.”
One point Cardinal Parolin and Patriarch Kirill are likely to touch on in their upcoming meeting is the joint declaration signed by the Patriarch and Pope Francis during their meeting in Havana last year, which highlighted the need to work together to protect the environment, the poor, and the persecuted.
But odds are, when he meets with Putin, Cardinal Parolin will try to move the political pen on touchy issues, reinforcing the idea that the Holy See “can serve as a type of honest broker in between colossal powers, which are as we all know positioning themselves in very significant ways that will effect the future of Ukraine, the future of Eastern Europe, the future of Europe as a whole and the future of the world.”
So it is against this political and religious backdrop that Cardinal Parolin will enter “right at the hinge-point of this decision, of whether we will keep Russia excluded from polite society, whether we will actually confront Russia and have a conflict or a war,” Moynihan said.
“This is a dramatic moment, and I wish Cardinal Parolin all the best. I think he's a balanced, competent, thoughtful man,” he said, but noted that there are still those who are concerned, wishing to keep Russia isolated on the global playing field.
“I take a different view,” he said. “I think it's a trip that's filled with hope and is something that must be done in order to allow us to evade, if we may evade, a great tragedy of wider conflict that could harm the entire region and the world.”