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Vatican move angers Russian church

Russian patriarch Alexiy II refuses to even meet Pope John Paul II
Russian patriarch Alexiy II refuses to even meet Pope John Paul II  

VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican has angered the Russian Orthodox Church by creating the first four fully-fledged Catholic dioceses in Russia.

The home of the spritual leadership of the Roman Catholic church said it was upgrading four "apostolic administrations" -- Southern European Russia, Northern European Russia, Western Siberia and Eastern Siberia -- into four dioceses beneath "one ecclesiastical Province."

It said the move was the logical step in strengthening the religious structure for the estimated 1.3 million Catholics in Russia and shrugged off criticism from the Russian Orthodox Church that it was trying to steal converts.

The Vatican said freedom of religious worship was one of the fundamental underpinnings of democratic society.

The Russian Orthodox Church, whose consent is required for a long-desired papal trip to Russia, has strongly opposed the move, saying it was a violation of Church laws.

"We hope that the Orthodox believers in Russia understand," papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls told Italian television.

"With today's decision the Holy See is merely raising the organisation of the Russian Roman Catholic community to the same level as those in other parts of the world."

Last week the Vatican briefed Russian Orthodox officials about their plans.

The Orthodox Church responded on its Web site condemning the Vatican's moves as "violations of the canonical principles and norms of inter-Church relations."

The Vatican said on Monday the growing number of Catholic converts in Russia was not due to people converting from the Orthodox church and would not transform Russia's cultural identity.

The pope has made no secret of his desire to visit Moscow to push for unity between the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity which split in 1054.

Russian President Vladimir Putin favours a papal visit and is said to have been putting pressure on Russian Patriarch Alexiy II to consent.

But Alexiy has refused to even meet the Pope until an end to what he has called Catholic attempts to seek converts in Russia and other Orthodox states in the former Soviet Union.


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