- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 15, 2002

VATICAN CITY (AP) The Vatican yesterday denounced what it called a "despicable operation" to discredit the Roman Catholic Church in Russia the latest in an increasingly bitter battle with Moscow.
The statement by Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls followed an appeal to human rights groups last month by the head of the church in Russia against what he called a "large-scale anti-Catholic campaign."
As examples, the Vatican statement cited the transformation of an apartment rented out for charitable purposes by the Franciscan order into a brothel featuring prostitutes dressed as nuns, and Russian news reports depicting people in religious dress in "immoral poses."
The newspaper and TV reports were "deceitfully constructed" and clearly aimed at "damaging the reputation of the Catholic community," the statement said.
Tensions have increased following Pope John Paul II's visits to former Soviet republics and the Vatican's decision to upgrade its presence in Russia by creating full dioceses.
The Orthodox Church has accused the Vatican of poaching on traditional Orthodox territory. Moscow's Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II recently charged that the Vatican was following an "expansionist strategy."
The Vatican was particularly angered by the expulsion of five foreign-born Catholic priests, pointing out that actions on visas are carried out by the government, not the Orthodox Church.
Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, the head of the Catholic Church in Russia, has also complained about bans on construction of new churches and vandalism and desecration of existing churches.
With an estimated flock of 600,000, Catholics are a tiny minority in mainly Orthodox Russia.
The tensions have blocked John Paul from visiting Russia, a major disappointment of his papacy. Attempts to set up a meeting between the pope and patriarch have also failed.

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