- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 18, 2005

KIEV — Defying the stance of the Russian Orthodox Church, one of Ukraine’s top religious leaders said last week he sees no obstacles to greater cooperation between the Orthodox Church and the Vatican.

The statement, made during an AP interview on Wednesday, indicated yet another difference of opinion between Russia and the former Soviet republic of Ukraine, where pro-Western leaders came to power this year.

The Moscow Patriarchate accuses the Roman Catholics of encroaching on its territory and blocked the late Pope John Paul II’s long-held wish to visit Russia, the world’s most populous Orthodox nation.

Patriarch Filaret, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s Kiev Patriarchate, said the churches have much in common and should cooperate in emphasizing the importance of the family and moral values.

“Today the task and mission of Christian churches — Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant — is to support moral values and support spirituality and morality in European civilization,” Patriarch Filaret said. “We don’t need to be afraid of Rome, or the Greek Catholics.”

The new pope, Benedict XVI, has declared a “fundamental commitment” to heal the divide between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. Unifying the two churches is “desirable, but today it is not realistic,” Patriarch Filaret said, but he added that greater cooperation is possible.

The World Council of Churches, the Geneva-based fellowship that includes the Orthodox churches, welcomed Patriarch Filaret’s comments and said he hoped the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church would be encouraged to work for fuller unity.

“To hear those comments, that the Orthodox churches are feeling confident they can address bigger issues [is an indication of] mending fences,” the Rev. Samuel Kobia, a Methodist pastor who is the current WCC leader, told AP in an interview in Rome.

The Roman Catholic Church is not a member of the WCC but participates on several levels. Mr. Kobia was in Rome to meet with Benedict on Thursday.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, a German prelate who is president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, declined to comment on Patriarch Filaret’s remarks, noting that he had not yet read them.

But he noted, in a telephone conversation with AP in Rome, that Patriarch Filaret “doesn’t speak for the other patriarchs.”

The Kiev Patriarchate is outside the Moscow Patriarchate, which has been among the Vatican’s harshest critics on contentious issues such as reputed Catholic evangelism in the former Soviet Union and property disputes.

The Russian church has accused Catholics of “poaching souls” on its traditional territory, leading to tension between the churches since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. There are an estimated 600,000 Roman Catholics in Russia, and the Vatican insists it is only looking after its flock.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II, in a newspaper interview published Wednesday, said the Vatican would have to make the main effort to heal troubled relations between the two churches.


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