MOSCOW (Reuters) - The new leader of the Russian Orthodox, the world’s second biggest Christian church, is unlikely to make bold moves soon to heal an almost 1,000-year- old rift with Catholics, a top Vatican envoy said on Monday.
Cardinal Walter Kaspar told Reuters after meeting Kirill, the new Patriarch of the 160-million-strong Russian Orthodox Church, that he had not shown signs of breaking with his predecessor’s Alexiy II’s coolness toward Rome.
“What he said in the last weeks and what he told me today, it’s the same line,” Kasper, who is head of the Vatican office on Christian unity and Jewish relations, said in an interview. “So I do not see any change in his attitude.”
Enthroned on Sunday in a lavish ceremony in Moscow, Kirill is regarded as a relative liberal in the highly conservative Russian church and has met Pope Benedict during his previous role of head of external relations.
This raised hopes of better relations between the two Christian denominations, possibly leading to a historic meeting between pontiff and patriarch. Alexiy II had always resisted such an encounter, even in a third country.
But Kasper said the topic of a meeting had not even been discussed on Monday: the two sides talked instead about social problems, Western values and the global financial crisis.
“We have to respect their problems and their arguments so we do not push too much,” the cardinal said. “I think perhaps after one year we can speak about it but now first he has to take possession of his new ministry.”
The Western and Eastern branches of Christianity split in 1054 amid disputes over doctrine and papal authority which have never been resolved. The Russian Orthodox is by far the biggest branch of Eastern Orthodoxy.
The main sticking point in recent dialogue between Moscow and Rome has been Russian Orthodox allegations that Catholics are poaching for converts among the Orthodox faithful, something the Vatican strongly denies.
“They are still repeating (the allegation) but I cannot see any missionary activity here in Russia,” Kasper commented.
The Vatican envoy said there were no firm plans at present to try to bridge the differences, though he hoped Russia would attend a Catholic-Orthodox dialogue meeting planned later this year. Moscow did not take part in discussions last time around.
Kasper brought Kirill a “very kind letter” of congratulation from Pope Benedict but said he was not taking back any particular message to Rome from the Patriarch.
“I think he has to read first the letter and he will respond in some time,” Kasper said. “...I think we must be realistic, extend hope and do what we can do.”
Editing by Jon Boyle
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