4 New Russian Dioceses Created by John Paul II

Applies Same Criteria as Moscow Patriarchate Does in West

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 11, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Citing the demands of pastoral care for Catholics in Russia, John Paul II raised the country´s four apostolic administrations to the rank of diocese, the Vatican Press Office disclosed today.

They are the Archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow, whose metropolitan archbishop is Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz; the Diocese of St. Clement in Saratow, whose bishop is Clemens Pickel; the Diocese of the Transfiguration in Novosibirsk, whose bishop is Joseph Werth; and the Diocese of St. Joseph in Irkutsk, whose bishop is Jerzy Mazur.

The Holy Father also created an ecclesiastical province whose metropolitan see is in Moscow, the press office said.

Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls explained in a statement that the Pope made this decision to regulate the Catholic Church´s existence in Russia according to canonical procedures.

«This is a normal administrative decision suggested by the need to improve the pastoral care of Catholics present in that enormous region, as they have repeatedly requested,» the press statement adds.

In response to accusations by the Russian Orthodox Church, which considers Russian soil as «canonical territory» exclusive to Orthodoxy, the Vatican spokesman explained that the Pope has done no more than apply the same criteria as the Moscow Patriarchate does in the West.

Navarro-Valls said that the decision is due «to the same pastoral concern that has led the Russian Orthodox Church to create dioceses and other organizational structures for the faithful who live outside the traditional territory.»

In fact, the Russian patriarchate has created dioceses in various traditionally Catholic European areas, including the cities of Vienna, Berlin and Brussels.

With this papal decision, «Catholics in Russia are given the same organization and pastoral care that is enjoyed by Russian Orthodox who live in the West,» Navarro-Valls added.

He emphasized that Catholics not only respect but also support economically the work of the Russian Orthodox Church. Over the past decade, the group Aid to the Church in Need has donated $17 million to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Navarro-Valls said that Vladimir Putin´s government has not regarded the papal decision as problematic.

Moreover, as a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Russia has signed the Vienna Document, which in No. 16, section 4, states: «The participant states will respect the right of religious communities to organize themselves according to their own hierarchic and institutional structure.»

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