Catholic Dioceses a "Challenge" to Orthodoxy, Says Patriarch

Moscow´s Alexy II Reiterates Charge of Proselytism

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MOSCOW, FEB. 12, 2002 ( Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow believes that the four new Catholic dioceses are a «challenge leveled at Orthodoxy,» according to a statement published by Interfax.

«These gestures of the Roman Catholic Church reveal missionary objectives by the changes that have been introduced,» the patriarch and Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church affirmed in an official statement today.

The patriarch of Moscow describes these activities as «proselytism,» and «one of the principal obstacles opposed to the improvement in relations between our Churches.»

«To care for Catholics, who are not that numerous in our country, it was not necessary to raise the status of the existing Catholic ecclesial structures,» the statement continues.

According to the Vatican, there are 1.3 million baptized Catholics in the country, mostly descendants of deportees.

On Monday John Paul II raised the four apostolic administrations in Russia to the status of dioceses.

«There has never been anything like it in the history of Russia,» the Orthodox patriarch stressed.

In fact, Catholic dioceses in Russia predate the Communist era, the Vatican noted Monday. Empress Catherine II created the largest Catholic archdiocese in the world, Mohilev, in 1773.

In addition to the Diocese of Saratow, which also extended throughout Ukraine, the Apostolic Vicariate of Siberia was erected in 1921 and the Diocese of Vladivostok in 1923.

The patriarchate says it still awaits a visit by Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, from Feb. 21-22.

The Vatican also responded Monday to the patriarch´s accusations of «proselytism,» explaining that those who joined the Catholic Church in Russia today are not Orthodox but people who previously had no faith.

Moreover, the Orthodox patriarch of Moscow has dioceses in traditionally «Catholic» territories, a right which Alexy II does not attribute to the Catholic Church in Russia.

Catholic Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of Moscow today described the creation of the new dioceses as «the re-establishment of historical justice.»

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