Critical Letter by Russian Orthodox May Help to Rekindle Dialogue

Now the Accusations Are Spelled Out, Says Cardinal Kasper

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 9, 2002 ( The Moscow Patriarchate’s letter accusing the Catholic Church of «proselytizing» in Russia might turn out to be grounds for renewing dialogue, says a Vatican aide.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, reacted positively to the harsh letter of the Moscow Patriarchate, which stated that it has proof of its charges.

In an interview today transmitted by Vatican Radio, Cardinal Kasper said that when complaints become specific, then it is possible to begin to talk and to re-establish contacts.

The German cardinal said he believes that the accusations, written in the letter by Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, are the result of misunderstandings.

Hence, Cardinal Kasper announced his intention to invite Metropolitan Kirill, who is responsible for the Russian Orthodox Church’s external relations, to talks at the Vatican.

«Since the month of February, there has been no direct dialogue with the Patriarchate of Moscow,» the cardinal said. «Now we have received this letter, and this is already a sign that we can continue in the way of dialogue.»

«From my point of view, another positive point are the so-called concrete proofs that the letter seems to offer on the question of proselytism,» he added. «We made a specific request: ‘Demonstrate these accusations, and then we will be able to discuss the facts mentioned.'»

«Now this has happened, and we hope that we can take up the dialogue again. We know it will be difficult and long, but at least we can begin again,» Cardinal Kasper added.

Metropolitan Kirill said in the letter that every Russian, whether or not he is a believer, has been influenced by the Orthodox faith.

Cardinal Kasper pointed out that the Russian Federation’s legislation mentions explicitly four religions: Orthodoxy, Buddhism, Judaism and Islam. «This means that Russia is not an Orthodox country,» he stressed.

«The Catholic Church also has historical roots in that country,» the cardinal continued. «In the time of the czars, there were Catholics and dioceses. Now our Church is undergoing a rebirth, and it has the right to exist. If an Orthodox or a nonbeliever wishes to become a Catholic, we cannot reject him: It is a question of religious liberty.»

As regards the issue of proselytism, Cardinal Kasper revealed that the Russian conference of Catholic bishops will address each of the accusations.

«We can already say that the facts do not seem convincing,» he said. «If a women’s religious congregation is called, for example, ‘Missionaries of the Sacred Heart,’ the fact that the name includes the term ‘missionary’ is not a proof for the accusation of proselytism. The Church itself is missionary, but it does not proselytize.»

«There are many facts that are not convincing, and yet it is possible to engage in dialogue,» the cardinal concluded. «The Holy See’s policy with the Russian Orthodox Church is clear: We want dialogue, we want collaboration, we reject proselytism, we want ecumenism, we want to promote the pastoral care of our Catholics.»

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