VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 21, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The Orthodox Church of Georgia blocked an agreement between the Vatican and the Tbilisi government that would have given juridical recognition to the small Catholic community in the ex-Soviet republic.
On his return from the Georgian capital on Saturday, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Vatican secretary for relations with states, sharply criticized the Orthodox maneuver that foiled the bilateral agreement “at the last hour.”
“The Holy See delegation feels itself gravely wounded by the attitude of the Georgian Orthodox Church, which published untruthful news, despite the fact that on several occasions the willingness was manifested to inform it on progress in the negotiations,” Archbishop Tauran said in a statement.
Last Thursday, Orthodox Patriarch Catholicos Ilia II appeared on television and referred to the “the dangerous character of such an agreement for the stability of the nation,” and appealed to the faithful to mobilize, the Italian newspaper Avvenire reported.
At least one Orthodox leader claimed that the Vatican wanted to increase its influence in Georgia and would, under the agreement, be able to build churches, schools and seminaries without any restrictions.
On Friday, hundreds of students protested outside Parliament against the government’s being “subjected to the Vatican.”
Government aides tried to explain that the pact would in no way affect the interests of the Orthodox Church. On the contrary, it would only seek to guarantee the religious freedom of the 50,000 Catholics in this country of 4.9 million inhabitants.
Shortly afterward, Avtandil Dzorbednadze, head of the Cabinet, told the Vatican that the government “no longer felt like signing the agreement.” At the time, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze was in Yalta for a summit.
According to Monsignor Claudio Gugerotti, a negotiator, the agreement recognized the “special role” played by the Catholic Church in the country. Some Orthodox claimed the pact equated the two Churches.
John Paul II visited Georgia in November 1999 and met the Orthodox patriarch to promote fraternal relations.
Archbishop Tauran said the failed agreement constitutes “great suffering” for the Pope, and appealed to Georgia, which he said has adhered to “important international conventions on human rights, to remedy this painful situation.”