Moscow (AsiaNews) – How do you solve problems between the Holy See and the Moscow Patriarchate? Abolish existing Catholic dioceses in Russia. Is this the harebrained idea of some dreamy visionary? No, it isn’t. Despite today’s widespread support for religious freedom, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, wants to see Catholic diocese abolished.
“We shall never recognise them and will always dispute the presence of ordinary Catholic dioceses in the territory of Russia and consider it a challenge to our common idea of sticking to a territorial principle of Church administrature,” said Kirill in his address to an international forum on “Local Church and Canonic Territory: Canonic, Juridical and Interfaith Aspects” held in Moscow last Saturday. The Apostolic Nuncio to Moscow, Mgr Antonio Mennini, was also present.
For the Orthodox prelate, the development of any dialogue between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Catholic Church depends on the Vatican’s readiness to confirm that a bishop’s jurisdiction must conform to the principle of Canonic territory and will therefore modify the status of Catholic dioceses in Russia, replacing them with apostolic administratures.
For Kirill the decision taken by John Paul II in 2002 to create four dioceses in Russia, was “a mistake, which indeed damages the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue and puts off a possibility of achieving our common aims.” In short, he wants to turn back the clock, with the status of dioceses “changed and brought back to the former level of apostolic administratures.”
The hierarch tried to explain away counter-arguments which allege that the Russian Orthodox Church in Europe has its dioceses set up on the same principle as the Catholic dioceses in Russia in what the Moscow Patriarchate recognises as the canonical territory of the Catholic Church.
“The dioceses of the Moscow Patriarchate in the Diaspora are not ordinary, nor are they connected to local jurisdiction. They were established to provide pastoral care for people in Diaspora, and do not have defined boarders. In a certain sense, they are unusual dioceses as we have always stressed in our dialogue with the Catholics,” he said.
“If there was a notion of apostolic administrature in the Orthodox Church, the dioceses of the Moscow Patriarchate in Europe would be called that way. [. . .] The conflict comes from the fact that we do not understand why an appropriate term was changed to one that is inappropriate.”
There has been no response so far by either the nuncio or the archbishop of the Mother of God archdiocese in Moscow, Mgr Paolo Pezzi.
Among Russian Catholics reactions were altogether negative. Many point out that “Catholic dioceses have existed in Russia since the Middle Ages. The archdiocese of Minsk-Mohilev for instance existed from the 18th to the 20th century. Why should we not have normal structures?” they insist.