Edward Pentin's Vatican Notebook
What now for Vatican relations with the Russian Orthodox Church after the sudden death of Patriarch Alexy II? Despite Alexy's notoriously tetchy relationship with the Catholic Church relations had been significantly improving. In fact, they were becoming so good that former Vatican "foreign minister" Cardinal Achille Silvestrini believes the long hoped-for meeting between Alexy and the Pope was very likely "if the patriarch had lived another year".
A number of reasons are given for this thaw in relations, from Alexy's admiration for Pope Benedict XVI to his willingness to draw closer to the Catholic Church in the face of growing, radically secular values. But the question everyone here is asking is whether this rapprochement is likely to continue. Much, of course, depends on Alexy's successor, who is most likely to be Metropolitan Kirin of Smolensk and Kaliningrad. The 62-year-old prelate, who was elected interim leader at the weekend, elicits mixed feelings. On the one hand, his CV looks ideal: he has wide experience and expertise in ecumenical relations, knows senior Vatican and Church officials well, and has spent many years in charge of the Russian Orthodox Church's foreign affairs department.
However, many regard him as a nationalist and overly political, even more so than Alexy, whose insistence that Russians all belong to the Orthodox Church caused much friction with the Catholic Church. Kirill's public statements have been unsettling (he has called on Russians to do everything they can to build a fundamentally Orthodox civilisation and state). Cardinal Silvestrini, however, remains "cautiously optimistic" about better Catholic-Orthodox relations because of the "irrevocable path that has been undertaken". Still, a better choice would undoubtedly have been Russian Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Vienna and Austria. Aged only 42. he has gone out of his way to foster warmer relations with the Vatican, and is someone who promises to be a genuine reformer a sort of Mikhail Gorbachev of the Russian Orthodox Church. Perhaps his time is yet to come. According to the Observer, Pope Benedict XVI is compiling a "policy paper" that will pin the blame for the financial crisis on tax havens. The document will also attack shortterm greed said to have caused the turmoil. But Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, vice-chairman of Goldman Sachs. believes tax havens are separate issues to the global credit crunch, and are not a major cause of the crisis. "Frankly, they are virtually irrelevant," he says. "Tax havens are not all the same, and have pros and cons. What is important is that banks should not use tax havens for tax evasion." However, he feels "short-term greed is an altogether different matter" and he "would love to read more about Pope Benedict's views on this".
The Vatican could do much worse than have Lord Griffiths, a former aide to Margaret Thatcher, as an economics adviser. In 2005 he chaired the Griffiths Commission on Private Debt which predicted the economic crisis with remarkable accuracy. Asked if he would accept such a Vatican role, the peer said he would be "delighted" to.