From a Special Correspondent
EAST BERLIN: The Vatican opened a new page in its relations with Communism this week when Archbishop Agostino Casaroli arrived, on a sixday visit to East Germany,
Archbishop Casaroli was welcomed at East Berlin's Schoenefeld airport by his host, the Foreign Minister, Herr Oskar Fischer. The Archbishop is the first representative of the Holy See to arrive here for official talks.
His Communist hosts are expected to urge the Vatican to cut the East German Catholic Church from its formal links with West Germany.
The bishops in the East have been unable to attend sessions of the German Bishops' Confererce, based in the West, since the Berlin Wall was built in 1961.
Four Church provinces in the East, which in theory still belong to West German dioceses, have been run for the past 'two years by Apostolic Administrators appointed by Pope Paul.
In practice the division is complete, though the West German Church still claims to represent the 1.3 million Catholics in the East on the basis of a 1933 "Reich Concordat" which East Germany's leaders consider no longer valid.
The first two days of Archbishop Casaroli's visit will be devoted to what a brief announcement in the official East German Press described as "negotiations on questions of mutual interest."
The rest of the trip is expected to be devoted to meetings with the East German clergy, including the Bishop of Berlin, Cardinal Alfred Bengsch, and excursions to Dresden, the Cathedral city of • Erfurt, Weimar and the site of the Nazi concentration camp of Buchenwald.
The establishment of diplomatic relations between East Germany and the Holy See, and the dispatch of a Papal Nuncio here are regarded as remote issues.
West Germany feels it must be consulted on any changes in the "Reich Concordat," an assertion the State authorities here regard as interference in their relations with the Vatican.
Western Catholic officials also want Archbishop Casaroli to intercede on behalf of Christians in East Germany, who, according to the nation's own bishops, are at a disadvantage in obtaining higher education and jobs.
Archbishop Casaroli, who is the Secretary of the Vatican's Commission for Public Affairs, is expected to meet East German Catholics of all ranks.
From Rome, MICHAEL WILSON reports: The first formal contacts between the Vatican and the German Democratic Republic since the creation of this post-war Communist State have begun.
Prelates here call the visit by Archbishop Casaroli a "working visit," but it is the first tangible result of a series of encounters between representatives of the holy See and East Germany which were initiated in Yugoslavia in 1971.
In the past all such VaticanEast German contacts were informal and held strictly confidential, hut this time the visit was announced by the Vatican Press Bureau, and Archbishop Casaroli went as the guest of the East German Foreign Minister.
The leading Vatican diplomat was scheduled to talk with Cardinal Alfred Bengsch, Archbishop of Berlin, the Foreign Minister, the Prime Minister, Herr Horst Sindermann, and the State Secretary for Religious Affairs, Herr Hans Seigewasser.
The Catholic Church in East Germany has been severely controlled and repressed, although not actually persecuted, since 1948 and .1 949, when the regime eliminated religious schools, curtailed freedom of religious instruction and formation, strictly regimented the movement of priests and severely restricted all Catholic Press and other publications.
The present visit is seen more an an opportunity to discuss not only Church but international problems at the highest level; as an exchange of general views. rather than the substantive negotiation of specific issues.
The Vatican representative's talks, it is reported here, will centre on the general aspects of a possible lifting of 'the restrictions to give measures of freedom for the Church to resume ecclesial and pastoral activities within the nation.
Archbishop Casaroli is due to leave East Berlin and return to Rome tomorrow.