Ecumenical summit is cancelled
BY BRUCE JOHNSTON IN ROME ANT) CHRISTINA WHITE
DIALOGUE BETWEEN Rome and the Orthodox church promises to be difficult following the cancellation of a meeting this weekend between the Pope and Alexei II, Patriarch of Moscow.
In a letter signed by Alexei, the Pontiff was told at the last minute of a decision to cancel a meeting at the Cistercian abbey of Heiligenkreuz,. near Vienna.
The meeting, heralded as historic after 943 years since the Great Schism, would have had major implications for an ecumenical assembly which begins in Graz, Austria, next week.
The Pontiff was informed of the Patriarch's decision on 10 June the day he was winding up his visit to Poland. The Patriarch expressed a hope for further dialogue and a future meeting.
Church sources said Patriarch Alexii faced strong opposition to the meeting from within the Orthodox community. In a television interview last weekend, he claimed the meeting was cancelled because of last minute changes made by the Vatican to a planned joint statement. Two key sections were excluded: proselytism and the role of the Eastern-rite Churches in Orthodox territory, particularly in the Ukraine.
The Patriarch stressed that these issues were fundamental to further dialogue and "should have been affirmed at the level of the head of the Churches, but at the last moment they were excluded. We didn't think this meeting was possible at the present time."
The expansion of the Catholic Church in Russia and its deemed proselytising in the Orthodox heartlands has caused a major rift between the Churches over the last 12 months. Moscow has long wanted to curb Rome's fostering of the "Uniate" cause, that of Eastern rite Churches which retain their own liturgy but submit to the Pope's authority.
Although an agreement along those lines was reached four years ago, last year the Catholic Church celebrated complete with a document signed by the Pope the fourth centenary of the birth of the Greek Uniate church.
In addition to the Pope's nomination of three bishops in Russia in dioceses where there are already Orthodox bishops, the Vatican did nothing to stop wealthy organisations' attempts to convert Christians to Catholicism.
Such "proselytism" was moreover seen to have been rubber-stamped during a book launch earlier in this month by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine for the Faith.
The Vatican has declined to comment in detail on the Patriarch's decision to withdraw from talks. However last Sunday the Pontiff sent greetings to mark the Orthodox Pentecost, saying that "the gifts of the Spirit are the deep source of our unity".
He added, referring to the Book of Revelation: "Whoever has ears ought to listen to what the Spirit says to the Churches."
In Moscow this week, Viktor Barsevich, counsellor for the Apostolic Administration for European Russia, said that the cancellation of the planned Pope-Patriarch summit was unlikely to result in any changes for the Church in Russia.
"So far there has been no kind of reaction here. I can't say if anything will change or won't change. It is a little too soon". The direction of future talks may become clearer when Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewic, Apostolic Administrator of European Russia, returns from Rome. A date for another meeting is yet to be confirmed.
The Road to Graz Page 5 Editorial Comment, page 4