The leader of Russia’s powerful Orthodox Church played down hopes of an imminent reconciliation with Rome in an interview on Monday, saying Catholic missionary activity in Russia prevented the churches from restoring ties.Speculation has flourished about a possible historic meeting between Russia’s Patriarch Alexiy II and Pope Benedict XVI after both sides indicated they were open in principle to healing a centuries-old rift between Western and Russian Christianity.
Russia is by far the biggest Orthodox Christian church and has undergone a big religious revival since the demise of the atheist Soviet Union. President Vladimir Putin, once a KGB spy, is now open about his Orthodox faith.
“Stopping us from restoring relations are some unsolved issues between our churches,” Alexiy told the Polish daily Dziennik in an interview published on Monday. “We have many questions about the missionary and charitable activities of Catholic monks and clergy in Russia and CIS (former Soviet) countries.”
The Russian Orthodox Church, by far the dominant religion in Russia, has sharply criticised the Vatican for creating new dioceses on its turf and has accused Catholic priests of attempting to poach Orthodox believers as converts to Rome. Alexiy said some Catholic clerics “started to see the ex-Soviet Union as a spiritual desert to be dealt with”.
The Catholic Church says it is only doing what is necessary to attend to the needs of Russia’s estimated one million Catholics, mostly of East European or German origin, who were neglected during decades of religious persecution in the Soviet Union. “We have always said that a Russian visit of (former) Pope John Paul was possible only when all the problems between our churches were resolved. Unfortunately, it has not happened until now,” Alexiy said.
“In Russia and Ukraine, Catholics always treated the Orthodox believers more as enemies than as brothers in faith … the activities of Catholics in Russia have created many challenges for the dialogue of our churches.” “These matters need to be resolved”.
In particular, Alexiy criticised Catholic shelters which he said brought up orphans from Orthodox families in the Catholic tradition, saying this “is hurting us exceptionally”. (Please realizethat Roman Catholics wish to do the same to American Protestant children using school vouchers and charter schools in the education system with your tax dollars. It is almost as if the public education system has been turned undesirable in some areas on purpose, and please recall that both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush support charter schools, and more than a few Democrats even support vouchers.)
Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz said last October at a farewell news conference after 16 years heading the Catholic Church in Russia that the Orthodox “could have been better to us”, adding he never sought to convert Orthodox Christians.
Christianity split into two branches in the Great Schism of 1054, when the Orthodox Church broke away from the Roman church in a row over papal authority and the insertion of a disputed clause into the Creed, the central statement of Christian faith.
Ultimately, both these bodies will recognize their mutual enemy, evangelical Christianity, and join forces. The Russian Orthodox church, with the help of the Putin state, has worked mightily to repress Southern Baptist and Pentecostal evangelistic efforts in the nation. For all of Putin’s professions of faith, he is primarily a nationalist, and knows that a major reason for the failure of the Soviet regime was its persecution of religious people. Putin now knows – obviously from studying history – that the state can become much more powerful and nationalistic by co – opting a spiritually empty version of state religion. Let us see … you had Constantinism, the Holy Roman Empire, feudalism, Nazi Germany (not to mention religio – fascist Italy and Japan), the various Islamic states, and oh yes how could I forget “Christian values” America (whether those values be liberal or conservative, they still seem to wind up with our bombing indigent brown – skinned people in places where there tend to be large oil reserves like the Kennedy – LBJ adventure in Viet Nam and the Iraq/Afghanistan nightmare that Bush, Clinton, and then Bush have truthfully had us in since the early 1990s, and that was after our arming Saddam to fight Iran in the 1980s). But the upshot here is that if the Russian Orthodox Church reopens official ties with the Roman Catholic Church, it will be because tsar Vladimir Putin decides that it is in the best interests of mother Russia and on mother Russia’s terms.
So why would Rome be amenable to tsar Putin’s terms? Simple: demographics. The Roman Catholic Church has been virtually bankrupted of numbers and influence in Europe, and is facing a huge challenge from Islam (and also from evangelical Protestant Christianity, though to a much lesser extent). By contrast, the third world portion of the church is exploding in numbers. Not only is this severely hurting Rome in terms of financing and administration, as they are used to transferring wealth from the west to the third world but also largely governing the third world churches from the west, but creates huge challenges for the church doctrinally. The Roman Catholic Church already had to beat back a huge liberation theology challenge coming from Latin America and Africa in the 1980s (the current pope being the one tasked with crushing it with an iron fist), and while liberation theology is now no longer a great threat (ironically because of the collapse of Soviet communism, but also because now that it has largely been accepted within liberal and moderate Christianity and hence no longer has its radical subversive appeal) there are other ways the third world segment of Roman Catholicism is going to assert itself, including demanding official recognition for their local syncretized flavors of Catholicism (first off it isn’t as if the Roman Catholic Church didn’t spend centuries doing this in Europe, and also John Paul got the ball rolling by beatifying plenty of third world shamans, mystics, witch doctors, etc. as “saints.” As a matter of fact, some Roman Catholic observers claim that unless things change, Ratzinger may well be the last European pope for awhile.
And that is why change is precisely what Ratzinger has in mind. Ratzinger said on the day that he was chosen as pope that his primary concern would be rebuilding the European church, and that he chose his papal name precisely for that reason. Doing business with tsar Putin would rapidly increase the number of white Europeans in the Roman Catholic Church, and just as important enrich the Vatican with enough oil wealth to transfer it to the third world churches and keep the third world Vatican loyalists in firm power. The even better part is that as the Russian Orthodox Church is the largest and most influential of the eastern orthodox churches, once they realign with Rome, the other orthodox churches in Greece, Turkey, etc. will have little choice but to fall in line.
So what is in it for tsar Putin? Simple: the Vatican wields considerable political and cultural influence in the nations of a lot of his enemies. Case in point: the United States and its five Roman Catholics on the Supreme Court. Remember the huge backlash when George W. Bush attempted to place an evangelical Christian on the court … Harriet Miers was sacked and replaced with the majority vote Samuel Alito. And YOU, evangelical Christian Republicans, thought that it was about Roe. v. Wade, didn’t you? Or didn’t you figure that the Vatican would be willing to abide abortion for a generation or three if it meant positioning themselves politically for the long haul?
Tsar Putin knows that thanks to the Christian right, influence with the Vatican means influence over America. And the Vatican is more than willing to let Tsar Putin have what he wants, because, well, the Vatican knows that 100 years from now Putin will be off the scene and they will still be around. So long as they will have Russia then they are willing to mollify Putin now.