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Patriarch Kirill, Pope Benedict not to meet yet - Russian Orthodox Church

MOSCOW, October 6 (RIA Novosti) - The head of the Russian Orthodox Church's external church relations department has denied reports that a Vatican meeting of the Russian Church leader and the pope is being prepared.

"There is no preparation for the patriarch's trip to the Vatican or his meeting with the pope in any specific place at any specific time now," Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk told an audience of young people in a Moscow museum.

"The goal is not in holding a meeting but for us to drastically improve our relations and overcome the existing problems," he said.

However, Hilarion said Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia and Pope Benedict XVI could theoretically meet "on neutral territory," but added that this was not being discussed yet.

As a result of the Great Schism, Christianity split in 1054 AD into the Eastern branch (the Orthodox Church) and the Western branch (the Roman Catholic Church). They have a number of theological and political differences.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said in July that Moscow planned to improve ties with the Vatican, which have been strained in recent years over claims the Roman Catholic Church was trying to convert believers and spread its influence in former Soviet states following the collapse of the U.S.S.R.

The late Patriarch Alexy II refused to meet with then Pope John Paul II, and said outstanding disputes needed to be resolved before any meeting could go ahead with the current Catholic Church leader, Benedict XVI.

When Alexy II died in December at the age of 79, the enthronement of Russia's new church leader Patriarch Kirill, who was seen as a liberal in the largely traditionalist church, was welcomed by the Vatican.

As head of the Russian Orthodox Church's external relations for more than a decade, Kirill had led dialogue with the Vatican and other churches.

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