#7 - JRL 7067
Putin Thinks Pope's Visit to Moscow Is Necessary, Says Envoy
Russian Aide Rules Out Return of Bishop Mazur and Others Who Were Expelled
MOSCOW, FEB. 18, 2003 (ZENIT.org-Avvenire).- Russia's representative to the Vatican said that President Vladimir Putin regards John Paul II's visit to his country as necessary, so long as the Orthodox Church welcomes him too.
In an interview with the Moscow newspaper Vremja Novostej, Vitaly Litvin said: "The Pope's visit to Moscow is not only possible but also necessary."
"However, some obstacles must be removed in the dialogue between the Churches," he added. "The Pope cannot go only as head of state. He is, at the same time, head of a Church -- that is why it is unthinkable that he not meet with the patriarch of Moscow during his visit. It is necessary to prepare a normal terrain so that the visit will be productive."
Referring to the obstacles that exist in the dialogue between Rome and the Orthodox patriarchate, Litvin mentioned the alleged "proselytism" of Catholics in Russia, and the question of Eastern-rite Catholics in Ukraine.
The envoy also touched upon the question of the Catholic bishop and priests expelled from the Russian Federation last year.
According to the diplomat, their expulsion "has nothing to do with their religious activity," hence, "the accusations against Russia of fomenting an anti-Catholic campaign are totally unfounded."
Litvin added that "some representatives of the Catholic Church had gone beyond their spiritual sphere and begun to dedicate themselves to activities that are incompatible with their condition as priests."
"It is not something normal for a representative of the clergy to dedicate himself to purely commercial activities," he added. He offered no proof to back up his charges.
In response, Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian bishops' conference, described the accusations as "incomprehensible and even insulting."
Litvin added that the Holy See "must not have any illusions about the return of the pastors who, having violated Russian legislation, have had their visas canceled." He said, however, that the Kremlin is not opposed to these priests being replaced by others.
According to the newspaper Vremja Novostej, since the arrival of Archbishop Antonio Mennini, the new Vatican representative in Moscow, there has been an improvement in relations between the government and the Holy See.
Relations between the Orthodox Church and Rome deteriorated in 2002 after four Catholic dioceses were established in the Russian Federation. Among those later expelled was Bishop Jerzy Mazur, of the Siberian Diocese of St. Joseph in Irkutsk.