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“Conversion of Russia” Update:

More Useless Palaver from the Russian Orthodox

by Christopher A. Ferrara

As I have pointed out repeatedly in this column, 40 years of “ecumenical dialogue” have produced absolutely nothing by way of truly closer relations with the Russian Orthodox hierarchy, which is controlled by the Moscow Patriarchate, controlled in turn by the Kremlin.

While the Vatican dialogues endlessly with the Moscow Patriarchate, Patriarch Alexi II works hand in glove with Vladimir Putin to make life intolerable for Russian Catholics. As the Vatican dialogues with Alexi, Moscow passes a law reducing the Catholic Church to second-class status, as if it were a sect. While the Vatican dialogues, the Putin regime expels the bishop of Siberia and numerous key clerics in the tiny Catholic apparatus in Russia. While the Vatican dialogues, parishes are denied construction permits and priests are put under surveillance.

But now, speaking at a conference on religions also attended by Cardinal (the friendly heretic) Kasper, Metropolitan Kirill of the Moscow Patriarchate says that “the time has come for a change in the relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church.” (Zenit, Sept. 9, 2003)

Sure, sure. And just what “change” does Kirill have in mind? Here it is: “The time has arrived to change the present difficult situation between the Orthodox Church of Moscow and the Catholic Church…. Moscow is ready to discuss; the issues are on the table. Once these difficulties are surmounted, the meeting between the Pope and the patriarch of Moscow will serve to turn definitively the difficult page of the past.”

So, the great “change” in relations between Moscow and Rome is that Moscow is ready to discuss the issues between the Russian Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church, and that once the issues are “resolved” — to the complete satisfaction of the Orthodox, of course — the Pope might be allowed to go to Moscow. Where exactly is the change? This is what the Moscow Patriarchate has been saying for at least the past 20 years in its negotiations with the Vatican.

Ah, but it seems there is a change after all. In his remarks Kirill avoided using the word proselytism to describe Catholic activity in Russia. Instead he called it “missionary competition”. Wow! That’s progress! We’ve actually advanced to the use of a new phrase for exactly the same thing. But whatever they call it, the Russians continue to insist that the Catholic Church cease any effort to make converts in Russia. Kirill demands that this “missionary competition” must cease because it is part of what he calls “the ideology of the free market of religions.”

Cardinal Kasper, following the usual Vatican line, flatly denied any effort to convert Russians. Oh, no. Should any Russian Orthodox happen to stumble into the Catholic Church, that is only an accident caused by “grass-roots spirituality”, rather than “any movement organized by the Vatican.” Some Catholics may recall that before Vatican II, the “movement organized by the Vatican” to make converts was commonly known as the divine commission of the Church given by Jesus Christ Himself to the Apostles — to make disciples of all nations, including Russia — and it was reiterated to the Catholic bishops and the Pope by Our Lady of Fatima.

Not on your life, says Kasper. On the contrary, he declared, the Catholic Church actually depends upon the continued existence of the Russian Orthodox and other schismatic and Orthodox churches as “a valid counterweight, given the danger of sliding into theological secularism.” Here Kasper was responding to Kirill’s remark that “ecumenism has met with a dead end… [It] has become the hostage of humanist secularism which has entered to a great extent in the churches of the West.” That much is certainly true. And how ironic that this bit of truth comes from the Orthodox party.

It is a sad and terrifying day for Catholics when a Vatican prelate who has already publicly pronounced several heresies (see archived columns on Kasper) admits that we have reached the point where Eastern Orthodoxy is a counterweight to theological secularism in the Catholic Church. But such is the disaster foreseen in the Message of Fatima. Only Our Lady can, and will, deliver us from it — if only we will do what She requested of us.