Church Cautioned Against Fearing Vatican

Kiev, Ukraine - One of Ukraine's top religious leaders said Wednesday the Orthodox Church should not fear the Vatican and there are no obstacles to greater cooperation between the two Christian churches.

Patriarch Filaret, who heads the Ukrainian Orthodox Church's Kiev Patriarchate, said in an interview with The Associated Press that the churches have much in common and should cooperate in emphasizing the importance of the family and moral values.

"Today the task and mission of Christian churches — Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant — is to support moral values and support spirituality and morality in European civilization," Filaret said.

Pope Benedict XVI has already declared a "fundamental commitment" to heal the divide between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Unifying the two churches is "desirable but today it is not realistic," Filaret said, but he said greater cooperation is possible.

The Ukrainian church split into three parts after this former Soviet republic gained independence, in part due to the refusal of the Russian Orthodox church to cede control over this mainly Orthodox nation of 48 million.

The Kiev patriarchate, which claims independence from Moscow and boasts more than 2,700 congregations throughout Ukraine, warmly welcomed a visit by Benedict's predecessor John Paul II in 2001.

The Russian Orthodox Church strongly objected to the papal visit, complaining in part that the presence of Eastern Rite Catholics in western Ukraine was an infringement on their traditional territory.

The Moscow Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church also opposed the visit.

Eastern Rite Catholics, or Greek Catholics, follow Orthodox rituals but pledge allegiance to the pope, causing some Orthodox to accuse them of attracting believers who would otherwise be Orthodox.

Filaret said during the pope's visit that he told him "the reason for the division of Christianity is sin; love can unite us."

On Wednesday, he said: "We don't need to be afraid of Rome, or the Greek Catholics."

The Orthodox Church should focus its efforts on "working more with our people, with our youth," he said.