Vatican Envoy Talks With Orthodox Priest

Moscow, Russia - A high-ranking Vatican envoy held sensitive talks Wednesday with a senior Russian Orthodox priest, cautioning that progress in healing the rift between the churches would be measured in small steps.

The head of the Vatican's office for relations with other Christians, Cardinal Walter Kasper, arrived in Moscow on Monday to pursue Pope Benedict XVI's drive for better relations with the Russian Orthodox Church.

Benedict's predecessor, Pope John Paul II, never fulfilled his dream of visiting Russia following the 1991 Soviet collapse because of disputes between the two churches, split during the Great Schism of 1054.

``We are here to repeat our proposals,'' Kasper said in an interview carried Wednesday by the Catholic missionary news service AsiaNews. ``There must not only be steps by us. Dialogue is always reciprocal.''

Kasper sat down for talks Wednesday with Metropolitan Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church's foreign relations department.

``We want to see what we can do together, study the possibilities,'' Kasper said, according to AsiaNews. ``There won't be decisive steps but little ones.''

The Russian Orthodox Church said in a statement after the talks that the parties expressed their understanding that ``cooperation between the Orthodox and Catholic churches in consolidating Christian spiritual and moral values ... can be especially important now, when the peoples of Europe and the world are suffering a moral crisis.''

Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Alexy II maintains that a papal visit to Russia would be possible only after ending alleged Catholic poaching for converts in Russia and other former Soviet lands and discrimination against the Orthodox in western Ukraine.

The Vatican has rejected the proselytizing allegations, saying it is only ministering to Russia's tiny Catholic community - about 600,000 people in the country's population of 144 million. The Russian Orthodox Church claims about two-thirds of the population as followers.

The Vatican said it couldn't stop Ukraine's Eastern Rite Catholics - who follow Orthodox ritual but bear allegiance to the pope - from reclaiming churches given to the Orthodox by the Communists.

During Wednesday's talks, Kirill warned Kasper that the head of Eastern Rite Catholics in Ukraine shouldn't mention the Ukrainian capital Kiev in his title or move his residence to the city, where the Moscow-controlled Orthodox Church in Ukraine has its seat, the Orthodox Church said in a statement.

It added that if Eastern Rite Catholics in Ukraine carry out their intentions, ``that would create a serious obstacle to the development of Orthodox-Catholic relations, for which the heads of the two churches have both promised to strive.''

Father Vsevolod Chaplin, a deputy head of the Orthodox Church's foreign relations department, who attended Wednesday's talks, voiced hope that the Vatican will listen to the Orthodox concerns and take them into account.