Ukrainian Catholic Church says move to Kyiv not aimed at other churches

Kiev, Ukraine - The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church said Aug. 26 that the church's plans to move its headquarters from the western city of Lviv to the Ukrainian capital were not aimed against other churches.

"The move is not aimed against anybody and it is motivated by real needs and the development of the Greek Catholic Church," Cardinal Lubomir Husar said in a statement posted on the church's official Web site.

The Greek Catholic Church plans to move to Kyiv by this Aug. 28, Husar said.

Russian Orthodox Church's Patriarch Alexy II warned on Aug. 24 that the move would affect relations with the Vatican and would stoke tension in Ukraine. Protests staged by minor pro-Russian organizations were expected on Aug. 28.

The Russian church has long accused Catholics of poaching for converts among the Orthodox since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 Soviet collapse.

Most of Ukraine's 48 million people are Orthodox, but about one-tenth are so-called Greek Catholics who follow many Orthodox traditions yet remain loyal to the Vatican.

Meanwhile, Metropolitan Volodymyr, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate asked Pope Benedict XVI to halt the transfer of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church headquarters.

In a letter posted on his official Web site on Aug. 25, Volodymyr said that the move "has stirred up the Orthodox Church and secular communities in Ukraine, added confusion to ... church life, and provoked inter-confessional and political speculation."

In a separate statement, the pro-Russian church's top body - the Holy Synod - also warned the leadership of the Greek Catholic Church to reconsider the transfer. The Synod said it would not be responsible "for possible unpredictable consequences of such actions," the statement said.

Riots broke out in the mid-1990s during a dispute between Ukrainian Orthodox churches, but tension between rank-and-file believers has since quieted and it was unclear whether the newest developments will result in any flare-ups.