Russian Orthodox Patriarch accuses Vatican of 'unfriendly policy' in ex-Soviet states

Moscow, Russia - The head of the Russian Orthodox Church on Tuesday accused the Vatican of pursuing an "extremely unfriendly policy" in Russia and other ex-Soviet states, warning that such behavior could further strain ties between the two churches, a Russian news agency reported.

Patriarch Alexy II reiterated claims that Catholic priests were working to convert people baptized as Orthodox believers to Catholicism and discriminating against the Orthodox in western Ukraine.

"I hope the Vatican will undertake concrete steps to change the situation for the better," Alexy was quoted as saying by the RIA-Novosti news agency.

He added that if the situation remains the same, meetings of Orthodox and Vatican officials would only be formal and "will not bring relief to people who suffer from the non-brotherly actions" of Catholic priests, according to RIA-Novosti.

Russian Orthodox officials accuse the Vatican of poaching for converts in the traditionally Orthodox lands in Russia and several other ex-Soviet republics. The Vatican has rejected the proselytizing allegations, saying it is only ministering to Russia's tiny Catholic community — about 600,000 people in a country of 144 million.

The conflict has prevented the heads of the two churches from having a meeting.