Chances of Pope-Patriarch Meeting Gain

Berlin, Germany - Chances of a meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and the Russian Patriarch Alexy II at a neutral location are improving, a top official in the Russian Orthodox Church was quoted as telling a German magazine this week.

In an interview with the weekly Der Spiegel, Metropolitan Kirill, the top foreign relations official in the Russian church, said relations between the two churches have become warmer since Benedict was elected pope in 2005; and that after his own meeting with the pontiff last month, it is evident that "relations have improved."

Asked whether he could imagine the pope and patriarch meeting in a third country, away from Russia and the Vatican, Kirill replied that "it's certainly possible," Der Spiegel reported.

He was quoted as saying that "the entire development in bilateral relations is moving in the direction of such meeting coming about."

Relations between Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholics have at times been tense.

The Russian Orthodox Church has accused Roman Catholics of improperly seeking converts in traditionally Orthodox areas. The Vatican has rejected the claim, saying it only ministers to the country's Catholics, mostly of Eastern European and German origin, and who number about 600,000 in a country of 142 million.

The tensions prevented Pope John Paul II from realizing his dream of visiting Moscow in his quest to bring Orthodox and Catholics closer together.

Benedict has also made efforts toward Orthodox-Catholic unity a priority of his pontificate.

Kirill told Der Spiegel that Benedict had "removed the issue of a visit to Moscow from the agenda."

"This sort of visit would not have solved any problems, but it would have provoked new ones," he was quoted as saying. "Many of the faithful in Russia mistrust Catholics. This is a legacy of the wars and of proselytization efforts in the 17th and 18th centuries."