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MOSCOW – A top Russian Orthodox official signaled that a meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Benedict XVI is not likely to happen soon, a news agencies reported Friday.
The comments from Bishop Ilarion, the Russian church’s envoy to European organizations, are the latest indication that the centuries-old distrust between the two denominations remains difficult to dispel.
Kirill’s ascension to the patriarchy earlier this month following the death of the church’s first post-Soviet leader, Alexy II, had sparked some hope that the two churches might reconcile – a longtime goal of the late Pope John Paul II.
Relations are strained by Russian accusations that the Vatican tries to convert Orthodox believers, something the Roman Catholic church denies. The two have also had disputes over property and influence in Ukraine, where both have large flocks.
Ilarion was quoted as saying that a meeting between the two church leaders had always been possible, but he accused the Vatican of continuing to proselytize in countries the Russian church considers historically Orthodox.
Kirill will “do everything to remove the obstacles that are hindering such a meeting,” he
was quoted by Interfax and ITAR-Tass as saying.
“We should see to it that the Orthodox and Catholics aren’t rivals but allies. We need to avoid aggression,” ITAR-Tass quoted him as saying.
Kirill headed the church’s department of external relations and met often with Vatican leaders.
After Kirill’s election as patriarch, Benedict XVI pledged to work toward closer relations and cited areas of common interest, such as the defense of Christian values.
The Russian church is the largest and wealthiest of the 14 Eastern Orthodox churches.
Associated Press – February 13, 2009
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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