VATICAN, September 21 (RIA Novosti) - Pope Benedict XVI appointed Friday a new head of the Russian Roman Catholics, the Holy See said on its Web site.
Paolo Pezzi, 45, who has lived and worked in Russia for 10 years, heads a Roman Catholic seminary in St. Petersburg. He will replace Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, who has been appointed as the Vatican's representative in Belarus, where he was born and earlier served as apostolic administrator.
Experts say the new appointment can be considered as a calculated diplomatic step significant for the complicated relations between the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. Some scholars believe the Moscow Patriarchate had a slightly negative attitude towards Kondrusiewicz.
Pezzi, 47, was born in Russi, Italy. He studied philosophy and theology in 1985-1990 at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. He subsequently became rector of the St. Petersburg seminary. As well as his native Italian, he speaks Russian, English, Spanish and French.
The Moscow Patriarchate, which governs the Russian Orthodox Church, said Friday it hopes that Orthodox-Catholic dialogue will develop further under the new head of Russian Roman Catholics.
"Personnel decisions by the Roman Catholic Church are its own internal affair. I would just like to say that we traditionally hope that Orthodox-Catholic cooperation will develop, primarily in the cause of the consolidation of Christian values in the life of society," a Moscow Patriarchate spokesman, archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, said.
The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexy II, has refused all previous invitations to visit Rome from Pope Benedict and his predecessor, John Paul II. He has accused the Vatican of trying to win new converts in post-Soviet countries regarded by the Russian Church as historically Orthodox.
Russian President Vladimir Putin met with the pope during a visit to the Vatican in March this year, and pledged his assistance in reconciling the two Churches.
Eastern Orthodoxy arose as a distinct branch of Christianity after the 11th-century "Great Schism" between Eastern and Western Christendom in 1054 AD.