Rome (ENI). A top official of the Russian Orthodox Church has said many problems have still to be resolved before a meeting can take place between Pope Benedict XVI and Moscow Patriarch Alexei II, despite overtures for such a meeting from the Vatican.
"I can't give an exact date [for such a meeting] because such a date doesn't exist," Metropolitan Kirill, head of the Russian patriarchate's department for external church relations said in Moscow, the Interfax news agency reported on 27 November.
Kirill was responding to suggestions by Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, that a meeting between the two church leaders might improve relations between Orthodox and Catholic Christians.
Kasper made his remarks in a 23 November address at the Vatican to the College of Cardinals about the state of relations between Christian churches.
Benedict's predecessor, Pope John Paul II, spoke repeatedly about his dream of visiting Russia, but met resistance from the Moscow Patriarchate, which had accused the Vatican of aggressively seeking converts among Russian Orthodox faithful.
Speaking about relations with the Moscow church, however, Kasper said there is "no longer ice, but a thaw". He added, "From our point of view, a meeting between the Pope and Patriarch of Moscow would be useful."
Metropolitan Kirill also noted that the level of relations between the Orthodox and Catholic churches was now much higher than a few years ago. But, he said, "There is a working process and interaction. We are discussing many problems of our relations that are still on the agenda."
Kasper, in his Vatican speech, underlined the importance of working for Christian unity.
"There is no realistic alternative to ecumenism," he said, praising a recent document agreed by Orthodox and Catholic theologians at Ravenna in northern Italy, which dealt with the papacy among other things.
"For the first time, the Orthodox participants acknowledged the level of the universal Church and admitted that also at this level there is a Protos, a Primate, which can only be the Bishop of Rome," said Kasper, referring to one of the Pope's titles. "This is only a first step ... but with this document we have a basis for future dialogue."
Still, as far as Protestant churches were concerned, Kasper noted that despite some agreements, new differences had arisen.
"While on the one hand we are trying to overcome the old disputes, the other new differences are emerging in the field of ethics," the cardinal stated. "This concerns in particular issues relating to the defence of life, marriage, family and about human sexuality."
The Milan-based Corriere della Sera newspaper reported that after Kasper's speech, the English Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor suggested that Pope Benedict undertake a "a courageous gesture to invite all Christian churches to a world meeting".
The Pope responded, the newspaper continued, by saying, "It's a good idea, but at the moment it's not viable; and the difficulties do not come from our side."
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