The Everlasting Schism

Christianity's holiest days always seem to incite fresh disputes between Roman Catholicism and Russian Orthodoxy, between the first Rome and the third Rome. This Easter is no different. What's new this time is that the current storm came out of the blue.

Last year, Russia's Patriarch Aleksei gave his blessing to a visit to Moscow by the Catholic girls' choir of the Saint Danilov monastery. Soon after, and more importantly, the Patriarch raised the level of Orthodoxy's representation at an ecumenical prayer called by Pope John Paul II in Assisi on January 24 th . This was to be followed by a visit to Moscow by a senior Vatican cleric, Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the man who helped organize last year's papal visits to Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Armenia. An invitation for the Pope to visit Moscow (a cherished dream of John Paul II) seemed near at last.

This budding goodwill ended when the Vatican announced plans to reorganize Catholic structures overseas, including within Russia. A Roman Catholic arch-diocese (headed by either a Cardinal or Archbishop) was to be created for Moscow. Four other apostolic districts in Russia were to be turned into dioceses. These changes were intended to ``grant greater opportunities for Catholic believers,'' according to Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the Vatican press officer.

The pope's press secretary called this a matter of mere ``technical change'' with nothing to do with ``proselytism.'' Similar measures, indeed, had recently been undertaken by the Moscow Patriach in relation to Orthodox parishes in Berlin, Vienna and Brussels.