Vatican Seeks Diplomatic Ties With Russia

The Vatican (search) and Russia (search) should establish full diplomatic relations because the current ties don't correspond to the weight each wields in the world, the Vatican's foreign minister said in comments released Thursday.

Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo also said he was convinced that the "difficult" relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church were not "unresolvable" and said he prayed that the time becomes ripe for a visit to Russia by Pope Benedict XVI (search).

The Vatican released transcripts of interviews Lajolo gave to two Russian news outlets; he arrived in Moscow on Wednesday and called for upgrading diplomatic relations with the Kremlin.

He is to meet Friday with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and hold a separate session with Metropolitan Kirill, who heads the Russian Orthodox Church's foreign relations department.

"It seems evident to me that the current status of the reciprocal representations in Moscow and the Vatican doesn't correspond to the weight which the Holy See attributes to its relations with the Moscow government, nor in the position which the Holy See — with its 174 apostolic nunziatures and another 20 representatives to international organizations — has in the world," Lajolo was quoted as saying. "Rather, I think both the parties should work to progress onto full diplomatic relations."

The Holy See and the Soviet Union established official ties in 1990, but they fell short of full diplomatic relations. The Vatican says it and Russia have "relations of a special nature" in which the Kremlin maintains a mission with an ambassador in Rome and the Vatican a papal nuncio in Moscow.

In a separate interview with the Blagovest-Info news agency, Lajolo said the problems with the Russian Orthodox Church could be surpassed and said the Catholic Church in Russia was ready to look into the misunderstandings.

Pope John Paul II had long sought to visit Russia, and Pope Benedict XVI has continued his outreach to the Orthodox, saying that unifying all Christians was a "fundamental" priority of his pontificate.

The head of the Russian church, Patriarch Alexy II, maintains that a papal visit would be possible only after the Catholic Church stops poaching converts in Russia and other ex-Soviet lands and ends discrimination against the Orthodox in western Ukraine.

The Vatican has rejected the proselytizing allegations, saying it is only ministering to Russia's tiny Catholic community — about 600,000 people in a country of 144 million.

In the Blagovest interview, Lajolo said the "reciprocal difficulties" between the two were based on "a painful inability to elaborate a common language" to deal with the issues that divide them.

"One cannot, for example, fail to notice a difference in the way of evaluating the right of a person to have his or her own choice of religious confession," he said.

Lajolo said a visit by the pope to Russia would be an extremely significant ecumenical event and should serve only to give hope to all Christians in Russia.

"I don't think that the Holy Father, Benedict XVI, would undertake a visit that rather than contributing to a greater understanding and agreement in the Christian camp could be motive for tension or discontent," he said.

"Let us pray to the Lord that such conditions (of promoting understanding) are in place soon," he said.