Topic: RIA NOVOSTI
VATICAN, March 2 (RIA Novosti) - The Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches have begun improving relations and boosting contacts since Benedict XVI was elected Pope, the bishop of Vienna and Austria said Friday.
Bishop Ilarion, a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church at European international organizations, told RIA Novosti that the two Churches have intensified cultural links, but have still not worked out a common position on the problems of Uniatism and Proselytism.
"We should reach a certain progress in the discussion of these problems before speaking about a real improvement of relations," he said.
Uniatism is the union of Orthodox Christian communities with Rome through their acknowledgement of the Pope's universal primacy. These Orthodox communities are subject to papal authority, but follow their own Orthodox rites in worship.
The Catholic Church considers only these communities truly Orthodox.
The Russian Orthodox Church also accuses the Vatican of Proselytism, mainly in Western Ukraine, and attempts to convert Orthodox believers into the Catholic religion.
The Catholic Church claims that it is supporting the existing Catholic community and is not proselytizing.
Referring to foreign media reports about preparations for a meeting between Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia and Pope Benedict XVI, the bishop said that that is not the essence of the complicated relations between the two churches.
"More importantly, we should reach mutual understanding. In this case, there will be no obstacles to the meeting," he said.
Bishop Ilarion said attempts to organize the meeting were made earlier, but it was canceled when the sides failed to agree on key issues.
"We should work to find a common position, to prepare the meeting, which should mark a breakthrough in relations between the Churches," he said.
He said he hopes the Vatican will take steps to reach understanding, adding that he has no information about the possible date and place of the meeting.
The bishop said the meeting is unlikely to be held either in Russia or in Italy.
"This could be a historic meeting if it opens a new page in the history of our relations," he said.
Speaking about President Vladimir Putin's upcoming meeting with Pope Benedict XVI during his trip to Italy in March, Bishop Ilarion said that that is not a mediation between the two Churches.
"The Pope is not only the head of the Church, he is also the head of state. His state duties imply meetings with presidents and prime ministers of different countries," he said.
He praised the development of state contacts with the Vatican, but said church relations will not be on the agenda of the visit.