WARSAW, Poland (CNS): The secretary-general of the Russian bishops’ conference said the Catholic Church’s working conditions in Russia had improved, and he was hopeful that would lead to the development of higher-level diplomatic relations.
“Our Church’s ties with state and society here have significantly improved recently, and we hope this process will now develop further,” the secretary-general Fr Igor Kovalevsky told Catholic News Service in a July 14 telephone interview.
“A full relationship will clearly facilitate links at a time when both the Holy See and Russian Federation share common views on many international questions,” Fr Kovalevsky said.
The Interfax news agency reported earlier in July that the Vatican’s representative in Moscow Archbishop Antonio Mennini said talks on diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Russia would end soon after “covering a lot of ground”.
A spokeswoman for Archbishop Mennini’s office told CNS on July 14 that a timetable for diplomatic ties would depend on the Russian side, adding that “nothing had been decided” about possible dates.
In a July 5 interview with Italy’s Corriere della Sera daily, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said he believed diplomatic ties were “likely to develop”, adding that Russian and Vatican negotiators had discussed “increasing them to full ambassadorial, diplomatic format”.
Fr Kovalevsky told CNS that foreign Catholic clergy were finding it “significantly easier” to obtain permits to minister in Russia. He said local problems were caused by “burdensome Russian bureaucracy” rather than “bad attitudes to the Catholic Church”.
“The whole of Russian society suffers from the same bureaucratic unpleasantness – this isn’t a special problem for Catholics, and it isn’t in any way a sign of persecution or hostility,” he said.
He said Catholic ties had improved with the Russian Orthodox Church and attributed this to its new leader Patriarch Kirill, who was elected in January to succeed the late Patriarch Alexy II.
“Although conditions were improving before that, expectations have been largely justified thanks to the new patriarch’s stance,” Fr Kovalevsky said.
The Vatican and Russia exchanged diplomatic envoys in 1990 following a historic Rome visit by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Closer ties were believed impeded by repeated Orthodox complaints that Catholics were trying to recruit their believers, as well as by Orthodox objections to the February 2002 creation of four Catholic dioceses in Russia.