While some journalists expected it to be now ‘a conservative counter-revolution’, now boundless ecumenism and liberalism, the pontificate of Benedict XVI has so far answered only the famous slogan of ‘moderateness and carefulness’. The Synod of Bishops made no radical moves. The new pope’s first encyclical, which is expected to be issued before long, may also prove to be boring and careful, like the pontiff’s first speeches. No breakthrough is seen on the Russian front either.
The visits made to Moscow by Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, followed by that of Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, Vatican Secretary for the State Relations (actually, minister of foreign affairs) have brought nothing new. It looks like the Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs has not met the Vatican’s expectation to elevate the diplomatic relations to the level of full-fledged embassies. The Russian Catholics will hardly be included in the Public Chamber notwithstanding Lajolo’s expressed wish they may be.
Both prelates embraced representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church ceremoniously, thus declaring their greatest respect. In public however, it was again translated into the Catholic interests calling to ‘equal dignity’ of Churches (clearly, in Russia, not in Italy or Spain) and to the need to ‘forget the past resentments’ including the most recent transfer of the Uniate cardinal’s see to Kiev. In response, the Danilov Monastery also gave some public stings, accusing the Catholics once again of proselytism and attempts to reshape the Ukrainian confessional map.
As the Vatican’s official position suggests, the Catholics should not be engaged in proselytism. Cardinal Kasper even stated that Russia was not seen as a missionary field. But many Catholics ‘on earth’, especially Polish natives, as well as Russian neophytes who used to be Orthodox, do not think so. Both are eager to make Russia a part of the West. After the working group for resolving Orthodox-Catholic problems reached the specific places where the Orthodox complained, not without reason, of proselytism, the Vatican realized that the problem had better be hushed up; otherwise it will have either to change its official position or to recall its missionaries.
The most important thing however is that the factor of John Paul II’s insistent dream of visiting Russia has passed into history. Benedict XVI seems to have more important things to think about. It is not accidental that both prelates, Kasper and Lajolo, have made it very clear: a papal visit is certainly desirable but it is in no way planned for 2006, if it is planned at all for the time being. In short, a sensation on the Orthodox-Catholic front will not happen.