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Monday, 11 February, 2002, 16:03 GMT
Pope move angers Orthodox church
Pope John Paul II
The Vatican denies charges of poaching converts
By the BBC's David Willey in Rome

The Pope has restructured the organisation of the Roman Catholic Church inside Russia.

The move comes despite protests from the Russian Orthodox Church, which has accused the Vatican of poaching converts inside its territory.

Four fully-fledged Roman Catholic dioceses are being created - in Moscow, Saratov, Novosibirsk and Irkutsk.

The Vatican described this step as a purely administrative act, intended only to improve the pastoral care of about 1.3 million Roman Catholics, scattered over various parts of overwhelmingly Orthodox Russia.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexiy II
The Russian Orthodox Church will not sanction a papal visit
The Vatican justified the reorganisation of the church inside Russia, on the grounds that the Russian Orthodox Church has also set up formal administrative structures for its believers who live abroad in Europe and elsewhere.

The move aroused new criticism from the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, which has frequently accused the Church of Rome of poaching converts inside traditionally Orthodox territories.

A spokesman said the move was "an attempt by a certain wing of the Catholic church to pursue its missionary work" in Russia, and that such a decision should not have been taken unilaterally.

Pope's hopes

The Vatican argues that any new converts to Catholicism inside Russia are people who formerly had no religion at all.

And it insists that Rome has never had any intention of upsetting the cultural identity of a country that it recognises as traditionally Orthodox.

Relations between the two churches have been tense during the pontificate of John Paul II.

The Pope would dearly like to visit Moscow, but the Russian Patriarch has so far opposed this, even though President Putin has raised no objections.

See also:

27 Jun 01 | Europe
Pope positive over Ukraine visit
24 Jun 01 | Europe
Orthodox church snubs Pope
23 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Pope urges harmony between faiths
30 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Vatican
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