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Monday, 14 October, 2002, 17:51 GMT 18:51 UK
Vatican outraged at brothel slur
St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican
The Vatican has complained to Russian authorities
The Vatican has condemned what it calls a smear campaign aimed at the Roman Catholic Church in Russia - citing recent reports about a brothel on church property in Moscow.

A statement from papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said that Franciscan friars in Moscow had let out a flat on church property to someone who - without their blessing - then used it as a brothel.

The ensuing media coverage in both Russia and Italy showed people wearing "religious clothes" in "immoral poses", the Vatican said, and was part of "a despicable operation" to discredit the church.

Pope John Paul II
The Pope has never visited Russia

The Vatican's statement accused the media of having "deceitfully constructed" its coverage to damage the church's reputation.

There has long been friction between the Vatican and Russia, with the Russian Orthodox Church complaining that Rome has been too aggressive in seeking converts.

Even a recent television link-up between the Pope and Catholics in Russia raised the ire of Patriarch Aleksiy of the Russian Orthodox Church, who condemned the broadcast as an "invasion".

The Vatican's creation of four new dioceses in Russia, as well as recent visits by Pope John Paul II to the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan and Ukraine, have increased tensions.

The Vatican was also upset by the recent expulsion from Russia of several Catholic priests of foreign origin.

Great Schism

Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, head of the Roman Catholic Church in Russia, has complained of bans on the building of churches, and of problems with vandalism.

Dr Navarro-Valls said the Vatican's representative in Moscow has lodged official complaints with Russian authorities about the brothel.

The Pope, originally from neighbouring Poland, has never visited Russia, where there is an estimated 600,000 Roman Catholics among the population of 148 million.

The Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church ex-communicated each other's followers in the Great Schism of 1054.

See also:

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