Feeling Abandoned, Russian Catholics Appeal to the Pope
Leaders of a Russian Catholic church feel sidelined as Pope Francis pursues closer ties with the country’s dominant Orthodox Church
A group of Russian Catholics is demanding greater recognition from Pope Francis, saying the Vatican’s appeasement of Moscow threatens its very existence.
Leaders of the Russian Byzantine Catholic Church, with fewer than 30,000 members world-wide, are meeting in Italy this week in their first such synod in a century.
On the agenda is a longstanding request for their own bishop and resources for training their own clergy. Church leaders say the pope has ignored their appeals as he pursues closer ties with the Russian Orthodox Church, which is dominant in the country.
“The survival of the Russian Catholic Church is what’s at stake,” said the Rev. Lawrence Cross, a Russian Catholic priest based near Melbourne, Australia. “One of the essential things we need for our survival, like any church or any family, is a father.”
Archbishop Cyril Vasil’, secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Oriental Churches, said his office was aware of the Russian Catholics’ meeting but declined to comment.
The complaints of the Russian Byzantine Catholic Church echo those of other groups who feel Pope Francis is willing to sacrifice their well-being for the sake of other priorities.
Catholics in Ukraine accuse the pope of playing down Russian aggression toward their countryin order to placate the Russian Orthodox Church, which has criticized Ukrainian Catholics’ opposition to Russian-backed separatists. Russian President Vladimir Putin has cultivated a close relationship with the Orthodox Church as part of a nationalist campaign.
And some members of China’s underground Catholic church, who have remained loyal to Rome through more than half a century of persecution, worry the pope will betray their fidelity in pursuit of a deal with Beijing and the government-controlled official Catholic church there.
The Vatican has sought stronger links with the Eastern Orthodox churches since the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council, working toward ending a schism that dates to the 11th century. Pope Francis has made closer ties with the Russian Orthodox, who represent about two-thirds of the world’s 250 million Orthodox Christians, an especially urgent priority in light of increasing persecution of Christians around the world. In 2016, Pope Francis became the first pope to meet a patriarch of Moscow.