Russian Orthodox patriarch opposes papal visit

Posted: Friday, May 18, 2001

MOSCOW (AP) -- The head of the Russian Orthodox Church has said that Pope John Paul II should not visit Russia until the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches resolve festering disputes over church properties and Catholic missionary activity.

Patriarch Alexy II was repeating a long-held position. But such statements have received more attention because of the pope's May visit to Greece and planned June trip to Ukraine, both heavily Orthodox.

The Russian Orthodox are sensitive about the Ukraine visit because many Orthodox parishes there are under Moscow's ecclesiastical jurisdiction.

Ukraine has a large Eastern Rite Catholic minority, mostly in the west. Property disputes involve churches confiscated from Ukraine's Catholics and given to the Orthodox under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

Greece's Archbishop Christodoulos, who recently hosted the pope, said during a Moscow visit that he also opposes John Paul's Ukraine visit because of Orthodox objections there.

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