Russian Catholics sacrificed in the name of ecumenism

Source: FSSPX News


Apic: 600,000 Catholics lost among some 150 million inhabitants spread over the whole territory of the Russian Federation (more than 17 million square kilometers), is this really a threat to the Russian Orthodox Church? But first of all, who are they?

Victor Khroul: The Catholics in Russia are a very small minority, but they are very important for society, they are very active: it’s a bit like the salt in dough! Last year the country lost the opportunity to find out more about the number of believers at the last census, as unfortunately, religious membership was not mentioned on the questionnaire.

The Catholics of Russia come from diverse nationalities: Germans, Poles, Lithuanians, Belarussians, Ukrainians….. and from other origins through mixed marriages. The majority do not speak the language of their grandparents, but only Russian. The “pure” Russians of Catholic denomination are very few, but their numbers are increasing. These people come mainly from atheist families, sometimes from Orthodox families; if they had been baptized as children, they are no longer practicing.

Apic: The Russian Orthodox Church accuses you of proselytism….

Victor Khroul: What is meant by the word “proselytism”? It could mean that we use dishonest, unacceptable and unethical methods. For the Orthodox Church, “proselytism” is, in fact, the equivalent of all Catholic activity on their “canonical territory”. They consider that if you are Russian, you must automatically be Orthodox; for them, it is an ethnic question or one of nationality.

We cannot take this concept of “canonical territory” seriously. Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for the promotion of the Unity of Christians, wrote in the Jesuit revue Civilta Cattolica, in March 2002, a famous article in which he considered that this kind of ecclesiology bordered on “heresy”. The notion of “canonical territory” is not applicable to relations between the Churches which are not in full communion, and its use in this case is, for us, unacceptable.

Apic: Even charitable activities become suspect…

Victor Khroul: The problem is not one of numbers, but the concept itself of proselytism, such as is used by the Russian Orthodox Church. According to their views, Catholics may not carry out any evangelization activity: their logic is as follows: “Leave all the people of Russian origin for our Church. If we are not able to take care of everyone for the moment, we will do it later. In the meantime, do not touch the Russian people, they belong to us. Take care only of the people of other ethnic groups: Poles, Lithuanians, Germans, Ukrainians, Byelarussians, etc.” For me this is not a Christian approach.

The Orthodox do not allow Catholics to set foot in orphanages or institutions for street children, as they risk being accepted and finally converting to Catholicism. Since they are not in a position to help them, they prefer them to remain on the streets…

Apic: What is the situation regarding the directives of the Pontifical Commission Pro Russia?

Victor Khroul: For us, it is clear that religious liberty must be respected, as well as freedom of individuals to choose. But we are forced today, to follow the directives issued by the Pontifical Commission Pro Russia twelve years ago. It concerns “General principles and practical measures to coordinate evangelization and ecumenical engagement of the Catholic Church in Russia, and in the other countries of the CIS”

In concrete terms, the Catholic bishops are obliged to inform and consult the Orthodox bishops, on all their important pastoral initiatives, notably those which concern the creation of new parishes, in response to the demands of local Catholic communities. It is the same for initiatives of a social, educational or charitable nature.

Apic: Do the Catholics of Russia feel that they are misunderstood by the West?

Victor Khroul: In the face of the directives of Pro Russia, I can express the feelings of certain Catholics in Russia: we feel victims of these political schemes, conducted at the highest level between Rome and Moscow.

We are angry, when they accuse us of proselytizing, and that our archbishop, Mgr. Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, is never invited to participate in the negotiations between the Patriarchy of Moscow and the Holy See. There is no opportunity whatsoever for us to respond to these accusations.

Recently, Cardinal Kasper came to Moscow and I was present in the room, when the Patriarch Alexis II accused the Catholics of proselytism among the Orthodox, during a twenty minute diatribe. He did not say how many people were involved. We made investigations in the parishes: in ten years, for the whole of the territory of Russia, at most, it makes for about 500 faithful, baptized and practicing in the Orthodox Church who have converted to Catholicism. This is an extremely small number! In spite of this very low number, the patriarch talked as if it involved mass conversions.

Apic: Do you feel abandoned by certain Roman authorities?

Victor Khroul: I do not want to make accusations, but we feel victims of political maneuvering. We deplore the fact that our voice and our arguments are not heard. They do not even ask us to respond to the accusations aimed at us. Pope John Paul II is certainly aware of the situation…

During his recent visit to the Patriachy of Moscow, Cardinal Kasper came to Moscow cathedral, where he gave a talk, but we had no opportunity to put any questions to him. He invited all the bishops of Russia – Irkoutsk, Novossibirsk Saratov and Moscow – in order to tell them to follow the Pro Russia directives. But our priests have twelve years experience, during which time they have attempted to apply them.

Apic: And this experience has proved to be somewhat negative in your eyes…

Victor Khroul: Certainly. Here is just one example: a priest from Nijni Novgorod, in the Volga region, wanted to set up a Carmelite convent somewhere outside the town. A small house for three Lithuanian sisters who wanted to pray for Russia… From the outset, the priest tried to inform the Orthodox bishop of this initiative, but he was not even received. Finally, he wrote, but the letter was returned to him, unopened. How can we keep them informed, if they refuse all contact with us?

The patriarch handed to Cardinal Kasper, documents concerning protests against this convent. These three cloistered sisters seemed to represent a serious threat to the Orthodox Church, to ecumenical relations…Alexis II even claimed that it was a missionary convent, whereas the Carmelites do no more than pray within their cloister… Finally, the mayor of the town decided to have the convent demolished. That has not yet been carried out. In any case, it is against every law, as it concerns a private property, legitimately built. This is just one example of the proselytizing they accuse us of!

Apic: One feels that at grassroots level, Russian Catholics are very frustrated.

Victor Khroul: Imagine the Catholic priests in Russia. They come from 21 different countries and try their best to avoid conflict, but even in the case of the Carmelites, they are denounced as proselytizing missionaries…

They would have liked to talk with Cardinal Kasper, in order to clarify certain points on the Pro Russia document, as they have the impression of having to work in the dark, in limbo, always fearful of being condemned.

Even the bishops are afraid of making moves which might bring them reprimands from Rome. I notice a lack of objective information in the West. When a member of the Orthodox hierarchy comes to the West, the journalists fall over themselves to interview him, and he is able to develop his theses unopposed. The other side of the coin, ours, is never shown. We have no chance at all to respond to these false accusations.

Apic: Instead of representing a witness or a piece of good fortune, your presence seems to be an embarrassment to certain Catholic circles.

Victor Khroul: A Vatican official has even said to me: “It is good that you exist, you Catholics of Russia, but how much easier it would be if you did not…. We would have an excellent ecumenical dialogue, and no more obstacles in our relations with the Russian Orthodox Church”.

This is the kind of approach that causes us so much suffering. We have also the example in Kazakhstan, of a German aid organization financing the construction of an Orthodox cathedral in Karaganda and refusing to help the Catholic project. It is the same situation with my weekly newspaper. My bishop tells me, jokingly, to convert to Orthodoxy – that way, I would immediately receive the money I needed, from Western Catholic organizations… This joke says it all, about the feelings of the local Catholic community!