Russia’s Catholics react skeptically to Cardinal Parolin’s visit

For this reason, he was withdrawing remarks he’d made before Parolin’s arrival about “an improvement in church-state relations in Russia,” Kovalevsky added. If the real situation wasn’t one of “direct persecution,” then it was certainly one in which rights were being “ignored and curtailed.” 

“Russia’s Catholic community has enthusiastically greeted Cardinal Parolin’s visit — it gives us hope of an improvement in the situation of Catholics living in Russia,” Kovalevsky added. “I hope the authorities will prove by real actions that, while they’re interested in peace between nations and confessions, they are also ready to uphold the legitimate rights of citizens.” 

The bishops’ conference secretary-general, clearly bitter, refused comment at the end of the visit, telling NCR on Aug. 24 it has been “a purely official event, with no effect on the local church.”

Greek Catholics in the Ukraine

Meanwhile, Greek Catholics in Ukraine, whose church combines the eastern rite with loyalty to Rome, are also worried about the visit’s implications. When the pope met Kirill in 2016, their 30-point declaration contained negative references to Greek Catholics, fueling fears the Ukrainian church could be sidelined in the interests of wider diplomatic and ecumenical advances.

These were stirred again when Hilarion attacked Ukrainian Catholics during his talks with Parolin, accusing them of “politicized statements and aggressive actions.”

Although Parolin didn’t publicly reject the accusation, Przeciszewski thinks Ukrainians can take heart from his reported warnings that Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea violated international norms and demands that the Russian government “rigorously uphold the main principles of international law.” But these were just verbal statements, the Polish editor cautions. As yet, no one knows whether they’ll have any impact on the course of events. 

While Orthodox representatives attended Parolin’s Moscow Mass, critics point out that his stay failed to include any ecumenical service — or any apparent discussion of a papal visit, which clearly evoked little interest on the Russian side. Parolin declared himself “honored and thrilled” with his one-hour meeting with Putin, but critics note the cardinal had to travel to Sochi on the Black Sea for the privilege, a location pointedly close to eastern Ukraine and Crimea.

If this is to reflect well on the Vatican, it will have to be followed by meaningful steps to help Russia’s Catholics, as well as the prospects for international co-operation. The results should at least be clear by next January, when Russia’s Catholic bishops, headed by their Italian-born archbishop, Paolo Pezzi, visit Rome for “ad limina” talks with the pope.

“It’s quite characteristic, and quite worrying, that few if any positive voices have been raised about this visit within Russia’s Catholic community — they simply have no idea what they may gain from it,” Przeciszewski told NCR. “If we look at it as a contribution to dialogue and peace, then we can certainly see it as a success. But for now at least, everything remains at the level of hope and conjecture. Expectations have been encouraged and dispelled many times before.” 

[Jonathan Luxmoore is a freelance writer covering church news from Oxford, England, and Warsaw, Poland, and serving as a staff commentator for Polish Radio. He is the author of several books, including a two-volume study of communist-era martyrs, The God of the Gulag.]

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