Home Christian News Pope Francis and Kirill Could Meet, Vatican-Orthodox Relations Expert Says

Pope Francis and Kirill Could Meet, Vatican-Orthodox Relations Expert Says

The Vatican is still holding out hope, Caprio said, that it can rekindle the relations between the two church leaders, despite Kirill’s increasing identification with Putin’s bellicosity. “The Orthodox Church in Russia substituted (for) the Communist Party,” Caprio said; it’s the church that provides the ideological fuel for the Kremlin’s geopolitical ambitions, as well as the theological underpinnings for Putin’s anti-LGBTQ  measures and other conservative social policies.

As evidence of “how mixed the religious, political and military interests are,” Caprio pointed to the Russian church’s top official in Africa, Patriarchal Exarch Leonid. Once a colonel for the Russian army, he now plays an important role in promoting the Russian interests on the continent.

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The war has complicated Francis’ outreach not only to Kirill but the Orthodox world at large. There are 15 independent Orthodox churches, including Ukraine’s, which is only recognized by Athens, Constantinople and Alexandria in Egypt. The others have for the most part remained neutral, but with the war, more and more are moving toward Constantinople. A major Russian Orthodox monastery in Lviv announced last week that it wishes to detach itself from Moscow.

With a looser concept of administrative unity than the Catholic Church, individual Orthodox churches commonly swap allegiances — “today Moscow, tomorrow America, the next day Constantinople, depending on what happens,” Caprio explained.

But it’s a mistake to underestimate the influence the Russian church has within Orthodox Christianity. “If you break with the Russians, you break with a very large contingent of the Orthodox world,” Caprio said.

With fast-switching allegiances, it’s impossible to predict whether the Russian primacy in Orthodoxy will change, making it very difficult for the Catholic Church to choose an interlocutor over the other.

“The pope right now is halfway between Russia and Constantinople,” Caprio said.

Francis is passionately interested in intervening in the war to make peace, according to Caprio — “The pope would go by foot to Ukraine,” he said — but he would not risk going alone to Ukraine now out of fear of angering the Russian Orthodox. The pope could solve multiple  conundrums, Caprio reasons, by meeting the patriarch in Kyiv.

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This article originally appeared on ReligionNews.com.