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Orthodox must acknowledge responsibility for ecumenical tensions in Ukraine, says Vatican official

Catholic World News - December 19, 2013

The president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity has insisted that both Orthodox and Catholics in Ukraine must acknowledge their responsibility for the tensions between the two faiths there.

Speaking at a press conference in Moscow, where he is visiting this week, Cardinal Kurt Koch said that both Orthodox and Catholic believers have suffered because of the conflict. While officials of the Russian Orthodox Church stress the sufferings of the Orthodox, he said, both sides have serious grievances. “Only be recognizing this can we move together into the future,” Cardinal Koch said.

Russian Orthodox officials have frequently cited the continuing tensions in western Ukraine as a conflict that blocks the path to ecumenical progress. The Moscow patriarchate has complained that Catholic communities have ousted Orthodox congregations from churches, and in many towns of western Ukraine the Orthodox have nowhere to worship.

Cardinal Koch countered by reminding reporters that the Ukrainian Catholic Church was suppressed by the Communist regime, and Catholic churches were handed over to local Orthodox congregations. So in many cases, he said, Catholic congregations were simply recovering their own properties after the fall of Communism allowed the revival of the Eastern-rite Catholic Church.

The situation in Ukraine is complicated, the cardinal continued, by the competition among three different groups claiming to represent the Orthodox leadership. Ties between local Catholic communities and their Orthodox counterparts sometimes serve to increase tensions with competing Orthodox groups. “We must do everything so that this tension is reduced,” Cardinal Koch said. “If Orthodoxy in Ukraine was united in one Church, that would be a major step toward solving the problem.”

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