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Putin wants better church relations

Russian President Vladimir Putin praised Pope John Paul II and expressed the hope that the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches can heal their centuries-old divisions.

In a wide-ranging interview published Monday by the daily Corriere della Sera, Putin also warned once again of a new arms race if the United States pursues its missile defense plan and said NATO should either admit Russia or be replaced with a new security organization.

Putin's tone differed sharply from that of the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexy II, who strongly protested the pope's recent visit to Ukraine. Putin praised John Paul for his visits to predominantly Orthodox countries.

The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches have been estranged since 1054, when Christianity split into the two branches after disputes that included papal authority.

"I would be truly happy if relations between the Russian Orthodox church and the Holy See developed positively, opening new horizons," Putin said.