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Vatican asks Russian Orthodox to respect religious liberty

The Vatican has formally requested the Russian Orthodox Church to recognise the religious liberty of Catholics in that country.

Following Patriarch Alexy II's strong reaction against the creation of four Catholic dioceses, Joaquín Navarro-Valls, director of the Vatican Press Office, said that what is at stake is the fundamental rights of believers guaranteed by Russian laws.

"Beyond contingent events, I think the real question is the following: Is there a willingness to accept and safeguard the fundamental rights of liberty of conscience and religion, which are the foundation of any form of pluralist coexistence?" the official statement asks.

"These rights imply recognition and respect for every form of worship in its specific identity, avoiding discriminations among citizens for religious reasons, as guaranteed, in fact, by the civil legislation of the Russian Federation," the document concludes.

The patriarchate believes that all Christians in Russia, its "canonical territory," should obey Russian Orthodoxy. Hence, the patriarchate denies the Catholic Church the right to open dioceses in Russia -- despite the fact that the patriarchate has created Orthodox dioceses in traditionally Catholic countries, without first consulting the Holy See.