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Vatican criticises Georgia over religious freedom

The Holy See issued an unusually strong rebuke to the former Soviet republic of Georgia and its dominant Orthodox Church on Saturday, after the government scrapped an accord guaranteeing religious freedom for Catholics.

Vatican Foreign Minister, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, had travelled to the capital Tbilisi on Thursday to sign the agreement, which would have obliged Georgia to guarantee Catholics the freedom to perform rites, open schools and study church history.

But Tauran went away empty-handed after thousands of Orthodox Christians, including at least one high-ranking church leader, protested in the streets Friday and prompted the government to cancel the signing.

Orthodox Christians and some of their leaders said the agreement would have allowed the Catholic Church, which numbers about 50,000 in the country of 4.4 million, to increase its influence.

Similar complaints have been voiced by the Russian Orthodox Church, which accuses the Vatican of stealing members of its flock and has blocked the pope from visiting the country.

A Vatican official called the issue "serious" but not something that would break relations. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it wouldn't affect Vatican efforts to improve relations with other Orthodox churches a priority of Pope John Paul II's 25-year pontificate.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday that relations between the Holy See and the Russian Orthodox Church were far from ideal.

Putin told a group of American reporters at his residence outside Moscow that he would like John Paul to visit Russia but that a full-fledged papal visit could not take place until he had the agreement of the Russian Orthodox Church, which has opposed such a trip.

Saturday's rebuke also was a step back for Vatican relations with Georgia, which John Paul visited in 1999. On that trip, the pope called for new "bridges" with the Orthodox Church and


Orthodox protest postpones signing of Georgian-Vatican agreement (Catholic News Service)
Papal Visit to Georgia 1999
Pope leaves India for friendlier Georgia (CNN 8/11/99)
Vatican's Foreign Minister in Georgia to Sign Controversial Agreement (Civil Georgia)
Parliament of Georgia

22 Sep 2003