The dangers of cowardly ecumenism with Russia

Imagine if the pope were invited to address a summit of Protestant leaders, and used the platform to take a swipe at Italy’s tiny Waldensian Protestant church — complaining that it tries to convert Catholics, and demanding that it shut up about the separation of church and state.

Protestants would rightly howl about how crude and arrogant the tirade was, how awful it was to try to intimidate a smaller and weaker church, and how it was especially out of line because the pope was an invited guest.

The incident would become a cause célèbre, and the Vatican would feel the heat until it coughed up an apology.

So why didn’t the same reaction ensue when Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Russian Orthodox Church’s department for external relations, used a speech at the Oct. 5-19 Synod of Bishops in the Vatican to take just such a gratuitous swipe at Ukraine’s Greek Catholic Church?

Alas, the best answer is probably that when it comes to the Russians, Rome has long been locked into what we might call “weak-kneed ecumenism.”

The 5 million strong Greek Catholic Church is an important pro-democracy force in Ukraine.

Speaking in the Vatican’s synod hall, Hilarion demanded that the Greek Catholics stop complaining about Russian foreign policy, and stop protesting support for Russian incursions in their country voiced by Russian Orthodox leaders.

Astonishingly, there was no protest by the Vatican, no demand for an apology, no threat to suspend or curtail dialogue.

For sure, not everyone took it lying down.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who was participating in the synod, grabbed Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Greek Catholic Church, and immediately taped a segment for his radio show protesting Hilarion’s rhetoric.

Still, the official Vatican response was deafening silence. What gives? Continue reading


  • John L. Allen Jr. in Crux

John L. Allen Jr., associate editor of Crux, specialises in coverage of the Vatican.

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