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Cablegate: Holy See Official Discusses Oriental Churches,

VZCZCXRO8350
PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN
RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHROV #0023/01 0451626
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 141626Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY VATICAN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0913
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLAD COLLECTIVE
RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
RUCNEEC/EASTERN EUROPEAN COUNTRIES COLLECTIVE
RUEHROV/AMEMBASSY VATICAN 0947

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 VATICAN 000023

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV KIRF IS UP VT
SUBJECT: HOLY SEE OFFICIAL DISCUSSES ORIENTAL CHURCHES,
ORTHODOX-CATHOLIC DIALOGUE, AND ISRAEL

REF: A. VATICAN 1 B. TEL AVIV 318

VATICAN 00000023 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary: The institutional arrangements that the Holy
See has with "Oriental Churches" can serve as a model for
further rapprochement between the Catholic and Orthodox
Churches. In communion with the Pope, Oriental Churches conduct
masses following the Byzantine rite and administer their own
affairs under the broad oversight of the Holy See's Congregation
for Oriental Churches. While this Congregation does not have
the lead on Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, it is mindful of
Orthodox sensitivities, particularly with regards to the
Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. The Congregation for Oriental
Churches is also responsible for Catholic Church matters in the
Holy Land. In recent times, Congregation officials have
expressed their frustration with Israel's visa and fiscal
policies. Oriental Churches are a fundamental part of the Holy
See's effort to propagate Catholicism and promote ecumenical and
inter-religious dialogue. End summary.

2. (SBU) Charge d'Affaires met with Archbishop Antonio Veglio,
Secretary of the Congregation for Oriental Churches and a member

SIPDIS
of the Holy See-Israel bilateral Commission, on February 4.
Poloff also attended the meeting.

Oriental Churches: Complex but effective arrangements
--------------------------------------------- --------------
----------------------

3. (SBU) Reflecting on his responsibilities as the second in
command at the Congregation (which is headed by Cardinal
Leonardo Sandri), Archbishop Veglio commented how "one is never
bored when dealing with Oriental Churches". (Note: Oriental
Churches are mostly in the Middle East and East and Central
Europe. Their designation as "Oriental" denotes their Byzantine
-- as opposed to Roman -- origins and heritage. End note.) For
historical reasons these Churches have retained their eastern
rites and enjoy a great level of autonomy on internal matters
but are part of the universal Catholic Church. There are five
Oriental Churches headed by patriarchs: the Coptic Church of
Alexandria, the Syrian Church of Antioch, the Greek-Melkite
Church of Antioch, the Chaldean Church of Babylon, and the
Armenian Church of Cilicia. In addition, four Oriental Churches
are headed by "Major Archbishops": two in India, one in Romania
and one in Ukraine. The major archbishops are similar to the
patriarchs in enjoying a high level of independence to run their
congregations, even if they don't have the more prestigious
"patriarch" designation. The patriarchs and major archbishops
accept Roman-Catholic theology and recognize a special role for
the Pope as the bishop of Rome and the successor of Peter, and
for this reason are considered to be "in communion" with the
Holy See.

Ukraine's Greek-Catholic Church, a patriarchate in disguise
--------------------------------------------- --------------
---------------------------

4. (SBU) Veglio noted that the Greek-Catholic Major Archbishop
of Ukraine was the head of the largest Oriental Church, with
three to five million followers in Ukraine alone. (Note:
worldwide, it is estimated that they are over six million. End
note). Because of its size and institutional development, this
Kiev-based Church could be elevated to the rank of patriarchate.
However, the Holy See would not do it in order not to offend
the Orthodox Church, who often sees as competitors Oriental
Churches operating in Eastern and Central Europe whose rites are
very similar to its own. (Note: On February first, and for the
first time since 1937, the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic bishops met
with the Pope, who exhorted them to work with the Orthodox in
advancing ecumenical dialogue. The Soviet Union, and later
Orthodox sensibilities, had prevented the bishops from visiting
the pope periodically, as prescribed by canon law. End note.)
Veglio noted that, within the Holy See, the dicastery
responsible for dialogue with the Orthodox is the Pontifical
Council for Promoting Christian Unity. However, he added, the
Congregation for Oriental Churches pays attention to this
dialogue and is mindful of Orthodox sensitivities.

A model for potential arrangements with the Orthodox
--------------------------------------------- --------------
-------------------

5. (SBU) The Holy See's relations with Oriental Churches could
serve as a model for an eventual reunification of Catholics and
Orthodox. In a presentation published by the Osservatore Romano
(the Vatican newspaper), Cardinal Peter Erdo, President of the
Council of the European Episcopal Conference, argued that a
"Constitutional Treaty" between the Orthodox and the Catholics
modeled after the Holy See's own institutional arrangements with
Oriental Churches could serve to mutually recognize and
reconcile Orthodox and Roman-Catholic canon law -- once/if

VATICAN 00000023 002.2 OF 002


theological and dogmatic disagreements are resolved. (e.g.
Catholic assertions on the primacy of the pope and the nature of
the Holy Spirit in the Trinity. End note.)

Oriental Churches in the Holy Land, Relations with Israel
--------------------------------------------- --------------
-----------------------

6. (SBU) Regarding Holy See relations with Israel and the
ongoing discussions on taxation of Church property and other
issues, Veglio confirmed that the December meeting of the
bilateral commission in Jerusalem had not resulted in any
progress (reftel a), but looks forward to its next plenary
meeting, scheduled to take place in Rome in May (Note: in
addition to the plenary meetings, there are working group
meetings of the commission that take place more frequently. End
note.) Veglio -- who had publicly criticized Israeli visa
policies -- stated that there had been a minor improvement in
obtaining visas for religious personnel, but that it was still
difficult for Arab clergy to access the Holy Land. (Note:
Veglio said that he had not followed in detail the latest on
visas, so he might have not been fully aware of developments
reported in reftel b. End note.)

Comment: the importance of minority presence
--------------------------------------------- --------------
----------

7. (SBU) Comment: Oriental Churches are a fundamental part of
the universal Catholic Church. In the Middle East, they
maintain an ever-endangered presence in Biblical lands. In East
and Central Europe, they co-exist, imperfectly, with
Greek-Orthodox patriarchates. Since the Second Vatican Council,
the Holy See has redefined the propagation of the Catholic
faith, emphasizing evangelization by testimony (asking Catholics
to live exemplary lives that will cast Catholicism in the best
of light) rather than preaching conversion. Ecumenism (the
reunification of all Christian religions) and inter-religious
dialogue (improving relations with non Christian religions and
promoting tolerance and religious freedom) are also key elements
of the Holy See's engagement with non-Catholics. For
evangelization-by-testimony, ecumenism and inter-religious
dialogue to grow, the Holy See understands that it is
fundamental to maintain a Catholic presence in places where
other religious denominations constitute a majority. As the
ecumenical dialogue gains momentum, the Holy See is optimistic
about the future of Oriental Churches in Eastern and Central
Europe. In the Middle East, however, the exodus of Christians
continues, a trend that worries and saddens the Holy See. End
comment.
SANDROLINI

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