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Vatican-Orthodox alliance to boost population Vatican-Orthodox alliance to boost population

After convincing the Evangelicals to join its pro-life campaign, the Vatican has managed to get the Orthodox Church on board, too. The Orthodox Church is the world’s second largest Christian communion after the Catholics. And the one-time communist KGB agent, Prime Minister Putin, has also signed on to the Vatican population policy. This page gives background for How anti-contraception groups hijacked the Russian health service.

 To help spread its “culture of life” the Vatican has been mustering religious allies one by one. In 1994 the document Evangelicals and Catholics Together pledged cooperation and in 2006 the group formally endorsed the Vatican’s “culture of life” programme. [1] This gives the Vatican powerful allies in areas like the US, Latin America and Africa where Evangelical Protestant churches are making great gains.

Long diplomatic war between patriarchs and popes 

Convincing the Orthodox, however, was a more difficult task than forging an alliance with the Evangelicals. While the Protestants left the Catholic Church only during the 17th-century Reformation, the division of Christendom into Catholic and Orthodox branches is far older. This split, called the East-West Schism, occurred in 1054 and was followed by many mutual excommunications. The continuing antagonism between the Catholic Church in Rome and the Orthodox Church in Byzantium has been called “the longest diplomatic war in the history of man”. [2] The reciprocal excommunications were only ended in 1965, after more than 900 years. [3]

After the East-West Schism Orthodoxy became the official religion for Byzantium, just as the Catholicism was for Rome. However, in 1453 the Orthodox Church lost its political pillar, when the Byzantine empire fell to the Turks. It then withdrew northwards to its former missionary territory where it was bolstered by the Russian Czarist Empire until 1917. During this time, however, the Orthodox Church lost ground on its western flank when Catholic kings in Poland and Austro-Hungary brought many of their Orthodox subjects under the pope, while letting them retain their Orthodox liturgy. These hybrid churches are now called “Greek Catholic” since they use the Byzantine ritual. 

The Orthodox Church is particularly worried that the Greek-Catholic Church could be used as a wedge by the Vatican, since its liturgy is reassuringly familiar to the Orthodox faithful. Any false moves on the part of the Vatican can revive old suspicions. In 2001 the Vatican tried, as usual, to create favourable political conditions for a concordat by staging a papal visit. It apparently went well ― too well. The Orthodox Patriarch of Russia, Alexy II, who has been accused of insisting that Russians all belong to the Orthodox Church, [4] was not pleased. He claimed that after the Pope’s trip the Greek Catholics in western Ukraine, who recognize the pope’s supremacy, “increased their expansion into traditionally Orthodox” areas. [5] Citing this, he declined to let the Pope visit his own territory.

The Vatican learns from the Georgian concordat fiasco

Still worse for the Vatican, Orthodox opposition derailed the concordat itself. When the Vatican foreign minister, Archbishop Tauran, flew in to Tbilisi he was met by demonstrations at the airport and more demonstrations outside the papal nunciature. The unrest and complaints from the revered Orthodox patriarch made the government abruptly cancel the signing ceremony the next day and on the following day the Vatican Secretary for Relations with States went home again with an unsigned concordat. [6] 

The diplomatic humiliation in Georgia taught the Vatican a lesson: that nothing can be done unless the Orthodox hierarchy comes on board. Since then there has been a flurry of Vatican overtures to various patriarchs in the Orthodox lands: prayers for them [7], birthday greetings [8] and already the visit of a minor patriarch to the Vatican. [9] Even future Orthodox leaders are being carefully groomed. Since 2006 the Order of Malta has given scholarships for young Russian Orthodox seminarians who had been recommended by the Patriarch of  Moscow to come to Rome to study Catholic theology at the Gregorian Pontifical University. [10]

Russia’s demographic crisis gives the Vatican an opening 

It is Russia’s post-communist demographic slump that finally offered the Vatican a way to try to disarm the Patriarchs. For more on this, see How anti-contraception groups hijacked the Russian health service.

In a potentially related development, in 2013 mandatory religion classes will be introduced in all Russian schools. [11] This could give the instructors a chance to transmit misinformation about contraception, as has occurred in Polish schools under the guise of “religious education” and “family life”. [12] An expansion of religious schools also seems to be in the works, as Putin has said that these must enjoy the same rights as state schools, including government funding. [13] 

Back door for a concordat?

And finally, a law which came into effect on the first day of 2012 amounts to a concordat precedence clause. It says, “If an international treaty entered into by the Russian Federation stipulates other rules in the health sector than those in this Federal Law, the rules of international treaty prevail”. [14] Would this mean that any future concordat with the Vatican which defined life as beginning at conception could outlaw most methods of contraception in Russia?

Hardly reassuring, in this regard is the first meeting, in 2016, between a pope and a Russian Orthodox patriarch since the schism of the two religions in the 11th century. Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill issued a joint declaration which decried abortion and, presumably, also all the contraceptive methods which the Vatican defines as abortion, despite medical objections. [15] (See Using abortion to ban contraception)


The Russian law on health care («Об основах охраны здоровья граждан в Российской Федерации») passed by the Duma on 21 October 2011 and signed by President Medvedev on 22 November can be found in Russian at

1. That they may have life: A Statement of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, 10 October 2006. 

This formalised what had already become a working relationship: Laurie Goodstein, “Schiavo Case Highlights Catholic-Evangelical Alliance”, New York Times, 24 March 2005. 

2. Avro Manhattan, “The Vatican against the Orthodox Church”, Vatican Imperialism in the 20th Century, 1965.

3. Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, “Abrogation of Excommunications of 1054”, 7 December 1965: Rome, Italy.

4. Tom McFeely, “New Russian Orthodox Leader”, National Catholic Register, 09 December 2008.

5. “Russia: Condition On Possible Papal Visit”, New York Times, 27 December 2003.

Patriarch Kirill repeated charges agaisnt the Greek Catholics of the Ukraine on 2 February 2011. For a list of Orthodox grievances see: “The Repentance of the Vatican Needed”, Orthodox England, February 2011.

6. Felix Corley, “Georgia: Catholics fail to break Orthodox monopoly”, Forum 18 News Service, 25 September 2003.

7. “Pope Asks Prayer for Armenian Patriarch Visit: Expresses Certainty That ‘Spirit of Friendship’ Will Deepen”, Zenit, 07 May 2008.

8. “Patriarch [of Constantinople] Receives Papal Birthday Wishes”, Zenit, 28 February 2010.

9. “Patriarch: Modernity Demands Christian Unity: Karekin II Lauds Close Relations With Catholic Church”, Zenit, 09 may 2008.

10. “Address of the Grand Master to the diplomatic corps”, 09 January 2007.

“Address of the Grand Master to the diplomatic corps”, 8 January 2008.

11. “Putin Approves New Education Law”, Moscow Times, 31 December 2012.

12. “Catechism in state schools: Lying for the Lord” (last box on the left)

“2009 Ponton Study on sex education in Poland: summary” (#3 at the end) 

13. “Patriarch Kirill becomes Kremlin's religious consultant”, Vatican Insider, La Stampa, 3 May 2012.

14. Federal Law of November 21, 2011 N 323-FZ, “On the basics of public health protection in the Russian Federation” (Об основах охраны здоровья граждан в Российской Федерации), 3.5.

15. Joint Declaration of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, 12 February 2016.

# 21. We call on all to respect the inalienable right to life. Millions are denied the very right to be born into the world. The blood of the unborn cries out to God (cf. Gen 4:10).


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