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A meeting between the new Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia
A meeting between the new Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia and the Pope is possible but would require the end of proselytizing by Roman Catholic monastic orders, a senior Russian Orthodox bishop said Saturday.

"A meeting with the Pope was never excluded by the late Patriarch Alexy," said Bishop Ilarion of Vienna and Austria, a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church at European international organizations.

He identified the proselytizing of Catholic monastic orders as the principal obstacle to a meeting.

"Certainly, Catholics say officially that there is no proselytism, but it de facto exists, and we point to such facts in our dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church," the bishop said live on the Vesti v Subbotu (News on Saturday) TV program.

A Russian Orthodox Church meeting in Moscow on Tuesday chose Metropolitan Kirill as its new patriarch, replacing Patriarch Alexy II, who led the church's post-Soviet revival for 18 years.

Metropolitan Kirill, 62, became interim head of the world's largest Orthodox Church after Alexy's death in December at the age of 79. He is seen as a liberal figure in the largely traditionalist Russian church and has led dialogue with the Vatican as head of the Russian Orthodox Church's external relations.

Pope Benedict XVI welcomed his election on Wednesday.

"May the Almighty also bless your efforts to seek that fullness of communion which is the goal of Catholic-Orthodox collaboration and dialogue," Pope Benedict said in his message.

Metropolitan Kirill has met Pope Benedict several times.

Bishop Ilarion said the main thing was not a meeting between the two church leaders, but how relations between the churches could improve, making them "not competitors, not contenders, but allies."

"Most important is not whether this meeting will take place or when it will take place, but whether we will manage together with the Catholic Church to build a model of mutual relations that would exclude the chance for proselytism," he said.

Relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Vatican, which split almost 1,000 years ago, have been strained since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, mainly over accusations that the Catholic Church stepped up activities to convert believers. The Vatican has denied this.

The dispute prevented Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005, from visiting Moscow and meeting with Alexy II.

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