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Foto Jaeger David M.A. , Recensione: ADRIANO GARUTI, Libertā religiosa ed ecumenismo: La questione del "territo-rio canonico" in Russia, in Antonianum, 81/1 (2006) p. 163-165 .

One of the commonest errors in (mis)understanding the Conciliar and Papal teaching on ecumenism is surely that of simply assuming that the Catholic Church has now somehow subscribed to Anglicanism’s "branch theory" of the Church. But even "branch theorists" should consider it pretty odd for anyone to proceed on that basis to proposing to distribute the ownership of souls among the distinct "branches" as their exclusive property, on a territorial basis. And yet one can be forgiven for observing that something like this does sometimes appear to be, in effect, the position taken by the Russian Orthodox Moscow Patriarchate. The latter does sometimes appear to outsiders to claim as its exclusive property, as it were, the souls of vast numbers of people, namely all those found on that huge tract of land that corresponds to most of the former Soviet Union, land that Patriarchate spokesmen claim to be the Patriarchate’s "canonical territory." For any other Christian confession or organisation - including, but not limited to the Catholic Church - to evangelise and to minister in that "canonical territory," the Moscow Patriarchate appears to be saying, should be viewed as an act of aggression, an illicit encroachment, "sheep stealing," or (that dread word) "proselytism," and most certainly in contradiction with any sincere commitment to ecumenism (however understood).

The Moscow Patriarchate has consistently viewed with disfavour, precisely as unwarranted incursions into its "canonical territory," the renewed institutional presence of the Catholic Church in Russia, ever since the Church first began establishing its own jurisdictional units in Russia following the collapse of the Communist régime. Combined with parallel resentment at the re-emergence of the Greek Catholic Church in the Ukraine in the same period, this approach led to serious difficulties in the effort to advance the theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and Orthodoxy generally, and to placing more or less severe limitations on the dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church specifically. On a broader scale, the Moscow Patriarchate’s policy has played a role in post-Communist Russian legislation to restrict religious freedom in a manner more than a little reminiscent of earlier times, though directed mostly (yet not exclusively) at Evangelical churches and new religious movements

At a time when hope arises once more of being able to re-launch the theological dialogue with the Orthodox Churches, understanding the Moscow Patriarchate’s peculiar approach to these matters, and being able to engage with it seriously, is a particularly urgent need. An accurate grasp of the concepts and terms, in which the Russian Orthodox set up the debate, specifically the key term "canonical territory," as well as of the precise historical background and wider theological context, is essential to equipping properly the Catholic participants in the revived dialogue.

A. Garuti, the noted ecclesiologist, sets out here to fill this need. He explores in depth the matter of "canonical territory", historically and theologically, in the specific context of Russia, with reference to its role in the ecumenical conversations of recent years, and - most significantly perhaps - in relation to the very nature and mission of the Church. Following an insightful "Presentation" by Professor Nicola Bux, who specialises in the field of ecumenical relations with the Orthodox Churches, a well established theological writer in his own right, the material is organised in five chapters, dealing in this order with (I) the evangelisation of Rus’ and the subsequent forms of Orthodox - and Catholic - ecclesiastical organisation in the territory; (II) the concept itself of "canonical territory" and its application to Russia; (III) doctrinal considerations concerning ecclesial status, mission and unity; (IV) ecumenical considerations touching on the role of the Moscow Patriarchate and future prospects. The author’s own conclusions are followed by a helpful select bibliography, and an "index of names" is also thoughtfully provided.

Factual, eirenic, respectful of different positions, carefully documenting his own, solidly committed to the progress of ecumenism in accordance with the doctrine of Vatican II and the subsequent Pontifical magisterium, Garuti proves to be a reliable guide to the perplexed through the complex questions treated here. There are several strands of exposition and reasoning in the book, but above all stands the conviction of the primacy of evangelisation. It is the proclamation of the Gospel that is the measure of all matters of ecclesiastical organisation, institutional or "territorial," and it is in shared commitment to evangelising mission that unity too will ultimately be found.

But even beyond, or rather prior to, evangelisation, is religious freedom, and genuine ecumenical progress, as the book’s title already eloquently proclaims, requires recognition of the human right, individual and collective, to freedom of religion and conscience. The right to profess, teach and manifest (i.e. "propagate") one’s conscientious and religious convictions and beliefs, individually or in community with others, is not only a cornerstone of the rising edifice of the international law of human rights, but also a core doctrine of the Catholic Church, ascribed the Second Vatican Council to the very nature of the relationship between God and the human being. It took a while for the Catholic Church to work out the explicit recognition and formulation of this religious and normative truth, and various Orthodox Churches are still on the path that should lead there. It is, in the last analysis, the recognition of the human right to religious freedom that should end any attempt to exclude or to restrict religious organisations from any territory on the ground that such territory, or rather the persons found there, are somehow the preserve of one religion alone. And it is then the shared commitment to missionary evangelisation that should lead the Christian Churches to view their plural presence in the same territory as an opportunity to share in carrying out a common task, in which too they are to find that full communion that still at this time eludes them.


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