All the media relish stories of Romish priestly scandals and the Russian papers are no exception.
In October last year, the popular tabloid, Komsomolskaya Pravda, broke the story of a Polish Franciscan monk who allegedly permitted his north Moscow flat to become a house of ill fame. A large, fictitious, computer generated picture of a handsome monk and his tenant, appeared under the headline, "Moscow Monastery is a Bordello".
The truth is that some six months earlier Fr Grigory Tserokh, a monk of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual, wished to rent out his north Moscow flat. It was shabby but situated in a desirable area. Fr Grigory was impressed with Russian business woman Maria Tikhonova. On hearing that her business was being run for "charitable purposes" he agreed a generous three year lease to this most "suitable tenant". Neighbours soon found themselves disturbed late at night by a continous stream of Ms Tikhonova’s visitors. Apparently a "few red love hearts and blue flowers painted around … the door," gave them "an inkling" of what was happening.
International news agencies
International news agencies pounced on the story. Each media syndicate "brazenly embroidered the story," or so it was alleged, and the Russian Orthodox Church grew louder and louder in its condemnations of Romish immorality. Rome generally manages to suppress such acute embarrassments in the West, at least initially, but this is not so easy in Russia.
It was all a simple, immoral priest story. What "brazenly grew and grew" was the accusation that the Franciscans were partners in the scandal. Whether or not this was really true, the scorn poured out by the Russian Orthodox Church on Rome was obviously intended to embarrass the Vatican and in this it succeeded.
Opus Dei heavyweight Dr Joaquin Navarro-Valls, soon countered with the official Vatican response which was that the stories had been "deceitfully constructed" to damage the reputation of Rome.
"Vatican outrage at Brothel Slur" and similar headlines appeared world wide.
Joaquin Navarro-Valls maintained that the whole story was, "A despicable operation designed to discredit the brothers and through them the Catholic Church".
Navarro-Valls "angrily accused the Kremlin of deliberately planting stories in the media to besmirch Catholicism," and in this Navarro-Valls was almost certainly right.
It had been well said that, "Victory over the Orthodox church is a project at least as dear to the Papacy as reclamation of the lost Protestants". The Russian Orthodox Church, in its turn, hates Rome and fights every intrusion tooth and nail. The eastern churches, including the Russian Orthodox, have always rejected papal supremacy. In addition, they differ from Rome on matters such as the filioque clause in the creed (They deny that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Son), the marriage of priests, the use of leavened bread in the mass and other matters.
Russia joined the Orthodox or Eastern Church late, the Emperor of Russia being baptised in 988. The "Great Schism" between the Western Church (Rome) and the Eastern Church (the Orthodox) followed very soon afterwards in 1054. Therefore Russia’s quarrel with Rome is as old as herself.
When the rising Turkish power threatened Constantinople, the Greek Orthodox Churches felt compelled to make commons cause with Rome for their protection. At the Council of Florence 1438-45 Pope Eugenius IV was thus able to drag the Eastern Roman Emperor John VIII Palaelogus, and Joseph Patriarch of Constantinople, to Florence Cathedral, there to be humiliated as they bowed to the terms dictated by Eugenius’ envoy, Cardinal Cesarini.
This Union Bull still exists. It runs: "The Apostolic throne and the Pope possess primacy over the entire globe; the Pope as St Peter’s successor and Christ’s deputy, is head of the entire Church, Father and teacher of all Christians, and has the authority to govern the entire church in conformity with the acts and canons of the old councils".
The fall of Constantinople in 1453 ended the hold this Bull had over the very few that accepted it. The Russian Orthodox Church had violently rejected it from the outset. In his frequent visits to Florence Cathedral, the present writer has never witnessed anyone trying to read the Latin plaque celebrating the union, where it stands obscure in the gloom. Similarly, in his numerous visits to St Peter’s Rome the writer has rarely seen guides pointing out the whole story of the council mapped out on one of the main doors. These doors are so huge that the series exalting the exploits of pope Eugenius from a mere frieze around larger scenes and go unnoticed by millions. But it is not forgotten by the Vatican, to whom the Orthodox controversy is a running sore. To this day, Rome regards their defiance as a gross affront to papal supremacy.