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A group of French Catholics including a bishop has visited Moscow to discuss the defence of the traditional family with Russian Orthodox Church leaders, drawing criticism in France because of the Ukraine crisis and the nature of Church-State relations in Russia.
Bayonne Bishop Marc Aillet, who is active in pro-life issues, said these questions were important for the Catholic Church, especially with the synod on the family due in October, and Russia’s religious revival since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union had brought them to the fore there.
The group met Metropolitan Hilarion, the “foreign minister” of the Moscow Patriarchate, along with members of the Russian Church’s commission on the family and Russian parliamentarians. Bishop Aillet said Hilarion was particularly interested in the “Demo for All” protests in France against gay marriage and adoption by gay couples.
The six-member group included leaders of pro-life groups Alliance Vita, one of the pillars of the protest movement, and the Foundation Jerome Lejeune. Aillet stressed it was not an official delegation of the French Church.
Bishop Aillet said the group did not bring up the Ukraine crisis with Hilarion, but discussed the fate of Syria’s Christians, of Armenians he said were recently killed by Islamists and “the ultra-liberalism of the West that frightens but also affects Russia.”
Denis Viénot, secretary general of the bishops’ conference’s justice and peace commission, said he was astonished to hear the group had gone to Russia at this time. "If they think Russia protects the human person, they should go visit Crimea," he told the daily La Croix.
The French Orthodox theologian Jean-Francois Colosimo said the group misunderstood the post-communist revival of the Russian Orthodox Church, which was not so much a spiritual renaissance but a renewal of Moscow’s traditional Church-State alliance. “The growth in moralism (in the public sphere) equals a growth in nationalism,” he said.
The news website Rue89 said the anti-gay marriage movement was "helping Putinisation" and compared the visit to those that French Communist Party leaders used to make to the Soviet Union.