Rome Mayor Says Pope Will Visit Moscow One Day

ROME (Reuters) - Rome Mayor Francesco Rutelli said Tuesday after talks with visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin he believed Pope John Paul would one day visit Moscow.

``I believe a visit by the Pope to Russia, which is not possible at the moment, will happen, even if we have to wait for the conditions in the Russian Orthodox Church, which are fairly closed to this prospect for now, to mature,'' he told reporters.

Putin had an audience with Pope John Paul Monday but did not invite him to visit -- underscoring continuing problems between the Vatican and the Russian Church which split into Eastern and Western branches in the Great Schism in 1054.

Although the Vatican said it considered past invitations by Putin's predecessors still valid, the absence of a clear reference to an invitation deflated hopes that Putin's visit would prove a turning point leading  to a papal trip.

Rutelli, who with Putin attended a ceremony to unveil a statue of Russian poet Alexander Pushkin in Rome's Villa Borghese park, said: ``It is in the Russian government's interest to try to favor a rapprochement (between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church).''

The 80-year-old Pontiff has a burning desire to visit Russia and has been invited by previous Russian leaders but would also need an invitation from Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexiy II.

Orthodox leaders have accused Catholics of attempting to use new-found freedoms in the former Soviet Union to woo believers. The Vatican has rejected the accusations.