(This Aug 24 story corrects paragraphs 1 and 3 to make clear Russian Patriarch will not attend Kazakhstan congress)
(Reuters) – Pope Francis and the head of the Russian Orthodox church, who backs the war in Ukraine, will not meet at a gathering of religious leaders in Kazakhstan next month, RIA news agency cited a senior Orthodox official as saying on Wednesday.
Francis, due to be in the capital Nur-Sultan from Sept. 13-15 to attend the VII Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, has said in several recent interviews he hoped to meet with Patriarch Kirill when in Kazakhstan.
But Bishop Anthony, the Russian church’s second most powerful bishop, told RIA that the patriarch would not attend the event. He did not say why not, but said Kirill would be represented instead by an official delegation.
Anthony said any meeting between the two leaders must be a major event in its own right, not on the sidelines of another gathering.
“It must be an independent event by virtue of its importance,” said Anthony, in charge of foreign relations, who held talks with Francis in early August. Francis has met Kirill once before, in Cuba in 2016.
Kirill, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, has given enthusiastic backing to the invasion of Ukraine.
In June, Francis implicitly accused Russia of “armed conquest, expansionism and imperialism” in Ukraine.
(Reporting by Reuters)