A leading Russian Orthodox prelate has called for an end to a “monopoly of Darwinism” in schools and the idea “that science generally contradicts religion.”

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk, the Russian Orthodox Church’s ‘foreign minister’, said in a lecture to foreign office officials Wednesday that “the time has come to end the monopoly of Darwinism and the deceptive idea that science in general contradicts religion. These ideas should be left in the past.”

In his comments, reported by Reuters and carried in tomorrow’s L’Osservatore Romano, Hilarion stressed that religious teaching on creation should be taught alongside theories on the evolution of species.

“Darwin’s theory remains a theory,” he said. “This means that it should be taught to children as one of several theories, but children should know that others also exist”.

His remarks were an indirect response to a Russian populist party, the Liberal Democrats, who have been suggesting that the growing power of the Russian Orthodox Church is undermining the secular constitution of the country.

L’Osservatore Romano notes that Darwinism is now dominant in Russian schools, as indeed it is in science courses in many other countries.

Hiliarion’s lecture was devoted to the theme of countering the “fanatical secularism” of those hostile to religion. For this, the Orthodox prelate, whose full title is chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Patriarchate of Moscow, has called for dialogue with lay moderates and cooperation with Catholics against “common enemies”.

One of the Russian Orthodox Church’s most dynamic and bright leaders, Metropolitan Hilarion is widely lauded for his willingness to work with the Catholic Church in confronting secularism. In his short time as head of external relations, he has been conspicuously working to bring the two churches closer together. Last month he spearheaded cultural events at the Vatican, honouring Russian culture and faith.

Naturally, though, he has his differences. Just last week, he said he believed there will be time when Catholic priests would be allowed to have a family.