Returning the icon, murder of the American journalist and also banks problems are the latest developments:
Pope to hand icon back to Russia
By David Willey
BBC correspondent in Rome
The icon has hung in the Vatican for three decades
Pope John Paul II has decided to return to Russia a revered icon painting from his private apartments at the Vatican.
The Pope says he is making the gesture as a gift to the Russian people.
He had hoped to return the painting - a copy of a famous Russian icon of the Virgin and child dating back about 300 years - to Russia in person.
But the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church made it clear the Pope would not be welcome because of persisting tension between the two churches.
John Paul, who is holidaying in the Italian Alps, has evidently been pondering the current poor state of relations between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church.
Gesture of friendship
The Russian Church belongs to the Eastern branch of Christianity which separated from the Western branch - then centred in Rome - a thousand years ago.
Last month however, the Pope made a gesture of friendship towards the Orthodox by inviting to Rome Patriarch Bartholomew, the head of all the Eastern Churches.
The 84-year-old pontiff would like to be remembered as the pope that finally ended the millennial rift between the two branches of Christianity.
This icon, which he has personally revered in Rome for two decades, is a powerful symbol for Russian believers.
The painting will be carried to Russia by a Vatican delegation next month.
But a papal visit to Moscow still remains highly unlikely.