Friday, January 20, 2006

Hopes Rise for Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue

From Zenit:
Hopes Rise for Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue

Commission to Meet in Belgrade in September

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 20, 2006 ( This is the year to relaunch the dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, says an article in L'Osservatore Romano.

The report of Monsignor Eleuterio Fortino, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, published in Thursday's Italian edition of the newspaper, explained that relations between these Churches have been unblocked in the last few months.

Next Sept. 18-25, the Serbian Orthodox Church will host the plenary session of a mixed commission made up of representatives of the Catholic Church and various Orthodox Churches, the works of which have been at a standstill since a meeting in 2000.

That meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, ended without an agreement because of discrepancies "over the theological concept of Uniatism," the principle by which the Eastern Churches that share the liturgy and traditions of the Orthodox Churches have joined the Church of Rome, recalled Monsignor Fortino.

Nonetheless, that meeting was useful, acknowledged the article.

"It concretized the authentic nature of the problem under discussion," stated Monsignor Fortino. "The birth of the Catholic Eastern Churches is profoundly linked to the affirmation of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome in the Church of Christ."

Therefore, the "primacy of the Church" will be one of the key topics for the future of the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue.

Patriarch's part

The Belgrade meeting will take place, as the article reports, thanks to the commitment of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople. Last September the patriarch brought together the designated representatives of the Orthodox Churches for the dialogue with the Catholic Church.

That meeting's final communiqué explained that "for the topics that affect the faith it is indispensable that unity be sought in the ambit prior to the schism" of 1054.

From Dec. 13-15, 2005, the mixed commission met in Rome to prepare the Belgrade meeting.

At the end of the meeting, the Catholic and Orthodox representatives were received by Benedict XVI, who said that in this new phase of dialogue two aspects will have to be considered.

"On the one hand," he said, "eliminating the remaining differences, and on the other, upholding the fundamental desire to do everything possible to re-establish full communion, which is so essential for the community of the disciples of Christ, as the preparatory document of your work makes clear."

Patriarch Bartholomew I has invited Benedict XVI to visit Turkey, a pastoral visit that might help spur Catholic-Orthodox dialogue in 2006.

The article published by L'Osservatore Romano is the first of a series to assess the ecumenical relations between the Catholic Church and the other Christian confessions, in the context of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
We shouldn't put too much hope in these ecumenical meetings, but certainly I find this kind of ecumenism to be far more important than those the Church has had in the past, since Catholics recognize the Orthodox as having valid orders and sacraments. But then again, Christians are all under severe political attack and Benjamin Franklin's famous phrase "join or die" is quite applicable here.

The Catholic addition of the filioque clause in the Nicene Creed (We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.) is why the Orthodox call themselves orthodox, and Cardinal Ratzinger's famous omission of that clause from the Creed in the declaration Dominus Iesus is quite significant.

The Orthodox in principle have no problem with the concept of the Patriarch of Rome—the Pope—having primacy of honor among all the Patriarchs, but they would prefer to see him as first among equals, and not the final authority. However, the See of Peter even before Schism had greater authority than just honor. On the other hand, the Orthodox would like to see some better authority than what they have; for there is too much squabbling and frequent large-scale excommunication, and the sometimes heavy-handed authority of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is often resented. In the West, the Pope has far greater power, but excommunications are very rare and there is much tolerance for questionable practices, as Catholics in the West are too far aware of. This system may suit the Orthodox: having a strong central power which does not use its disciplinary authority too often, and generally leaves most decisions at the local level. This will allow formal unity while respecting local autonomy.

A common problem among the Orthodox is overlapping Episcopal jurisdiction. The West has no problem with this, and even here in Saint Louis we have two Bishops in residence (one for the Latin Rite, the other for the Maronite), and the city is in the territories of various Bishops of other Rites. Among the Orthodox, the United States is ground zero for this controversy, with various local Bishops failing to recognize the ordinations of those whom they consider 'irregular'. Solving this problem would either have the Orthodox change their mind-set or it would require a massive Episcopal reorganization. However, there may be a solution where each Rite has its own bishop under the general episcopal authority of a territorial bishop, and there is precedent for this.

Theological differences abound, but even within the Catholic Church, differences of a certain sort between the Latin Rite and Eastern Catholics are accepted.

Finally, an Ecumenical Council could settle many matters, but all of those anathemas might be a bit scary, and lead to many schismatic groups.

We must not forget that Christian unity is a command from Our Lord, "that we all may be one".

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