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Pope Francis Gives New Hope to Catholic-Orthodox Reconciliation

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.aleteia.org/en/arts-entertainment/documents/part-2-of-catholic-orthodox-article-2237003 Pope Francis Gives New Hope to Catholic-Orthodox
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 2, 2013

      Pope Francis Gives New Hope to Catholic-Orthodox Reconciliation

      The more Francis rules the Church with collegiality, the more Eastern
      Orthodox feel comfortable with reunification
      Jul 01, 2013
      Author By: John Burger

      Is Pope Francis’ preference to refer to himself as “bishop of Rome” more
      than other traditional titles for the papacy a hopeful sign for
      Catholic-Orthodox relations?

      That question was on the minds of those taking part in the recent
      Orientale Lumen Conference in Washington, D.C. The informal
      Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, which has been meeting since 1997, held
      discussions about steps toward full communion between Eastern and
      Western Christianity.

      Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s first greeting from the balcony of St.
      Peter’s Basilica upon his election as Pope Francis struck not a few
      observers as downplaying his role of universal head of the Church with
      unlimited jurisdiction worldwide.

      “The diocesan community of Rome now has its bishop,” Pope Francis told
      the crowds in St. Peter’s Square March 13. “And now, we take up this
      journey: bishop and people. This journey of the Church of Rome which
      presides in charity over all the Churches. A journey of fraternity, of
      love, of trust among us.”

      The greeting impressed people like Father Thomas FitzGerald, dean and
      professor of Church history and historical theology at Hellenic
      College-Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Mass.
      “I think for Orthodox ears, that’s good to hear,” he said during
      discussions at the Washington Retreat House June 17-20. “Everything else
      is kind of based on that understanding of him being bishop of Rome. I
      hope that might be a sign of some things to come in terms of the
      understanding of his role as the bishop of Rome, the pope, by the
      Catholic Church.”

      Father FitzGerald is a member of the North American Orthodox-Catholic
      Theological Consultation, whose 2010 document “Steps Toward a Reunited
      Church: A Sketch of an Orthodox-Catholic Vision for the Future,” was the
      subject of discussions by the Orientale Lumen gathering. Other members
      of the Consultation spoke at the conference, including Paulist Father
      Ronald G. Roberson, associate director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical
      and Interreligious Affairs at the United States Conference of Catholic
      Bishops, and Father Sidney Griffith, professor in the Department of
      Semitic and Egyptian Languages and Literatures at the Institute of
      Christian Oriental Research of The Catholic University of America.

      Also speaking were Metropolitan Tikhon, primate of the Orthodox Church
      in America, and Archimandrite Robert Taft, S.J., an expert on the
      history of the Byzantine liturgy who taught for many years at the
      Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome.

      “We wondered if we could put our heads together and suggest a way that
      the Bishop of Rome could exercise his ministry that would be both
      consistent with Catholic teaching and acceptable to the Orthodox,”
      Father Roberson said, explaining the origin of the 2010 North American
      Consultation vision statement.

      Pope John Paul II had asked for such suggestions in his 1995 encyclical
      on ecumenism Ut Unum Sint.

      Among other things, the vision statement suggests that the bishop of
      Rome “would be, by ancient custom, the ‘first’ of the world’s bishops
      and of the regional patriarchs. His ‘primacy of honor’ would mean, as it
      meant in the early Church, not simply honorific precedence but the
      authority to make real decisions, appropriate to the contexts in which
      he is acting. His relationship to the Eastern Churches and their
      bishops, however, would have to be substantially different from the
      relationship now accepted in the Latin Church.

      “In accord with the teaching of both Vatican councils, the bishop of
      Rome would be understood by all as having authority only within a
      synodal/collegial context: as member as well as head of the college of
      bishops, as senior patriarch among the primates of the Churches, and as
      servant of universal communion,” the vision statement continues. “The
      fundamental worldwide ministry of the bishop of Rome would be to promote
      the communion of all the local Churches: to call on them to remain
      anchored in the unity of the Apostolic faith…. In harmony with the
      Pope’s universal ecumenical ministry, the Roman curia’s relationship to
      local bishops and episcopal conferences in the Latin Church would become
      less centralized: bishops, for instance, would have more control over
      the agenda and the final documents of synods, and the selection of
      bishops would again normally become a local process.”

      “Generally speaking the Vatican doesn’t comment on national dialogues,”
      Father Roberson told Aleteia. “I’m sure they would be pleased with this
      document, as a proposal for people to think about and see the real
      possibility of the role of the bishop of Rome in a united Church. I
      don’t think there’s anything there they’d object to.”

      More Than Semantics

      Father Taft noted that the new edition of the Annuario Pontificio,” the
      directory of personnel at the Holy See, contains a significant change in
      the way the Pope is referred to simply as “Bishop of Rome.” The other
      titles traditionally ascribed to the Pope, such as Successor of Peter,
      Vicar of Christ, Supreme Pontiff, are relegated to the following page.

      He commented that Pope Francis’ emphasis on the title “bishop of Rome”
      is “not just a semantic difference. The primacy is of the see, not of
      the person. He is Pope because he is bishop of Rome, not vice versa.

      Observers also took note of Pope Francis’ radically different style: his
      opting to take the cardinals’ bus back to the Domus Sanctae Marthae
      guesthouse and live there rather than in the Apostolic Palace and his
      standing to receive the initial greeting of all the cardinals rather
      than sitting on a throne as they approach the new “Prince of the Apostles.”

      The Pope’s appointment one month after his election of a commission of
      eight cardinals to study a reform in the Roman Curia added speculation
      that a change in the way the Pope runs the Church could be afoot.

      In another part of the conference, Father Taft contended that “papal
      authority as it is presently exercised and as some Catholics would
      propound it, as an authority without limits, is not necessitated,
      justified, or mandated by New Testament teaching on the Church or
      Peter…. Papal authority as conceived and exercised today is totally
      extraneous not only to the Orthodox tradition but also to the
      collegiality ecclesiology of Vatican II, which says the pope governs the
      Church not alone but together with the College of Bishops.”

      The fear that in a reunited Church, a pope as “first among equals” would
      have a primacy “without teeth,” is contradicted by a recent example,
      Father Taft said. In that case, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew,
      Archbishop of Constantinople, who is considered “first among equals” in
      the Orthodox communion, exercised “vigorous intervention” and imposed
      ecclesiastical sanctions on the Patriarch of Jerusalem, beyond his

      Some Orientale Lumen Conference participants speculated on a
      yet-to-be-announced ninth cardinal on the panel—an Eastern Catholic
      prelate, possibly Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Ukraine.

      ‘Humble, Prayerful’

      For his part, Metropolitan Tikhon found the vision statement’s
      historical description of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox understanding
      of primacy and the status of the pope of Rome to be “very well laid
      out.” He said he met Pope Francis briefly after his inaugural Mass in March.

      “I was blessed this year to attend the inauguration of Pope Francis and
      be present for that historic moment when the presence and words of
      Bartholomew, to be in the room together with them as they greeted each
      other and briefly greet Francis,” Tikhon told the gathering of some 60
      Orthodox and Catholic lay persons, religious, priests, and bishops.
      “We’d decided to offer him an appropriate gift—a prayer rope and icon of
      the Mother of God. We didn’t exchange many words, but I sensed a genuine
      love for Christ, for the Mother of God and a common sense of our need to
      ground ourselves in prayer and in our mutual seeking for that personal
      union with Christ because this is that which modern man seeks, the
      healing of his soul, which is broken and divided, affecting our hearts,
      minds and bodies. There can be no external unity without an equally
      solid effort toward the healing of our hearts, healing of the brokenness
      in our own communities.”

      Tykhon said Francis’ election gives him hope for improved relations
      between Catholics and Orthodox, “but I don’t have much to base it on.
      The papacy is just beginning. The initial impression I have is very
      positive, more based on a personal sense, which I think is important,
      but as far as there being any changes or official policy I don’t have
      any insights into the inner workings of the Vatican or any of that. But
      it’s always hopeful when there’s a humble, prayerful man leading the

      In a brief interview with Aleteia, the head of the Orthodox Church in
      America quipped, “I guess it depends on who gets his ear. He seems
      humble, which is always a good sign.”

      The Ecumenical Patriarch

      Patriarch Bartholomew’s attendance at the Pope’s inaugural Mass also
      “was very significant,” said Father FitzGerald. “I don’t know how that
      happened, but somehow the Patriarch was invited to be there or invited
      himself. The very fact that he was there and played a prominent role,
      after the installation, especially, [was noteworthy]. I think it was
      significant that the new Pope recognized that the relationship with the
      Orthodox was significant, in some sense preeminent.”

      Father Taft said, “Nothing like that happens in Rome by chance,” while
      Father Griffith said that he’s heard from “people in the dicastery for
      Christian unity that no one is invited to these events. It’s always,
      ‘Let us know if you’re coming.’ But something had to happen to
      coordinate that, and that’s something that’s not been revealed to mere
      mortals.” One attendee at the conference found another gesture to be
      significant. Joseph Bernard, a member of a Byzantine Catholic parish in
      Virginia Beach, Va., said in an interview that just before Pope Francis
      celebrated Mass to begin his ministry, he visited the tomb of St. Peter
      in the crypt of the basilica that bears his name. “And who met him
      there? All his brother patriarchs and major archbishops of the Catholic
      Church,” Bernard said. These patriarchs and major archbishops lead, for
      example, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the Chaldean Church and
      others and are in a way similar to the patriarchs of the various
      Orthodox Churches.

      Said Bernard, “He understands he is one with them. I really like the way
      the guy is thinking.”
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