Catholic Church must be more conciliar, ecumenists say
Catholic Church must be more conciliar, ecumenists say
By Jerry Filteau
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- If the papacy is to be exercised in a way that
serves Christian unity better, the Catholic Church must become more
conciliar, with broader participation at all levels in church
governance, several ecumenists said at forum Sept. 26 at Georgetown
"Hierarchy without conciliarity is tyranny. ... Conciliarity without
hierarchy is anarchy," said Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko, a veteran
ecumenist and dean emeritus of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological
Seminary in Crestwood, N.Y.
The forum, convened by the Woodstock Theological Center to mark the
30th anniversary of its founding at Georgetown, was titled "Re-
envisioning the Papacy."
The ecumenical scholars were responding to the 1995 invitation of
the late Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical on Christian unity,
asking church leaders and theologians to "engage in a patient and
fraternal dialogue" about new ways papal primacy could be exercised
that would make the pope's ministry more effective in advancing
Episcopal Bishop Mark Dyer, a theology professor at Virginia
Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Va., and former bishop of
Bethlehem, Pa., stressed the fundamental notion of the church as
koinonia, or communion, reflecting in the life of the church the
divine communion of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Viewed that way, "each member of the church is gifted by God's
spirit," he said, and he would see the pope as one
who "intentionally lifts up all people's gifts."
"Lay people should have a place at the table" in all levels of
church decision-making, he said, and the papacy should "respect
synodical life at every level" -- parish, diocese, regional or
national and global.
"A universal primacy requires universal synodality at every level,"
Participants used conciliarity and synodality interchangeably to
express various forms of councils in which laity, deacons and
priests as well as bishops would have a say in church affairs.
The Rev. Scott Ickert, pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church in
Arlington, Va., and a member of the U.S. Lutheran-Catholic dialogue,
said the fundamental Lutheran position is summarized in one sentence
in the 1974 U.S. Lutheran-Catholic joint statement on papal
primacy: "The one thing necessary, from the Lutheran point of view,
is that papal primacy be so structured and interpreted that it
clearly serve the Gospel and the unity of the church of Christ, and
that its exercise of power not subvert Christian freedom."
Lutherans have a problem with "the extent of papal jurisdiction, the
reach of the papacy" because they see it undermining the Christian
freedom of local churches, he said.
Putting it in terms of the Second Vatican Council's discussion of
the authority of the college of bishops in union with the pope, Rev.
Ickert asked, "To what degree does collegiality exist in the
Catholic Church in reality?"
He said that papal primacy would be less of an obstacle to unity,
for example, if local churches had "greater freedom in the selection
Protopresbyter Hopko said, "The pope is the de facto leader of the
Christian world. He is the Dalai Lama of Christianity."
He said the Orthodox today "would affirm more than ever" the need
for a single leader of world Christianity," but in Orthodox
thinking "there is no bishop of bishops. Every bishop is 'servus
servorum Dei' (the servant of the servants of God, one of the titles
held by the pope)."
Conventual Franciscan Father John J. Burkhard, a theology professor
and acting president of Washington Theological Union presented a
list of "practical suggestions" that could advance ecumenical
relations and make the exercise of the papacy less an obstacle to
Christian unity. They included:
-- Regular meetings of the pope with the patriarchs of the Orthodox
-- Inserting the names of the bishop of Rome and the ecumenical
patriarch of Constantinople in the eucharistic prayers.
-- "A broader process of electing the bishop of Rome."
-- Reform of the process of selecting bishops.
-- Abolishing the "ad limina" visits, trips that bishops who head a
diocese must make to Rome every five years to give the pope and
Vatican officials detailed reports on the state of their diocese.
-- Strengthening the teaching authority of bishops' conferences and
giving them authority over things such as the adaptation of the
liturgy to their culture.
Ann K. Riggs, director of the Faith and Order Commission of the
National Council of Churches, spoke to the forum not from her
personal stance as a Quaker but as a theologian articulating the
faith perspectives that Pentecostals, Baptists, evangelicals and
others outside the mainline ecumenical churches bring to questions
of papal primacy.
"The conceptual traditions of the Catholic Church are almost
incomprehensible" to members of those churches, she said. She noted,
for example, that while the Orthodox and mainline Protestants can
understand the notion of "the sacramentlike quality of the church,"
that language is alien to Baptists and Reformed Christians, who
refer even to baptism and Eucharist as "ordinances," not sacraments.
One problem facing those who approach the notion of church in terms
of the local congregation, she said, is finding ways for those
congregations to do mission together. If the bishop of Rome can act
in ways that help the churches talk about and do mission together,
it would mean something to those churches, she said.
Moderating the forum was theologian Monika K. Hellwig, who taught at
Georgetown for more than 30 years and is now a research fellow at
Woodstock Theological Center.