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Doctrinal disputes among Orthodox leaders pose problems for ecumenical discussions

Catholic World News - January 20, 2014

The calendar year 2014 could furnish exciting new opportunities for ecumenical work with the Orthodox world, but progress may be impeded by disagreements between the world’s most powerful Orthodox groups, according to the president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity.

At the start of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch told Vatican Radio that a meeting between Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople could be the “most important opportunity” of the year. However he acknowledged that tensions between the Orthodox churches—in particular, the resistance of the Russian Orthodox Church to a common statement on primacy—pose problems for the immediate future of ecumenical discussions.

“I think there are more tensions between the Orthodox than between the Orthodox and Catholics,” Cardinal Koch said. A key point of contention is an argument over an Orthodox statement on primacy, which the Patriarchate of Moscow refused to accept. The cardinal told Vatican Radio that representatives of the patriarchates of Moscow and Constantinople are now discussing that issue, and their talks might provide a “very good opportunity” for resolving the difficulties. But that is an “internal Orthodox dialogue,” and the Catholic Church cannot be directly involved, he said.

Cardinal Koch reported that the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue, which includes Catholic and Orthodox scholars, will meet sometime this year. He did not specify the time or place for the meeting. The Joint International Commission, which held its last meeting in Vienna in 2010, had originally been scheduled to meet again in 2012. But plans for the meeting were postponed because of the disagreements among Orthodox participants over the statement on primacy.

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