Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Catholic World News News Feature

Ecumenical talks reach partial accord on papal primacy November 14, 2007

Talks between Catholic and Orthodox theologians held in Ravenna, Italy, in October produced a framework for agreement about the primacy of the Pope, according to a report in the Italian daily La Repubblica.

The top Vatican representative at the Ravenna talks has cautioned that a 46-paragraph final document approved by the participants should not be seen as a dramatic step toward Orthodox acceptance of the Pope's authority, since it does not resolve questions about the nature of papal authority.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, the president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, told a Vatican Radio audience that "the real breakthrough is that for the first time the Orthodox were ready to speak about the universal level of the Church."

The 46-paragraph document approved at the Ravenna meeting-- which is due for release on November 15-- refers to the Bishop of Rome as the "first among the patriarchs," La Repubblica reported. The document recognizes the historical patriarchates of the united Church, in Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. Among these, the Ravenna participants agreed, Rome has primacy.

However, the Ravenna document does not settle questions about the power the Pope enjoys as a consequence of that primacy. In fact, the members of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue noted in their concluding statement that Catholic and Orthodox theologians disagree "on the interpretation of the historical evidence from this era regarding the prerogatives of the bishop of Rome as protos," or first among the patriarchs.

"While the fact of primacy at the universal level is accepted by both East and West," the Ravenna statement continued, "there are differences of understanding with regard to the manner in which it is to be exercised, and also with regard to its scriptural and theological foundations."

Cardinal Kasper told Vatican Radio that the Ravenna document will for the basis for further talks. In future meetings, he said, "we have have to go on to clarify the details."

The October meeting in Ravenna was the 10th plenary session of the joint theological commission, which was established in 1979 as a joint initiative of Pope John Paul II and Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I. The next meeting of the commission will be follow up on the exploration of papal primacy, with a discussion of the role played by the Bishop of Rome as the focus of Christian unity during the 1st millennium, before the split between Rome and Constantinople.

The Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue brings together 60 top theologians, 30 Catholic and 30 Orthodox, representing the Catholic Church and the major Orthodox bodies. The Ravenna meeting was conducted under a cloud because the Russian Orthodox delegation-- representing by far the largest Orthodox Church in the world-- walked out of the meeting at the beginning of the discussions, in a dispute over the seating of a delegation from the Estonian Orthodox Church, which Moscow does not recognize.