Orthodox Unhappy With Pope's Decision To Drop Title
Jun. 14 (CWNews.com) - The Orthodox patriarchate of Constantinople has expressed serious concern over the decision by Pope Benedict XVI (bio - news) to abandon the traditional papal title, "Patriarch of the West."
The Synod of the Constantinople patriarchate has issued a statement saying that by dropping that title, the Pope has created "grave difficulties" for ecumenical dialogue. The change, the Orthodox statement says, suggests that the Pope is claiming universal jurisdiction over the Christian world-- a claim that is unwelcome to Orthodox patriarchs who claim jurisdiction over their own churches.
The statement from the Constantinople Synod comes just before the arrival in Rome of an Orthodox delegation, sent by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I to join Pope Benedict in celebrating the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, the patrons of the Rome diocese, on June 29. The Pontiff himself will travel to Istanbul in November to return the visit, joining Patriarch Bartholomew for the feast of St. Andrew, patron of Constantinople, on November 30.
The statement from the Orthodox Synod acknowledges that the term "West" has acquired new connotations, and that the Bishop of Rome does not wish to be aligned exclusively with the "Western world" in political terms. However, the statement warns against a papal tendency toward "absorption" of other churches.
"Different churches exist," the Orthodox Synod argues. The statement outlines the separate cultural, doctrinal, and liturgical traditions that mark the different Christian churches. In light of these differences, the statement says, the Christian world should aspire to "full unity of local churches."
By dropping the title "Patriarch of the West," the argument continues, Pope Benedict appears to have rejected the notion that the Catholic and Orthodox churches are "sister churches." The statement says that this attitude points to severe difficulties with the Pope's understanding of his own role-- a topic that has caused considerable tension in ecumenical circles.
The Orthodox Synod asks Pope Benedict to recall what he wrote several years ago, when (as Cardinal Ratzinger) he said that the Holy See should not the Eastern churches to accept any more expansive understanding of Petrine primacy than the idea that prevailed during the first Christian millennium.
Pope Benedict appeared to have be addressing the concerns of the Orthodox Synod during his regular weekly public audience on June 14, when he referred to Rome and Constantinople as "sister churches." Still, during that talk he referred to St. Andrew, the patron of Constantinople, as the apostle to the Greek world. Thus he distinguished St. Andrew from his brother, St. Peter, whose mission was universal, the Pope noted.
The 2006 edition of the Annuario Pontificio, the official Vatican yearbook, did not include the title of "Patriarch of the West" under the listing for the Roman Pontiff. The list of titles concludes to include other clear indications of the Pope's universal role, including "Vicar of Jesus Christ" and more explicitly "Sovereign Pontiff of the Universal Church."
In a March 22 announcement, the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity explained the decision to abandon the title, telling Orthodox leaders that the Pope's intent was to advance the cause of ecumenism. The Orthodox Synod of the Constantinople patriarchate has now apparently rejected that explanation.
Early this year the Orthodox Bishop Hilarion of Vienna had complained that the decision to drop the papal title seemed to be motivated by "growing pretensions of the Bishop of Rome to universal primacy." He suggested that the Pope should drop other titles, beginning with "Sovereign Pontiff," to assure the Orthodox world that he did not have such aspirations.
The question of Petrine primacy will undoubtedly be a focus of intense discussion when Orthodox and Catholic theologians meet in September 2006, in Serbia, to resume ecumenical talks that had been suspended for 6 years after reaching an impasse over that issue and over the status of the Eastern Catholic churches.