10/19/2007, 00.00
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Progress in dialogue with Catholics, says Ecumenical Patriarchate

Metropolitan Ioannis, co-chairman of the joint commission, talks to AsiaNews about the importance of the discussion with regard to the Pope’s role in the Church. The row caused by the Moscow Patriarchate is an “expression of authoritarianism” so that the Russians are isolated once again.

Istanbul (AsiaNews) – The results of the latest talks by the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches held in Ravenna (Italy) were definitely positive, this according to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Metropolitan Ioannis of Pergamon, one of Commission’s two co-chairs with Card Walter Kasper, expressed a similar opinion in talking to AsiaNews, thus confirming the positive assessment already made by the Holy See.

Ioannis’ statement comes on the eve of another meeting between Benedict XVI and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, scheduled for Naples (Italy) where the Pope will be on a pastoral visit and where the Patriarch will be receive an honorary degree and be made an honorary citizen of Amalfi.

Ioannis, who played a key role in all the activities according to everyone present at Ravenna, including Catholics, said that the final paper from that meeting on collegiality and authority in the Church was unanimously approved and will be the basis for future sessions of the Unity Commission.

Mgr Eleuterio Fortino, under-secretary at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, told Vatican Radio that the experts had started to discuss “an issue that is essential to the dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox, a difficult issue,” explaining that “we’re starting to study in detail the evolution of the role of the Bishop of Rome in the Church.”

According to Ioannis, removing any reference to Church unity in the first millennium, which defined the Pope’s role as that of ‘co-operator’ whilst that of the patriarchs as ‘consenting,’ was one of the most important decisions taken. This was done to avoid differing interpretations by the two ecclesiologies, Western and Eastern; the first centred on the fact that the Pope prevails over others; the second which focuses on greater equality” among Church leaders.

“In the Eastern Church, the primacy goes to Constantinople,” he said; “not in terms of power but in terms of initiative and coordination. For the first time, the term primus was used, the meaning it held in the tradition of the first millennium, always within the synodal context.”

For the Orthodox, the conclusions reached by the Commission “were so important that they overshadowed the pullout by the Russian delegation,” due to the presence of the Estonian Apostolic Church, which Moscow does not recognise.

“We should remember that the issue goes back to 1996 when the Ecumenical Patriarchate in response to a demand by the Estonian Church recognised its autonomy which it had in 1923 and which was forcibly suppressed in 1945 by the Soviet army,” Ioannis explained.

“Despite the agreement with Constantinople reached in 1996 in Zurich and Berlin, the Moscow Patriarchate refuses to acknowledge the autonomy of the Estonian Church until the latter returns property belonging to Russian parishes. Constantinople has tried to mediate, but the Estonian government has refused on constitutional grounds. Thus the issue remains unresolved.”

A statement by Bishop Hilarion to the Interfax news agency best illustrates how deep the cleavage is. In it he questions the “legitimacy” of the conclusions reached in Ravenna since his patriarchate was absent. He said that Moscow “alone has more members than all the other Orthodox Churches combined.”

“Hilarion’s tough stance should be seen as an expression of authoritarianism whose goal is to exhibit the influence of the Moscow Church,” said Ioannis. “But like last year in Belgrade, all Moscow achieved was to isolate itself once more since no other Orthodox Church followed its lead, remaining instead faithful to Constantinople.” (NT)

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