Far-reaching consequences for ecumenism?

Vatican announces document on the papacy

Vatikanstadt - For around a thousand years, church leaders in the East and West have been arguing about the supremacy of the Pope. Now the Vatican has drawn up a proposal on how the papacy could be acceptable to other churches. The text could have far-reaching consequences.

Published  on 09.06.2024 at 10:13  – 

On Thursday, the Vatican intends to present a document that could have far-reaching consequences for relations between the Christian churches. The text was drawn up by the Pope's ecumenical office, according to the Vatican press office. The paper is entitled "The Bishop of Rome - Primacy and Synodality in Ecumenical Discussions and Responses to the Encyclical Ut unum sint". It takes up an encyclical from 1995 by Pope John Paul II. The magisterial text, which was groundbreaking for Christian unity at the time, held out the prospect of a new self-image and a different way of exercising the papacy, particularly with regard to the churches of the East.

At the time, the Pope had invited the other Christian churches to seek ways in which the papal office could be understood as a "service of mercy" to all churches in a "fraternal, patient dialogue" with Rome. As a result, the Vatican's ecumenical department set up its own dialogue forums with several churches, which deliberated for decades. The results are now available. The project was given a further boost by Pope Francis. From the outset, he defined himself first and foremost as the Bishop of Rome. He also decreed the revival of the historic title"Patriarch of the West", which had been cancelled by his predecessor Benedict XVI.

Renewed form of the papal office?

He has also begun to give the Catholic world church a "synodal" constitution, in which the Pope alone no longer makes decisions from above. In the "synodal church" envisioned by Francis, bishops, theologians and lay people will be involved in consultations on fundamental issues of the church. This will make the Catholic Church more similar in its structure and functioning to the churches of the East, which have always had a synodal organisation, and the communities that emerged from the Reformation. According to the Vatican, the paper, which is to be presented next week, is a "study document" that has been approved by Francis. It is intended to bring together the responses to "Ut unum sint" and the ecumenical dialogues on primacy and synodality for the first time in almost 30 years.

In the end, the document will make a proposal for a renewed form of papal office that can also be recognised by the other churches. Some in the Vatican believe it is possible that the Pope could meet regularly with other patriarchs and church leaders on an equal footing for consultations in the future in accordance with the proposal. The text with the suggestions and proposals will be presented on Thursday afternoon by the Prefect of the Dicastery for Christian Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch, and the head of the Synod Secretariat, Cardinal Mario Grech. The official envoys of the heads of the Anglican and Armenian churches will be connected via video conference. (KNA)