Document "The Bishop of Rome" presented

Vatican proposes new understanding and different exercise of papal office

Vatican City - The Vatican has presented the eagerly awaited document on the papal office. It proposes several far-reaching changes – a new understanding and a different exercise of the papal primacy.

Published  on 13.06.2024 at 12:14  – 

The Vatican has made proposals for a new understanding and a different exercise of the papal office, according to which the Pope could in future be accepted by other Christian churches as an honorary head. The proposals were presented in Rome on Thursday by Cardinal Kurt Koch, Curia Cardinal responsible for ecumenism, and Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary General of the World Synod of Bishops.

The guidelines compiled under the title"The Bishop of Rome" are the result of decades of theological dialogue that various Christian churches have conducted separately with the Catholic Church. The paper, which was approved by Pope Francis, proposes several far-reaching changes for the Catholic Church. A new understanding and a different exercise of papal primacy should "contribute to the restoration of Christian unity".

The first change concerns a new interpretation of the teachings of the First Vatican Council. This had proclaimed the dogmatic infallibility of the head of the Church in 1870. It also declared the Pope to be the supreme legislator and judge of the entire Christian Church. According to the paper, the resolutions of that time should now be integrated into modern theology, which no longer sees the church as a monarchy but as a community. They should also be "adapted to today's cultural and ecumenical context". Next, the paper calls for a clear separation between the different areas of responsibility of the Bishop of Rome. To this end, he must exercise his local episcopal office in Rome more visibly. It would then need to be clarified to what extent he, as"Patriarch of the West", could be on an equal footing with the churches of the East in certain matters, while in others he would hold the "primacy of unity in the communion of the Western and Eastern churches".

Ecumenical role of the Pope

The third proposal concerns the constitution of the Catholic Church. Internally, this must move further in the direction of "synodality", i.e. joint consultation and decision-making. This includes reflecting on the authority of national and regional bishops' conferences and the question of their future position in the network of the World Synod and the Roman Curia. Finally, the text proposes the creation of a new global consultative level with regular meetings of church leaders from different denominations. This should deepen the existing fellowship between them and make it more visible to the outside world.

The paper also contains proposals for the future ecumenical role of the Pope. In future, he should be able to convene and preside over cross-confessional councils. He could also take on the role of mediator in the event of disciplinary or doctrinal conflicts. With regard to the churches in the West that are separated from Rome, the paper cites a "primacy of proclamation and witness" that is acceptable to them even if full church unity has not yet been achieved.

It remains to be seen how the Vatican's proposals will be implemented in terms of canon law. The Pope could enact some of them, which concern his own powers or the synodal constitution of the Church, by means of church laws. He has already taken the first steps with regard to his role as Roman bishop and the synodal constitution of the Church. Others would presumably require the approval of a Third Vatican Council. Recognition of the Pope as "head of honour" could probably only be achieved through a new type of "ecumenical synod". As in the first millennium, delegates from other churches would then also participate with voting rights. As a first step, Koch announced that the Vatican would send the proposals to the other churches for evaluation. The hope is for positive responses and further discussions. (KNA)

In full text: "The Bishop of Rome"

The Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity has published the document "The Bishop of Rome. Primacy and Synodality in Ecumenical Dialogues and Responses to the Encyclical Ut unum sint" in English, Italian and French.