VATICAN CITY, MAY 27, 2003 ( Catholic and Orthodox theologians met to identify key points on the question of the papal ministry, during a symposium convoked by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

With this initiative, the council's president, Cardinal Walter Kasper, wished to respond to John Paul II's petition in his encyclical "Ut Unum Sint" to "find a way to exercise the primacy that, without renouncing in any way that which is essential to its mission, will open to a new situation."

Papal authority is a fundamental issue that has separated Orthodox and Catholics since the schism of 1054.

Professors of the Teaching Academies of the Orthodox Churches participated in the academic meeting last week.

Representatives were sent by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople -- among others, the president of the Athens Academy -- as well as representatives of the Patriarchate of Antioch, the Serbian and Romanian Patriarchates, the Greek Orthodox Church and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

The Russian Orthodox Patriarchate was also invited, but the appointed representatives were unable to travel to Rome.

Topics discussed included the biblical foundation of the primacy; the primacy in the Church Fathers; the role of the pope in ecumenical councils; and recent debates on primacy in relation to the First Vatican Council and among Orthodox theologians.

Monsignor Eleuterio Fortino, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, told Vatican Radio that the atmosphere of the meeting was "fraternal" and "transparent and warm."

"Without the need to come to conclusions, the symposium was quite free, which facilitated discussion on the problems just as they are posed both in the Catholic Church as well as the Orthodox Church," he said.

According to Monsignor Fortino, the principal contribution of the meeting was "to define and specify the problems."

The topic of the pope's ministry is also marked by a history "of controversies, misunderstandings, exaggerations," the monsignor added.

"I think that the real contribution has been the identification of the real problems, both on the evangelical foundation of the Petrine ministry, as well as on the evolution, growth and realization of this ministry in the Church," he said.

Special attention was given to the way the Fathers of the Church address the question, and the definitions and action of the ecumenical councils. Time was also allocated to clarifying and studying what Vatican I had to say.

This was the first symposium of this type held in the Vatican. "The study is open and must continue not only with the Orthodox Churches, but also with the ancient Churches of the East, which pose the same problem, and I think especially with the Churches stemming from the Reformation," Monsignor Fortino affirmed.

"The issue is much more difficult with them, as the topic in question is much greater; for example, a fundamental topic is apostolic succession and episcopal collegiality," he said.

The monsignor explained that in the last session of the meeting "there was also discussion on the possibility of preparing a joint publication to promote further reflection and wider dissemination of the issues."