Catholics, Orthodox Have Work Cut Out for '09

To Concentrate on Study of Papal Primacy

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 20, 2009 ( Despite difficulties, dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches is advancing both at the level of theological accords and in fraternal relations, says a Vatican aide.

This was affirmed by Monsignor Eleuterio Fortino, subsecretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, to L’Osservatore Romano in a report on the work of the Mixed Commission representing the two Churches.

The Church is currently celebrating the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, under way through Sunday.

The monsignor said it is significant that there has been development in «constructive relationships» between Rome and Constantinople, and also with the Moscow Patriarchate and other Churches.

Regarding theological dialogue, Monsignor Fortino explained that the commission is currently studying the first millennium’s understanding of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome.

To make the work easier, the commission has been divided into two subgroups, one of English-speakers, the other of French-speakers, who will study ecclesial documents dealing with the question, as well as apostolic letters from the first centuries and the fathers of the Church.

They will also study the role of the popes in the refutation of heresies, particularly the condemnation of the iconoclast heresy, which was fundamental for the Eastern Churches.

The issue, Monsignor Fortino explained, is not so much the question of the primacy of Rome itself, which both Churches accept, as the Ravenna document shows, but rather the interpretation of the content of the primacy, about which there are still great differences.

The key, he said, is in «finding a common reading of the historical facts, a common hermeneutic in the interpretation of the data of Scripture and the theological options.»

«Dialogue has embarked on a complicated journey, but [it is] the only one that could clear up the horizon toward full communion,» the Vatican aide affirmed.

A document on this question of primacy will be studied by the commission in their next plenary session, set for October in Cyprus.

In sum, the monsignor stated, dialogue «continues open in a new phase and in a positive perspective,» despite «permanent and new difficulties.»

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