VATICAN CITY, NOV. 18, 2007, (Zenit.org).- The Catholic-Orthodox theological commission’s recognition of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome is an “important first step,” says the director of the Vatican press office.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi said this in the latest edition of the weekly Vatican Television program “Octava Dies.” He commented on the concluding document of the Oct. 8-14 plenary assembly of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, held in Ravenna, Italy.
The statement, titled “Ecclesiological and Canonical Consequences of the Sacramental Nature of the Church: Ecclesial Communion, Conciliarity and Authority,” was published Nov. 15.
While the Vatican spokesman pointed out that the document also stipulated the need to study and understand the functions of the Bishop of Rome, how his primacy is to be exercised, and the scriptural and theological foundations of it, he added that this could be “an historical turn for the dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox.”
“They delved into fundamental questions about the nature of the Church and they agreed that on every level — local, regional and universal — there is conciliarity, but also authority,” said Father Lombardi.
He said that “the primacy at a universal level from ancient times of the Bishop of Rome was recognized. But there was no agreement on what his prerogatives are and on what theological and biblical bases these are founded.”
Father Lombardi added that when the commission meets again in two years, it will study the theme of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome in the first millennium, “then there will be a need to study the second millennium and the councils that were held after the division between the Churches […] to see what consensus can be reached.”
“It is a long and arduous road,” said the spokesman, “but it is a road that is finally going in the direction that John Paul II wanted in 1995 with the encyclical ‘Ut Unum Sint,’ when he invited the separated brethren to dialogue on the theme of the Bishop of Rome’s service to the universal Church.”
“The historical problems of the division between the Catholics and the Orthodox have not been resolved,” he added, “but a first step — small but important — in the right direction” has been taken.
Father Lombardi noted that, unfortunately, the representatives of the Patriarchate of Moscow were not present at the conclusion of the meeting, a reflection of old tensions between Moscow and Constantinople.
He said: “The road toward union does not regard only Catholics and Orthodox but also — and sometimes more so — it regards Orthodox and Orthodox, Catholics and Catholics.
“For all the pole of common attraction must be Jesus Christ, his mandate of love and his prayer ‘that all be on.’ Only if we all look first at Christ, can we hope that the long road will reach its goal.”