ISTANBUL, Turkey, FEB. 4, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople has asked John Paul II not to establish a Greek-Catholic patriarchate in Kiev, Ukraine, warning him of the risk of a break in ecumenical relations.
The patriarch’s request came in a letter, published in Greek in the patriarchate’s Web page, which discusses a document presented by Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, to Alexy II, patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.
Alexy II sent the document, which alludes to the eventual recognition of a patriarchal title for the Ukrainian Greek-Catholics, to Orthodox patriarchs.
In the letter dated Nov. 29, Bartholomew I rejects Cardinal Kasper’s document, labeling it “erroneous, confused, unacceptable, provocative,” and after a lengthy refutation of the cardinal’s historical-canonical document, warns about the possible negative consequences of an eventual recognition of a patriarchal title for the Greek-Catholic Church in Ukraine.
“[It] will cause strong reactions on the part of all the Orthodox sister Churches and will put a stop to attempts to continue the theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and Orthodox Churches,” the Italian magazine 30 Giorni reported.
In his letter to the Pope, Bartholomew I said there is a danger “of returning to the climate of hostility that reigned up to a few decades ago.”
“Therefore,” the patriarch wrote, “it is necessary that you assure the Ukrainian people and all the Orthodox Churches with persuasive force that you have no intention of initiating the institution of the Greek-Catholic Patriarchate in Ukraine as Cardinal Kasper’s text alludes.”
The issue relates to the matter of “Uniatism,” a pejorative term applied by the Orthodox to refer to the Greek-Catholic Churches, such as that of Ukraine. The latter belongs to the Byzantine tradition — as do the Orthodox — and at the same time is in full communion with the Successor of Peter. The majority of the population of Ukraine is Orthodox and under the Russian patriarchate.
Recognition of the primacy of Peter is a key point in the discussion between Eastern-rite Ukrainian Catholics (who number about 5 million) and the Orthodox.
Recognizing the level of development reached by its Church, the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Synod’s plenary assembly, held in Kiev in July 2002, asked the Holy Father to sanction this process by granting it the patriarchal title.
According to the conciliar decree “Orientalium Ecclesiarum” on the Catholic Eastern Churches, a pope has the faculty to recognize on his own initiative the patriarchal rank of a Church without having to submit this recognition to the consensus of other ecclesial authorities.
The Catholic-Orthodox dialogue has two events planned: Cardinal Kasper is scheduled to meet with Alexy II in two weeks; and Bartholomew I recently said he would visit the Pope on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, in June.