Cardinal Kasper presents the acts of a symposium on papal primacy

Source: FSSPX News


Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, presented to the press on October 14 the acts of the symposium of 2003 on The Petrine Ministry, Catholics and Orthodox in dialog. He was accompanied by Metropolitan Joannis Zizoulas, Orthodox patriarch of Pergamos, and by Fr. Hermann Joseph Pottmeyer, dean emeritus of the faculty of theology of the Ruhr, in Germany.

This symposium was held behind closed doors the 21st and 24th of May 2004 in Rome; it brought together five Catholic experts, eleven delegates of Orthodox churches and eight reporters. The meeting was organized after the publication of Ut Unum Sint (1995), following the request of John-Paul II to study the question of the petrine ministry with other Christians, in order to “look, together, for forms by which this ministry could carry out a service of love for all”.

The acts of the symposium, “an academic gathering which has no official character”, according to Cardinal Kasper, fit “into the continuity of the study of this topic to contribute to a reflection from an ecumenical perspective”. The members of the symposium thus concentrated on the biblical foundation of the primacy of the bishop of Rome, then on the primacy according to the Fathers of the Church and on the role of the bishop of Rome in the ecumenical councils. They also raised the question of the Roman primacy according to saint Maximos the confessor, then took up the debates on the primacy of the pope during the Vatican Council I (1870), and the recent discussions between orthodox theologians on the primacy.

“It is not about calling into question the dogma of papal infallibility, but of looking for solutions so as to better make the distinction between its forms and its application”, Cardinal Kasper explained, emphasizing that it is on this last point the discussions between the two churches could concentrate in the future. “The Orthodox and Catholic ecclesiologies are not contrary and we must work toward a progressive deepening of mutual understanding”, he continued. “As Catholics, we are convinced of the biblical foundations of the petrine ministry and we must get past the psychological road-blocks.

For his part, the Metropolitan of Pergamos emphasized, “it’s the first time in the history of ecumenical dialog that the Holy See and the pope have encouraged reflection on this point of Catholic doctrine”. Recognizing that the primacy of the pope remains a difficulty in the relations between the Catholic and Orthodox churches, he also expressed joy at “this new era of discussions. The pope has a profound ecumenical spirit that facilitates the search for a way to come closer together. I hope that will happen on the level of official discussions in the coming years, for from now on, the dialog will take place in a objective and non-polemical spirit, as before”.

The patriarch then explained that the Orthodox “are searching for a solution which will not betray their faith. For me, this foundation is offered by the ecclesiology of communion proposed by Vatican II. (…) The question of the primacy is a canonical question and not one of faith. It’s a question of organization. The Orthodox give greater freedom to their local churches than to the universal Church. This is an error. We must reconcile these two levels and give priority to the universal Church”, he affirmed, pointing out that conversely, Catholics should give a greater role to the particular churches. For the patriarch, “there is a golden rule to follow: no one can make bishops without primacy, and the primacy cannot exist without bishops”.

For Catholic theologian Hermann Joseph Pottmeyer, “we must also look at this question in its historical dimension. According to the circumstances, there are different ways of expressing the same thing”. Thus, he himself also feels that the Orthodox must understand “that the local churches must come together in a universal Church, without losing their identity. They must find an equilibrium”. In addition, “Catholics must make the distinction between the authority of the pope in the West and in the East, they must develop ecclesiology around local churches, and above all put it into practice”.

The official theological dialog between Orthodox and Catholics has been on hold since the last session of the Mixed International Commission for Dialog, which met in Baltimore in 2000. The principal stumbling block came from the situation of the Eastern Catholic churches reunited with Rome, the so-called Uniates. John-Paul II has asked several times for the resumption of this dialog, notably at his last meeting with Bartholomew I, at the end of June, 2004.

“We must discuss in depth the primacy of the bishop of Rome, papal infallibility, the position of the pope in the structure of the Christian Church as a whole, for this is the most difficult point in our relations, and it is still impeding full communion”, explained the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, at the end of his visit to the Vatican.