Catholic-Orthodox unity talks to reopen
CARDINAL Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said this week that the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches were “fundamentally the one Church of Jesus Christ”.
Speaking at the nineteenth annual conference of the Sant’Egidio community in Lyons on Tuesday, the cardinal announced the restarting this autumn of the Catholic-Orthodox international theological commission, which had been suspended for four years during a row over the Uniate Churches in the Ukraine concerning disputed church property and proselytism.
Cardinal Kasper, speaking in a round-table session, said of Catholics and Orthodox: “They are the one Church in different liturgical, theological, spiritual and canonical forms. These differences are legitimate.” He added that obstacles to full communion were both of principle and practice. The Orthodox have concerns regarding the definition of Papal infallibility and this would be addressed by the commission in the autumn, said the cardinal: “The full unity of the Church — East and West — is a hope which will not disappoint.”
The cardinal said that, although progress would not be easy, there was already convergence on both sides, such as the acceptance by some Orthodox that “there cannot be synodality without primacy”. Synodality, or walking together, is the decentralising form of governance in the Orthodox Church and is underpinned by patriarchs being, in theory at least, primus inter pares, while Catholicism is essentially hierarchical and centralised, headed by the Pope exercising universal authority. However, the cardinal said that the synodal principle of the Eastern Churches and the primatial principle of the Catholic Church need not be in contradiction.
Cardinal Kasper laid down five challenges for both Churches: purification of historical memory — admitting sins and seeking forgiveness; overcoming mutual ignorance, prejudices and lack of understanding; the mutual exchange of gifts (such as synodality); strengthening cooperation in order to speak with a single voice to secularised Europe; recognising that the path to full community is a spiritual process.
On Monday, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, urged faith communities to forge a “spiritual humanism of peace”. Speaking on the anniversary of the 11 September terrorist attacks on the United States, the cardinal addressed the fears caused by recent terrorist atrocities in London, saying: “Our task is to challenge the ideology of the crucifier with the faith in the Crucified.”
But he also warned against secularism and resulting social and religious alienation: “Here in France ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¦ the doctrine of exclusion of all religion from the public sphere, known as laicitÃƒÆ’Ã†â€™Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â©, is increasingly being recognised as inadequate. It is remarkable how far contemporary Europe has shifted in its view, from seeing religion as incompatible with democratic pluralism to a realisation that there cannot be democratic pluralism without a recognition of religion in the public square.”
Social integration needed to be built on foundations open to authentic religion, said the cardinal, adding that secular values were not enough for this task as humanity could not be circumscribed by the material and consequently shut off from the spiritual.
Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said that one of the most damaging results of 9/11 had been the dividing of the world into two “mythologised” camps. “Each side pretends to believe that all in the other group are of one mind,” he said: “Real dialogue begins in, and is nourished by, a sense of internal dialogue. The deepest form of dialogue goes alongside the questions we ask ourselves. As a Christian, I recognise I am not at one with myself.”
Earlier, the Pope had sent a strong message of encouragement to participants at the three-day meeting, urging all men to have the courage to work energetically for the cause of peace. Violence does not resolve problems, he said; but it complicates the prospects for the future. The only realistic hope for the future, he said, must be based upon peaceful dialogue and negotiated settlement of conflicts. The Sant’Egidio movement is a lay apostolate founded in 1968 which now counts 50,000 members active in 60 countries. It is dedicated to prayer, solidarity, ecumenism, interreligious work, and the pursuit of world peace. The group has been active in mediating several conflicts, particularly in Africa, and has organised interreligious conferences to build upon the “spirit of Assisi” in each year following the 1986 interreligious day of prayer organised there by Pope John Paul II.
Philip Crispin, Lyons www.thetablet.co.uk