Orthodox-Catholic relations at an impasse after Baltimore talks

 — Aug. 9, 20009 aoüt 2000

‘Bitter differences’ lead to dead-end, Polish ecumenist says

by Jonathan Luxmoore, Ecumenical News International

[WARSAW] High-level talks between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches which ended in the United States recently were marred by “methodological deficiencies” and a “polemical atmosphere,” leaving relations between the two Christian communions at a dead-end, according to an expert on ecumenism who took part.

Professor Waclaw Hryniewicz, a Catholic theologian and director of the Ecumenical Institute at Poland’s Catholic University of Lublin, said that the leaders of Catholic and Orthodox churches now appeared “unwilling or hesitant” to recognize their churches as “sister churches.” Future ecumenical dialogue would depend on better relations at the local level, particularly in Eastern Europe.

“I’m disappointed — I was expecting a healthy compromise worthy of the name,” Hryniewicz told ENI. “This meeting was not in vain. But when there’s a conflict between two (partners acting in good faith), you have to reach a compromise. The fact that we couldn’t explains why there was no joint declaration.”

The 64-year-old ecumenist was speaking to ENI after attending the eighth plenary of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, which ended on July 19 in Baltimore without producing the expected joint declaration on progress between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches.

The two communions have much in common, but must resolve several bitter differences, including the issue of papal primacy, before they can come any closer to one another.

Hryniewicz said Roman Catholic negotiators had wanted to retain the term “sister churches” to describe the relationship between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. However, the use of the term sister churches in past documents of the commission had been rejected as “insufficiently thought over” by most Orthodox churches, while Roman Catholics had also now acknowledged that it “posed certain difficulties.”

The commission’s 10-day meeting was devoted to a key issue of dispute between Orthodox and Catholics — the “ecclesiological and canonical implications of Uniatism.” The gathering was the commission’s first plenary session in seven years.

A communique released at the end of the Baltimore meeting stated that participants had expressed “reserve and even outright opposition” to documents prepared for the meeting. Participants at the meeting agreed that further studies were needed of “theological, pastoral, historical and canonical issues” arising from the “exceptionally thorny question of Uniatism.”

Uniatism refers to the historical process by which Orthodox communities accepted the jurisdiction of Rome, but retained their eastern liturgy. The process, which gathered momentum after the 1596 Union of Brest, continued for two centuries, during which more than a dozen Greek Catholic (also called Eastern Catholic) churches were created in Ukraine, Romania and other countries, in the face of vigorous opposition from the Orthodox Church.

Hryniewicz told ENI that the atmosphere at the Baltimore talks had been “generally tense” because of the complexity of the issues and some personal animosities. He added that Orthodox delegates had had to “argue hard among themselves, sometimes exceeding the rules of courtesy.” The Roman Catholic co-chairman of the talks, Cardinal Edward Cassidy, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, had at one point staged a walkout.

“Besides difficult moments like this, caused by the very polemical atmosphere, the talks also lacked sound methodological organization,” Hryniewicz said. “Such discussions should be led in an intelligent, orderly way. If the method had been better, we could have expected better results.”

He said that Uniatism continued to provoke “deep divisions” among Orthodox churches, adding that some Orthodox participants had had difficulty “tolerating” the presence of a Romanian Greek Catholic bishop at the talks.

Some Greek Catholics had recently shown “definite signs” of a more conciliatory attitude towards Orthodoxy, although Orthodox leaders were still reluctant to acknowledge the past sufferings of the Greek Catholic churches, said Professor Hryniewicz. “These are historical complexities which require a neutral, objective approach. The Orthodox expect a deeper understanding from Catholics, but this must apply to both sides. No one knows how long it will take to achieve agreement. But an honest, sincere and patient dialogue is the only way to go about it.”

Disputes over the revival of Greek Catholic communities in Eastern Europe, most of which were suppressed under communist rule, have dominated the official relationship between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches over the past decade.

At a press conference on July 19, Cardinal Cassidy said that Uniatism had become the “real core” of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, but it was too “complicated and involved” to allow an “easy solution.”

The commission’s Orthodox co-chairman, Archbishop Stylianos of Australia, said he believed the issue was connected with the primacy and infallibility of the Pope, both of which were unacceptable in their present form to the Orthodox.

In his interview with ENI, Hryniewicz said that points of agreement that seemed acceptable to Roman Catholic theologians were often deemed unacceptable by those “representing the Catholic Church officially.” He said further ecumenical progress would depend on “local improvements” in Catholic-Orthodox ties in Eastern Europe. A decision to establish a joint inter-church commission in Ukraine, taken during a recent visit by Cardinal Cassidy to Moscow, was a “very encouraging sign.”

“If acts of proselytism cease, and good, local relationships emerge, this would enormously contribute to improving the general situation,” Hryniewicz told ENI. “The commission members must now report back to their churches, who will try to offer solutions capable of ensuring the dialogue’s peaceful continuation. The future depends on both sides — although we seem to have reached a dead-end, the situation isn’t yet entirely desperate.”

Hryniewicz, who also holds the Catholic University’s chair in Orthodox theology, was one of three Polish delegates at the Baltimore talks. In interview with ENI in April this year, he provoked international controversy by calling on Greek Catholics to rediscover their eastern traditions and to open a “sincere dialogue” with Orthodoxy.

A Polish Orthodox delegate to the talks, Archbishop Jeremiasz of Wroclaw-Szczecin, said he recognized that the “ecclesiological status” of Greek Catholic churches affected “key elements” of Roman Catholic teaching. But he also agreed that the Baltimore talks had been marred by a lack of “organizational care.” Archbishop Jeremiasz said that the term “sister churches” had been used “over enthusiastically.” But he did not believe either side had rejected it.

“I don’t think the talks were a failure — only that they marked a very difficult phase, in which official views appear to have triumphed,” the 56-year-old archbishop told ENI. “Some participants have begun to harden their positions self-defensively, while external non-church factors have also exerted too much influence. But, given sufficient will and theological freedom, as well as improved procedures, the dialogue should continue.”

Posted: Aug. 9, 2000 • Permanent link: ecumenism.net/?p=4962
Categories: ENIIn this article: Catholic, dialogue, Orthodox
Transmis : 9 aoüt 2000 • Lien permanente : ecumenism.net/?p=4962
Catégorie : ENIDans cet article : Catholic, dialogue, Orthodox

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