September 28, 2010
The Moscow Patriarchate has denied media reports claiming that a breakthrough has been accomplished in the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue at a meeting of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue in Vienna last week.
"Contrary to media reports, no 'breakthroughs' were accomplished. The entire meeting was devoted to the role of the Bishop of Rome in the first millennium. The Coordinating Committee had drafted a report, which was discussed in Cyprus last year. The raw copy of this document was leaked to the media and was published," Metropolitan Hilarion, the head of the Department of External Church Relations, said in a statement.
"It was thought that the discussion of this document would be finished in Vienna," he said.
"But this did not happen and much time was spent on a discussion of the status of this text. The Orthodox participants had been arguing from the start that the 'Cretan document' (updated later in Cyprus - I.F.) cannot be officially published on behalf of the commission, or signed by its members. In our opinion, this document is in need of thorough editing. But even after editing, it may only have the status of a 'working' document. i.e., the status of 'instrument laboris' which can be used to prepare subsequent documents. But by itself it cannot have any official status," he said.
Metropolitan Hilarion said that the document drafted in Crete is of "purely historical character," which, while elaborating on the role of the Bishop of Rome, almost does not mention bishops of other local churches in the first millennium, which creates a wrong understanding of how powers were distributed in the ancient Church, he said.
In addition to this, the document carries no clear assertion that the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome in the first millennium did not extend to the East. Metropolitan Hilarion said that these blank spaces would hopefully be filled in the edited text.
Following a long-lasting discussion, the commission agreed that the draft needs to be edited and that the decision on its final status will be announced at the next plenary meeting, in about two years. A new document, which will look at the same problem from a theologian point of view, is expected to be drafted by the same time.
It is clear for the Orthodox participants that the jurisdiction of the Pope of Rome only extended to the West in the first millennium, Metropolitan Hilarion said. In the East, the territories were divided between the four Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antiochia and Jerusalem.
The Bishop of Rome "had no direct jurisdiction over the East," even though in individual instances Eastern hierarchs would turn to him as an arbiter in theological disputes, he said.
"These instances were not systematic and cannot in any way suggest that the Bishop of Rome was seen in the East as the possessor of supreme authority over the Universal Church," the Metropolitan said.
The Catholic side will hopefully accept this position at subsequent sessions - a position which is being confirmed by numerous historical evidence.