January 21, 2011

Post-USSR Catholic-Orthodox Relations Studied By Catholics

January 20, 2011

The relations between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches after the disintegration of the Soviet Union 20 years ago will be the topic of a March 19 congress in Wurzburg.

Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, will discuss this topic in a round table as part of the congress organized by Aid to the Church in Need.

Also taking part in the debate will be the aid agency's president in Germany, Antonia Willemsen, and the head of the Russian Section of Aid to the Church in Need International, Peter Humeniuk. The moderator will be the writer Stefan Baier of Die Tagespost, a Catholic newspaper of Wurzburg.

In preparation for the meeting, Willemsen and Humeniuk traveled to Rome to inform Cardinal Koch on the works of their agency in Russia.

The prelate applauded the initiative of the association to promote interreligious rapprochement between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches.

He said that he is very interested in the meeting with Metropolitan Alfeyev, whom he has known and esteemed for years. He expressed confidence that the dialogue will continue to prosper.

Willemsen affirmed that, at the request of John Paul II, the aid agency has always made an effort to collaborate with the "Russian Orthodox Sister Church" since the fall of Communism, without neglecting aid to the Russian Catholic Church.

Current debate

At present, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches are debating the question of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome.

As Cardinal Koch explained last November in a plenary assembly of the dicastery he heads, "An ecclesiology linked to the national culture and a Catholic ecclesiology oriented to the concept of universality have been up to now in disagreement."

Whereas for Pope Paul VI this question was the "major obstacle" for the restoration of full communion, he explained, "in the eyes of the present Pontiff it is also the main opportunity for union."

According to the thinking of Benedict XVI, the cardinal said, "without primacy, the Catholic Church would also have disintegrated a long time ago into national Churches sui iuris, which would have confused and complicated the ecumenical landscape."

He noted that for ecumenism now, it is necessary that "the Catholic Church reflect further on the idea that the primacy of the Bishop of Rome is not a simple external juridical appendix to Eucharistic ecclesiology, but an element that is founded precisely on it."

On the other hand, the prelate stated, "the Orthodox Church should address with determination the problem of autocephaly, because it is of fundamental importance for its future and for ecumenism, and thus seek adequate solutions in order to recover its own internal unity and its capacity to act in a concerted way."

Cardinal Koch pointed out the importance of the work of the International Mixed Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church over the last few years, noting that there have been advances in the discussions on ecclesiology in general and on the primacy of the Bishop of Rome in particular.