Monday, March 18, 2013

Francis, Bishop of Rome, Primus Inter Pares?

Pope Francis seems to have extended an olive branch to the Orthodox in his first public appearance. In his words spoken from the balcony immediately after his election, he repeatedly referred to himself as the Bishop of Rome:

  • Brothers and sisters, good evening!
    You know how the duty of the Conclave is to give a bishop to Rome. It seems that my brother cardinals have gone to take him from the edge of the world... but here we are. 


  • The diocesan family of Rome has your bishop: thank you! 

He proceeds to then demote Benedict XVI from Pope Emeritus to Bishop Emeritus:

  • And before anything else, I'd like for us to pray for our bishop-emeritus, Benedict XVI.


  • first, I ask you this favor: before the bishop blesses his people, I ask that you pray to the Lord that he might bless me.

He also refers to the evangelization of the city of Rome as one of his primary duties:

  • I wish you that this journey as Church, that we begin today and on which my Cardinal-Vicar [of Rome] will help me, might be fruitful for the evangelization of this beautiful city!

But the most intriguing clue to Pope Francis' potential ecumenical overtures is his quote from St. Ignatius of Antioch:

  • And now, together, let us start this road: bishop and people. This [new] path of the church of Rome, which "presides in charity" [over] all the churches. (Letter to the Romans 1)

Now, there could be debate over whether St. Ignatius, when he refers to the Church of Rome as having a "Presidency of Love" (προκαθημενη της αγαπης) really does have any thought of Primacy for that See on any level. But Pope Francis is clearly basing his Primatial Role within the Church of Rome, not his person. In other words, he is not claiming to be the Pope because he's the successor of St. Peter. He's broadcasting a potential understanding of Roman Primacy as based back on the historical status of that See.

We greet with joy the news that the Ecumenical Patriarch will be attending the installation of the new Bishop of Rome. It's a breakthrough all on its own for Church Unity.

Finally, let me say some things that may be unpopular with my Orthodox Brethren. There remains, obviously, a major disagreement regarding the status of the Bishop of Rome between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches. And that disagreement led to the severing of Communion between those Churches. But there was a time when that disagreement existed and yet the Churches were still in Communion. We need to be willing, lest we commit the sin of schism against the unity of the Church, to at least go back to the time before the break. But Pope Francis seems to be telegraphing a willingness to scale Roman claims back much further than that. And I'm not saying we've yet seen or know enough to know if a breakthrough is possible. I pray that we open our hearts and minds to consider whether this is a potential ecumenical moment.

Eastern Orthodox Churches have been routinely giving Sacraments to Oriental Christians for some time now. Even though no formal healing of schism has taken place, and even though altar sharing of clergy is still forbidden, individual Christians are communed. And I'm not saying we should not. But to then be even stricter with fellow Christians with whom we share the Council of Chalcedon isn't consistent. Long before some formal accord that restores altar fellowship between Catholic and Orthodox clergy should be, perhaps, an allowance that an Orthodox priest may administer Sacraments to a Roman Catholic on a case by case basis. For instance, if an Orthodox parish member has a Catholic spouse who faithfully attends Liturgy, it would seem such a person could be authorized to receive the Sacrament.

For us to hold the Latins to a higher standard than, say, the Copts, is ecumenically disordered. It's akin to healing a relationship with your younger brother while refusing to even speak with your fraternal twin.

Update: Here's what will be proclaimed after the Gospel (in Greek) is proclaimed at the Installation Mass:

Eis Polla Ete, Despota is Greek meaning "For Many Years, Master." (Ad Multos Annos).

We proclaim this exact phrase, in Greek (whether for a Russian or Romanian hierarch, no matter, still in Greek) for any Orthodox Bishop.



1 comment:

  1. > It's breakthrough all on its own for Church Unity.

    It's not anything at all to do with what Catholics mean by unity. It's about respect for the leader of a major world religion. You'll not the patriarch will *not* be participating liturgically in any way.

    > if an Orthodox parish member has a Catholic spouse who faithfully attends Liturgy, it would seem such a person could be authorized to receive the Sacrament.

    Absolutely! The same order applies for him as for any of us: Baptism, Chrismation, Eucharist. Or if there is economia, then the former Catholic can be received into the Church by Chrismation, or even by confession alone.

    > Eastern Orthodox Churches have been routinely giving Sacraments to Oriental Christians for some time now.

    And that's so scandalous that there are entire dioceses cutting off communion with the guilty parties. The less sensitive majority hope that time will deal with the ecclesiological damage as the guilty hierarchs age out and are replaced. Aside from the middle-eastern confusion, even if other hierarchs choose to receive Ethiopians or Armenians into the Church by confession rather than by baptism, it's still a one-way conversion, not a promiscuous sharing of the sacraments with those outside the Church.