Positive new developments have occurred in relations between Roman Catholics and Orthodox, clearing the way for a new phase in the theological dialogue. The failure of the July 2000 meeting in Baltimore to agree on a common statement regarding uniatism (i.e. Roman Catholic efforts to incorporate groups allowed to keep the Eastern rite) had created serious difficulties, but the dialogue never did break down, writes Frans Bouwen, the editor of the Jerusalem and Beirut-based journal Proche-Orient Chétien, in its latest issue (56/1-2).
Meetings took place at a bilateral or local level, despite the fact that the international theological joint commission between both Churches did not meet again. And the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue Between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church finally met again in Belgrade from Sept. 18-25. While both the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity and the Patriarchate of Constantinple took several initiatives in order to relaunch the official dialogue, Bouwen emphasizes how frequent interactions between Orthodox and Roman Catholic dioceses at a local level have become. Moreover, besides official dialogues, in recent years there have been a growing number of symposia and other meetings to better acquaint Catholics and Orthodox to each other.
There remain some challenges. According to Bouwen, it is important for Orthodox participants to show that they have not put aside the controversial issue of uniatism. At the same time, it is not possible to focus first on that problem if a dialogue is meant to be successful; participants will have to find a way to integrate the issue of uniatism within wider discussions on ecclesiology. Subsequent to the publication of the article, the Joint Commission (composed of 30 Roman Catholics and 30 Orthodox) met again in Belgrade in September, continuing the work begun in 1980 to seek the restoration of full communion.
While the official communique underlines the spirit of friendship, investigative reports mention that the papal primacy is still a stumbling block and the establishment of Catholic parishes in Orthodox areas remains a thorny issue, reports ADN Kronos International (Sept. 22). Moreover, a Russian Orthodox Church representative, Bishop Hilarion of Vienna, protested against solving theological issues through a majority vote: only consensus can be acceptable on such issues, he said. Hilarion also opposed putting the Patriarchate of Constantinople above the other Patriarchates through mentioning it alongside the See of Rome in the document, according to Interfax (Sept. 25). The rivalry between Moscow and Constantinople remains a serious area of intra-Orthodox tension.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer