Rethinking the primacy in an ecumenical sense: A reflection on the study document "The Bishop of Rome" Rethinking the primacy in an ecumenical sense: A reflection on the study document "The Bishop of Rome"  (AFP or licensor) Editorial

Rethinking primacy in an ecumenical sense

A reflection on the study document “The Bishop of Rome”: the role of the Pope, synodality, and the other Churches.

By Andrea Tornielli

It is a history of a common path and centuries of unity; but also of schisms, mutual excommunications, divisions, and struggles determined more by politics than by theological differences. After almost two millennia of Christian history, despite old and new crises within the different confessions, the ecumenical journey is taking significant steps. The newly-published document, The Bishop of Rome attests to how the willingness and openness to discuss the forms of exercising the Petrine primacy manifested in 1995 by Saint John Paul II has not remained a dead letter. The dialogue has moved forward, and the synodal path that the Catholic Church is experiencing at every level is part of it. Indeed, Catholics are rediscovering and coming to a deeper understanding of the importance of synodality as a concrete way of living communion in the Church – an awareness already present and experienced by other Christian traditions.

At the same time, the role of the Bishop of Rome and his primacy are no longer considered by other Christians merely as an obstacle or a problem in the ecumenical journey: in fact, synodality always contemplates the presence of a “protos,” a primacy.

Of course, for the other Churches, Petrine primacy as exercised by the Popes in the second millennium and especially as sanctioned by the First Vatican Council remains unacceptable. But on this issue, too, the document of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Christian Unity shows significant steps: the work undertaken in the ecumenical dialogues has  suggested a distinction between the papal primacy exercising jurisdiction over the Latin Church (or Western Church, as Easterners like to call it) and the primacy in charity of the Church of Rome, the “first See.” A primacy of “diakonia,” that is, of service, and not of power. A primacy of unity, exercised in synodality to seek the consensus of all the bishops.

There is therefore, or at least there could be, a form of Petrine primacy acceptable to the other Churches. It is what some years ago the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew described as primacy “exercised in humility and compassion, rather than as a sort of imposition on the rest of the episcopal college,” as “a true reflection of the crucified love of the Lord, rather than in terms of earthly power”: a concrete way to journey towards the realisation of that dream expressed by Pope John Paul II almost thirty years ago.

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13 June 2024, 11:30