Leaked dialogue text looks at East-West differences over role of pope

VATICAN CITY – A draft document being studied by an international Catholic-Orthodox commission has highlighted historical common ground on the thorny issue of the role of the pope.

The text noted that in the first 1,000 years of Christianity, although believers in the East and West had different understandings of the role of the bishop of Rome, that diversity did not destroy the unity of the church.

“Distinct divergences of understanding and interpretation did not prevent East and West from remaining in communion,” it said. Their unity was based on shared theological principles that were viewed as more important, such as continuity in the faith handed on from the apostles, the interdependence of primacy and conciliarity, and an understanding of authority as a service of love, it said.

The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity said Jan. 26 that it was disappointed the text was published on an Italian blog site Jan. 25. It said members of the international Catholic-Orthodox dialogue commission had agreed the text would not be published until it had been fully and completely examined by the commission.

“As yet, there is no agreed document and, hence, the text published has no authority or official status,” the pontifical council said. It said the draft was basically “a list of themes to be studied and examined in greater depth, and has been only minimally discussed by the said commission.”

Dated Oct. 3, 2008, the draft is part of the Catholic-Orthodox commission’s ongoing discussion about the role of the pope and the understanding of primacy in the church – one of the key differences dividing the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

At their meeting in Cyprus in October, the commission began a discussion about the role of the bishop of Rome in the undivided Christian community of the first millennium.

The draft document said that in the West, the emphasis was placed on the link between the bishop of Rome and St. Peter, who was martyred in Rome, and on St. Peter’s special place among all the apostles.

“In the East, this evolution in the interpretation of the ministry of the bishop of Rome did not occur. Such an interpretation was never explicitly rejected in the East in the first millennium, but the East tended rather to understand each bishop as the successor of all the apostles, including Peter,” the draft said.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.