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Russian Orthodox bishop rules out ‘compromise’ on papacy


A representative of the Russian Orthodox Church has ruled out any "compromise" with the Roman Catholic Church over the status of the papacy, which is one of the issues that continues to divide the Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches.

"There can be no compromises whatsoever in this matter," said Russian Orthodox Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria.  Hilarion serves as the Moscow Patriarchate’s emissary to European organizations, and he was speaking in an interview with Russia’s Interfax news agency in advance of an October meeting of Orthodox and Catholic theologians in Ravenna, Italy.

The Catholic Church teaches that the Pope has a leading role among Christians because, as bishop of Rome, he is successor to the apostle Peter who, according to some traditions, held this office.

In his 28 May interview, however, Bishop Hilarion said, "Historically, the primacy of the Roman bishop in the Christian Church was, from our point of view, a primacy of honour, and not jurisdiction.  That is to say, the jurisdiction of the Pope of Rome was never applied to all the churches."

The issue of papal primacy is expected to be a central topic of discussion between the Orthodox and Catholic representatives at the Ravenna meeting of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church.

The commission, created in 1979, weathered turbulence in the 1990s over religious tensions in post-communist Eastern Europe.  Talks broke off in 2000 over the issue of "uniatism," which concerns the practice of Eastern Catholic churches that are loyal to Rome but observe various Orthodox rites.

A growing Orthodox-Catholic thaw under Pope Benedict XVI jumpstarted a new round of discussions, held in Belgrade in September 2006.  But that meeting underscored a growing rift within Orthodoxy, with Moscow and the Patriarchate of Constantinople vying for influence in the Orthodox world.

The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is seen by many Orthodox Christians as their spiritual leader, but the Moscow Patriarchate oversees the world’s largest Orthodox population.

The representatives of the Russian church at the Belgrade meeting especially objected to a paragraph in a document which, in their view, placed Constantinople on a par with Rome.

Orthodoxy, said Bishop Hilarion, does not have a hierarch, or religious leader, analogous to the Pope.  He added, "One should not create the illusion that such a hierarch exists."

(c) Ecumenical News International