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PATRIARCH-ORTHODOX Jun-13-2006 (530 words) xxxi

Orthodox express concern about dropping 'patriarch of the West' title

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The bishops of the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople have expressed concern over Pope Benedict XVI's decision to drop "patriarch of the West" from his official titles in the Vatican yearbook.

In a June 8 statement, the chief secretary of the Orthodox bishops' synod said dropping "patriarch of the West" while retaining the titles "vicar of Jesus Christ" and "supreme pontiff of the universal church" is "perceived as implying a universal jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome over the entire church, which is something the Orthodox have never accepted."

The statement was issued after synod members discussed the change during their early June meeting.

The Vatican said in March that Pope Benedict dropped the title in the 2006 edition of the Annuario Pontificio because it was theologically imprecise and historically obsolete.

From a Catholic point of view, being in communion with the bishop of Rome -- the pope -- is necessary for a full expression of being church. But while the pope exercises full jurisdiction over the entire Latin rite of the Catholic Church around the world, his governance over the Eastern Catholic churches is less direct.

Dropping the title of patriarch in reference to the pope does not minimize the importance of the patriarchal office, particularly in relation to the ancient Eastern churches, said Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, in a March statement.

"Even less can this suppression be seen as implying new claims" of power or authority on the part of the Vatican, he said.

However, members of the Orthodox synod disagreed.

From their point of view, "the geographical limits of each ecclesiastical jurisdiction" have been a key part of the structure of the church from the earliest days of Christianity. The church as a whole is "a unity of full local churches" and not a monolith divided into local units simply for the sake of easier governance.

The Orthodox synod's statement said that, with the international Catholic-Orthodox theological dialogue set to begin again in September with plans to deal with the "thorny problem" of papal primacy, it would have been better not to have dropped the title without consultation.

A Vatican official familiar with the dialogue told Catholic News Service June 13 that the Vatican did not believe dropping the title would have a negative impact on the dialogue or on moves to restore full communion between Catholics and Orthodox.

The fact that the bishop of Rome exercises his primacy differently over the Latin-rite church and with the Eastern Catholic churches -- as seen in the two codes of canon law -- "leaves open possibilities for the future of differing relationships, although communion with the bishop of Rome remains essential," the official said.

In late November, Pope Benedict is scheduled to visit the ecumenical patriarchate, based in Istanbul, Turkey, to participate in the celebration of the Nov. 30 feast of St. Andrew, the patriarchate's patron saint.

As is customary, a delegation from the patriarchate is expected in Rome June 29 to participate in the pope's celebration of the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, patrons of the Vatican.


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