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Orthodox-Roman Catholic reunion?

15 October 2010

I’ve noticed among some Roman Catholic bloggers recently a remarkably naive optimism about the prospects of imminent reunion between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. I’m not sure what has sparked this off, but it seems to be contagious among Roman Catholics, and it seems to make some Orthodox very nervous, to the extent that they take it seriously.

One Roman Catholic blogger did a straw poll among Orthodox to find out something about Orthodox attitudes to this Vivificat!: Sympathetic Skeptics: Lay Orthodox Christians Hold Their Ground on Orthodox-Catholic Church Reunion:

“Sympathetic skepticism” and unwavering faithfulness to Orthodox Tradition aptly describe the attitudes, some positive, some negative that the 2010 Orthodox Lay People Survey recorded from Orthodox respondents when faced with the prospect of reunion between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches. Although most respondents were remarkably open to exploring reconciliation and even for receiving a Council’s decision authorizing and enabling reunion, Orthodox respondents envisioned reunion only along strictly Orthodox theological lines, leaving little room for dogmatic diversity and with a significantly redefined notion of Roman Papal Primacy if one is to be retained at all. Despite exhaustive mutual consultation and general councils, reconciliation between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches may not take place at the grassroots, where lay Orthodox Christians reject membership within the reconciled Churches, making reconciliation a mere canonical formality without practical consequences and real liturgical communion between the Churches.

I had a look at the poll, and thought that it asked the wrong questions. The report could have been useful, but unfortunately fails to measure anything real.

Statements such as: “Despite exhaustive mutual consultation and general councils, reconciliation between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches may not take place at the grassroots, where lay Orthodox Christians reject membership within the reconciled Churches, making reconciliation a mere canonical formality without practical consequences and real liturgical communion between the Churches” are pure fantasy, with no grounding in reality at all. “The reconciled churches” do not exist, the “exhaustive consultations” have not yet taken place. It simply begs the question.

Orthodox and Roman Catholics are engaged in official dialogues about what they have in common and what their differences are, and have not got as far discussing what form any putative reconciliation or reunion should take.

There are official Orthodox-Roman Catholic dialogues, and at the moment they are looking at what held the churches together during the first millennium. There are clearly different views on ecclesiology, especially with regard to the nature of the primacy of the Pope of Rome. The Orthodox members of the dialogue group are unwilling to accept the universal ordinary jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome, and the Roman Catholics are unwilling to give it up. If (and it’s a big if) they can come to a common and mutually acceptable view then the commission would have to draw up a joint agreed statement and submit it to the synods of the various churches for approval.

Many of the questions in the Vivificat! poll seemed to be based on the assumption that such a joint agreed statement existed, and asked if the Orthodox were be willing to accept it if it were accepted by the various synods. But since no such joint agreed statement exists, the questions in the poll were in effect asking the Orthodox if they would be willing to buy a pig in a poke, and, unsurprisingly, most said they were not.

So most Orthodox would have grave reservations about reunion of the RC and Orthodox Churches as they are at present, and there is no prospect of such reunion in the near future.

As for any possible remoter future reunion, the joint commission hasn’t even discussed it, and there’s a lot of other stuff to get out of the way before they do so.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. 15 October 2010 8:18 am

    Oh Steve, I know I should be more respectful but I read this:

    “I’ve noticed among some Roman Catholic bloggers recently a remarkably naive optimism about the prospects of imminent reunion between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches”

    and I nearly fell off my perch laughing.

    Perhaps, if some Catholics had gotten to know people of Orthodox faith or read some of the history, beliefs and traditions of the Orthodox faith, they might have found their optimism displaced with knowledge of how other Christians outside the Roman Catholic tradition live out and transmit their faith.

    Perhaps the Catholic optimists could also learn something from the histories of colonisation before rushing in…because certainly the angels would fear to tread in this manner!

    Blessings and bliss

    • 15 October 2010 1:31 pm

      Got it in one, Miss Eagle!

      One of the biggest problems is that so many Roman Catholics don’t see the problem.

      If both parties see the problem, they can work on a solution. But if one party insists that the problem is not there, then the problem is insoluble.

  2. 15 October 2010 4:03 pm

    Greetings, Sir:

    I appreciate your criticism.

    I phrased my questions in order to force thinking along the practical lines of reunion. I wanted the respondents to think long and hard of what reunion would entail. I find that not may Orthodox or Catholic Christians have given serious thought about the issue. That’s why I framed my questions as “notional.”

    There’s one thing that appears to be outdated in your criticism:

    “Orthodox and Roman Catholics are engaged in official dialogues about what they have in common and what their differences are, and have not got as far discussing what form any putative reconciliation or reunion should take.”

    There is such a document. You may read it here:


    Yours in Christ our Kyrios,

    • 15 October 2010 5:51 pm


      Thanks for the link — the document makes interesting reading. It is, however, a local one, in North America. In the international discussions there is a document that has been accepted as a basis for further discussion, but it is not an agreed proposal to be sent to the churches, but will simply form the basis for discussion at the next meeting.

  3. 15 October 2010 6:29 pm

    Slava Isusu Christu!

    Yes, you are correct. It is a local document. I suffer from the “I am American the world revolves around us” bias… My apologies.

    I would say though, that this document will have a great impact on the International Committee’s discussion and it is one of the first documents that I know that dare conceive how future unity may look like.

    It is a daring document.

    Yours in Christ,

  4. orthodoxlurker permalink
    16 October 2010 10:48 am

    Who are the mysterious signatories of the referred local document (that would bear a great impact according to an uniate-enthusiastic-american-military-officer-whom-makes-surveys-and-is-following-the-events-as-a-private-individual)?

  5. 17 October 2010 6:19 am

    I am no “Uniate”, I’m Latin Rite. My affiliations are irrelevant. And the signatories are fully listed in the USCCB site.

    You’re twalking close to the edge of calumny by your conspiratorial insinuations. For your soul’s sake, be careful, Lurker.


    • 17 October 2010 6:42 am

      I just looked at the link you gave above for the document, The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation, but could see no signatories listed, nor any list of those present at the consultation that produced the document.

      • 17 October 2010 2:43 pm

        Here’s the list, Sir:

        “This 79th session of the Consultation was hosted by the Office of the President of Georgetown University, which made the historic Riggs Library available for the meeting. The members were the guests of Father John P. Langan, SJ, rector of the Georgetown Jesuit Community for dinner on September 30, and Dr. John J. DeGioia, the president of the university, hosted a dinner for the Consultation and several members of the faculty and staff in the Philodemic Room on Friday evening October 1.

        “In addition to the co-chairs, the Consultation includes Orthodox representatives Father Thomas FitzGerald, dean of the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts (Secretary); Father Nicholas Apostola, pastor, St. Nicholas Romanian Orthodox Church in Shrewsbury, MA; Father John Erickson, former dean and professor of canon law and church history at Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, NY; Susan Ashbrook Harvey, Ph.D., Willard Prescott and Annie McClelland Smith Professor and Chair of Religious Studies, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island; Father James Dutko, pastor of St. Michael’s Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church in Binghamton, NY; Paul Meyendorff, Ph.D., Alexander Schmemann professor of liturgical theology and associate dean for academic affairs, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, Crestwood, NY; Father Alexander Golitzin, professor of theology at Marquette University, Milwaukee; Robert Haddad, Ph.D., Sophia Smith Professor Emeritus of History at Smith College in Northampton, MA; Father Robert Stephanopoulos, pastor emeritus of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, New York; Father Theodore Pulcini, associate professor of religion at Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania; and Father Mark Arey, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, New York, (staff).

        “Additional Catholic members are Jesuit Father Brian Daley (Secretary), Catherine F. Huisking professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana; Thomas Bird, Ph.D., associate professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Queens College, City University of New York, Flushing, NY; Sylvain Destrempes, Ph.D., faculty of the Grand Seminaire in Montreal; Father Peter Galadza, Kule Family Professor of Liturgy at the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies, Ottawa; Chorbishop John D. Faris, pastor of St. Louis Gonzaga Maronite Church, Utica, New York; Father John Galvin, professor of Systematic Theology, The Catholic University of America (CUA), Washington; Father Sidney Griffith, professor in the Department of Semitic and Egyptian Languages and Literatures, CUA; Father Joseph Komonchak, professor emeritus of religious studies at CUA; Monsignor Paul McPartlan, Carl J. Peter Professor of Systematic Theology and Ecumenism at CUA; Father David Petras, spiritual director and professor of liturgy at the Byzantine Catholic Seminary of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Pittsburgh; Sister of Charity of Leavenworth Susan K. Wood, professor and chair of the Department of Theology at Marquette; Vito Nicastro, Ph.D., associate director of the Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Archdiocese of Boston; and Paulist Father Ronald Roberson, Ph.D., associate director of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, staff. In addition, Father Stephen Wojcichowsky, director of the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies at Saint Paul University in Ottawa, Canada, served as an alternative representative of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops at this session. ”


        Yours in Christ,

  6. orthodoxlurker permalink
    17 October 2010 9:00 am


    I’ve never said you are an Uniate, I did say you are ‘an_uniate_enthusiastic’. Your survey clearly shows that.

    I don’t know what conspirationality you refer. It is well-known that Jesuits are allowed to lie to achieve the goals. It is also obvious that not a few of online Orthodox are either active or retired U.S. military personnel. The alliance between the U.S. intelligence bodies with Vatican, dating back to the days of Pope Woytila (sp?) is a historical fact. Now, why should one disregard some undercover operation going on, involving temporarily posing as an Orthodox (say, for 4 years), since the need to transform the Orthodox mindset is listed by public documents signed by U.S. policy-makers?

    Finally, refrain from giving me the advice about soul. You are heterodox, consequently, I take it as an insult.

    • 17 October 2010 2:47 pm

      I think you are a sick soul and that indeed needs lots of healing. Take as an insult if you wish, but doesn’t make it less true. For the sake of your mind and your soul, ask for healing.

      I have no wish to get into polemics with you here or any where else. I only respond to calumnies once. I categorically deny all your lies. You have given false witness. Think about that too next time you approach Confession.


    • 17 October 2010 2:59 pm

      Please don’t use the comments section of my blog to make personal attacks on other people.

      The comment space is for discussing the post and matters relating to the subject, namely, in the case of this post, the prospects for and obstacles in the way of Orthodox-Roman Catholic reunion. By all means disagree with opinions, but I’m less tolerant towards attacks on opinion holders.

  7. orthodoxlurker permalink
    17 October 2010 9:27 am



    Neither the signatories of the document have been listed, nor TDJ mentioned it in his blog.

    The content of the document itself is laughable.

    The document refers to “Ravenna statement” as if it was something agreed. It disregards the facts:

    -that Vatican itself rejected the document;
    -that Bulgars hasn’t attended Ravenna at all, and subsequently decided to desist from participating in the “Commission” at all;
    -that Russians withdrew at the beginning of the Ravenna session (for other reasons), but subsequently issued the official statement denouncing the document for ‘historical inaccuracy’ and ‘unacceptable ecclessiology’, which is a (contemporary) PC fashion to say ‘heresy’;
    -that no Orthodox synod passed a decision about the Ravenna Statement, except the Synod of the Church of Greece;
    -that the said Synod of the Church of Greece approved Russian denounce of the document, castigated Zizioulas and ordered to his envoys not to sign anything in the future – that was happening in the verge of Cyprus session;
    -that Cyprus session failed, and some Orthodox clergy and laymen were arrested in Cyprus during the session, for protesting against the course of dialogue;
    -that ‘Vienna session’, that was supposed to make a statement about ‘the Cyprus document’, but failed – obviously the decision of Greek Synod does have weight;

    I found that after the cursory reading of the USCCB published document. I guess there is more, but I have no intention of academically studying every single fairy-tale document about ecumenism.

    Finally, I find your remarks about wrong questions in TJB’s survey exactly spot on.

  8. Yanni permalink
    21 October 2010 9:33 pm

    Hi Steven,
    Fascinating article. An old and very good friend of mine, Hugh OShaughnessy, wrote an article in an English Newspaper this summer on this very subject – and indeed, his view reflects exactly what you write about:

    I think in general people are confusing good diplomatic relations with actual efforts to re-unite. I cannot see this happening any-time soon, and I am an extremely optimistic person, on the whole.
    Thank you for a great article!

    • 22 October 2010 6:42 am

      Yanni, Yes, that’s exactly the kind of over-optimistic article I was referring to. I hadn’t seen that one, but I’ve seen others saying similar things.

  9. 24 October 2012 12:01 am

    Steve: I think Our Lord would be saddened by some of the comments on this post. We should always seek to be one with the Lord and with one another as He said on the night before he died. Division and obstruction are tools of the evil one. For the past centuries, thousands of our faithful have been martyred in both the East and West, and the coming century looks to be even worse than the last. A house divided in much weaker in the face of a pernicious and evil secularism which aims to eliminate Christian belief and practice. Glory to Jesus Christ. Patrick

    • 25 October 2012 5:18 pm

      Yes, it is very sad. I wish people could disagree without being disagreeable.

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