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Vatican to propose “renewed exercise” of Roman primacy in new ecumenical document

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vatican document on papacy - The Catholic Weekly
Pope Francis kisses the encolpion of Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople as they meet in the library of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican 30 September 2023, ahead of an ecumenical prayer vigil for the Synod of Bishops in St Peter’s Square. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The Dicastery for promoting Christian Unity will this week present a new document on the relationship between the papacy and separated churches, and a proposal for a “renewed exercise” of the Bishop of Rome.

The document will be launched on 13 June at a press conference, and will summarise the responses to St John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint (That they may be one), “identifying the most significant suggestions made for a renewed exercise of the ministry of unity of the Bishop of Rome, ‘recognised by one and all.’”

The “study document,” published with the approval of the Holy Father, will be by Cardinal Kurt Koch, prefect of the dicastery, Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, and representatives of the Armenian Apostolic and Anglican churches.

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The document, titled The Bishop of Rome. Primacy and synodality in the ecumenical dialogues and in the responses to the Encyclical Ut unum Sint, will address the question of papal primacy in the church’s synodal context, and the dicastery will make “a proposal” for the renewed exercise of the papacy.

St John Paul II’s encyclical extended an olive branch to the Eastern churches, with the pontiff writing that, “Whatever relates to the unity of all Christian communities clearly forms part of the concerns of the [Roman] primacy.”

It was a watershed in ecumenical relations, and invited the Orthodox Church and other Christian denominations to join in the “immense task” of a “patient and fraternal dialogue” on the Roman primacy, a gesture building on the “dialogue of love” between his predecessor St Paul VI, and then-Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras.

“I am convinced that I have a particular responsibility in this regard, above all in acknowledging the ecumenical aspirations of the majority of the Christian Communities and in heeding the request made of me to find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation,” St John Paul II wrote in Un Unum Sint.

Pope Francis’ papacy has had a strong focus on ecumenism and reunification with the Catholic Church’s separated brethren, especially the Eastern Churches.

The Holy Father remarked last month that “the only thing that the Catholic Church desires and that I seek as Bishop of Rome, the church that presides in charity, is communion with the Orthodox Churches.”

Earlier this year he revived the title Patriarch of the West, which had been dropped by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006. Next year Francis plans to visit Turkey for the 1700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea, an occasion long-discussed as an opportunity for major steps toward reunification.

The press conference for the launch of the new document will be livestreamed via the Vatican News YouTube channel at 11am CEST, or 7pm AEST.

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