FaithWorld

Catholics and Orthodox report promising progress in latest round of unity talks

cathorth 1Roman Catholic and Orthodox theologians reported promising progress on Friday in talks on overcoming their Great Schism of 1054 and bringing the two largest denominations in Christianity back to full communion. Experts meeting in Vienna this week agreed the two could eventually become “sister churches” that recognize the Roman pope as their titular head but retain many church structures, liturgy and customs that developed over the past millennium. (Photo: Metropolitan John Zizioulas (L) and Cardinal Christoph Schönborn in Vienna, 24 Sept 2010/Leonhard Foeger)

The delegation heads for the international commission for Catholic-Orthodox dialogue stressed that unity was still far off, but their upbeat report reflected growing cooperation between Rome and the Orthodox churches traditionally centred in Russia, Greece, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

“There are no clouds of mistrust between our two churches,” Orthodox Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon told a news conference. “If we continue like that, God will find a way to overcome all the difficulties that remain.” Archbishop Kurt Koch, the top Vatican official for Christian unity, said the joint dialogue must continue “intensively” so that “we see each other fully as sister churches.” cathorth 3(Photo: Pope Benedict XVI (L) with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in the Sistine Chapel, October 18, 2008/Osservatore Romano)

The rapprochement of the Catholic and Orthodox churches must be the slowest “big story” on the religion beat. About 30 theologians meet in a joint Catholic-Orthodox commission about once every year or so to see how far they have come in reassessing Christian history so that the Great Schism can be laid to rest and the two churches can move forward to full communion. These talks produced their first joint declaration back in 1982 and have had ups and downs since then. The push towards unity has clearly gained momentum since Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill took office on February, 2009.  The goal is still far off –  hey, they have 1,000 years of division to get over — but they’re getting close enough now that an agreement now looks increasingly possible.

Kirill and Pope Benedict are both conservative theologians keen to work together to have Christianity’s voice heard in Europe, a continent they both think should return to its Christian roots. They’ve met in the past, including when Kirill visited Benedict at the Vatican in his former role as “foreign minister” of the Russian church. They haven’t yet held a summit meeting, so to speak, but religion reporters in Europe keep waiting for signs they will finally set a date for their first top-level talks. The Russians aren’t the only Orthodox in the game, but their size gives them a kind of veto power that has to be considered in this equation. The Vatican has good relations with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul and the new Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Irinej has invited the pope to Belgrade.

Traditional Anglican bloc eyeing union with Rome is far-flung group

TAC seal

TAC seal

The question of how many Anglicans will join the Roman Catholic Church has been hanging in the air since Pope Benedict made his offer last October to take in Anglican groups that cannot accept reforms such as ordaining women bishops. The largest figure mentioned is the 400,000-strong membership of the Traditional Anglican Communion, a traditionalist group that is not actually a member of the Anglican Communion that most Anglicans belong to. It is sometimes presented as a bloc whose transfer will be an important event.

Even though the TAC left the Anglican Communion two decades ago, it could be quite important to the Roman Catholic Church if that many Anglicans (of whatever standing) came knocking on the door seeking entry. And the sight of so many switching to Rome could also have an indirect impact on the Anglican Communion. St. Peter's Basilica, 3 Nov 2008/Tom Heneghan

St. Peter's Basilica, 3 Nov 2008/Tom Heneghan

But those TAC members, even if their total does add up to 400,000, are so widely spread out that they might actually  have only a small local impact if and when they “swim the Tiber.” The Church Times has a breakdown of the TAC membership that shows that 92% of the communion’s members live in India and Africa. The largest congregation, the 130,000 reported in India, might seem like an impressive number in Britain, but it’s small by subcontinental standards.  The numbers in Britain and Europe (1,800), Canada (2,000) or the United States (2,500) are really small. Even if all members join at the same time, it may not seem like they are joining en bloc.

Spanish RC Church to deny communion to pro-abortion pols

abortion-spainThe Spanish Catholic Church will deny communion to members of parliament who have voted in favour of a bill to make abortion more readily available, the spokesman of Spain’s Bishops’ Conference said on Friday.

“This is a warning to Catholics, that they can’t vote in favour of this and that they won’t be able to receive communion unless they ask forgiveness,” Rev. Juan Antonio Martinez Camino told a news conference in Madrid. “They are in an objective state of sin.”

The government-sponsored bill, which passed the first of a series of votes in parliament on Thursday, will allow abortion until the 14th week of pregnancy and, in cases of extreme foetal deformity, at any time in the pregnancy. The bill will also allow girls to obtain abortions from the age of 16 without parental consent, a clause that has generated dissent even within the governing Socialist Party.

Abortion, a Kennedy and a Catholic communion conundrum

pkennedyA new row has flared in the Catholic ranks of the U.S. abortion wars, this one involving a member of America’s most famous Catholic political family and a bishop.  Congressman Patrick Kennedy, the son of the late Senator Edward Kennedy, has claimed that Rhode Island Bishop Thomas Tobin has slapped a communion ban on him for his support for abortion rights. (PHOTO: Patrick Kennedy speaks at funeral of his father, Senator Edward Kennedy, 29 Aug 2009/Brian Snyder)

The bishop instructed me not to take communion and said that he has instructed the diocesan priests not to give me communion,” the Rhode Island Democrat was quoted as saying this week in the Providence Journal.

On the pages of the same paper the bishop fired back, asserting that it was a “request,” not an instruction.  “If he took it as an instruction, so be it, but it was really a request,”  the bishop was quoted as saying.