Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Pope urged to shed a few more titles

Pope Urged to Ax 'Vicar of Jesus' Title

By Tom Heneghan

PARIS -- Pope Benedict XIV, who has dropped his title "Patriarch of the West" to boost ties with Orthodox Christians, should scrap more terms tagged to his name if he wants real progress, a senior Russian Orthodox bishop said.

Papal titles such as "Vicar of Jesus Christ" or "Sovereign Pontiff of the Universal Church" were "unacceptable, even scandalous" for the Orthodox, Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev said in a statement published this week on his web site.

"Only renouncing titles stressing the universal jurisdiction of the pope, and the ecclesiological doctrine hidden behind that, would be a real step on the path toward reconciliation between the Orthodox and Catholic churches," he wrote.

Hilarion, Russian Orthodox bishop of Vienna and his church's main representative in Europe, said the "Patriarch of the West" title was actually more acceptable than some others.

Benedict, who has made better relations with the Orthodox a priority of his papacy, quietly dropped "patriarch of the West" from his nine official titles early in March.

Vatican relations with the Russian church, the largest of the Orthodox churches, have been strained because the Moscow hierarchy opposes Catholic attempts to win new members there following the fall of communism in 1991.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II said last month that he hoped for a rapid resolution to the problems between the churches.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Vatican's top official for ecumenism, said neither side wanted to lure believers away from the other.

Hilarion said a statement from Kasper's office clarifying the change did not explain how it could help dialogue between the two churches split since the Great Schism of 1054.

"The Pontifical Council's communique cannot be considered an adequate response" to differences between them, he said.

The Orthodox accepted the pope as the "first among equals" in pre-schism Christianity and as the patriarch of Western Europe as opposed to other patriarchs in Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, he said.

"It is only in this form that the Orthodox could accept the primacy of the bishop of Rome if church unity between the East and the West were to be reestablished," he said.

The Orthodox, based mostly in Russia, Eastern Europe and Greece with diaspora churches around the world, reject papal authority and maintain a loose family of national churches with a spiritual leader based in Istanbul.

There are about 220 million Orthodox Christians around the world, compared with 1.1 billion Roman Catholics.

Kasper said last month that bilateral talks had improved the prospects for a meeting between Benedict and Alexy, but it was too early to speak of a time or place.

Hilarion objected to three of Benedict's eight remaining titles -- "Vicar of Jesus Christ," "Successor of the Prince of the Apostles" and "Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church" -- because the Orthodox do not believe any cleric can claim such authority.

The rest -- Bishop of Rome, Primate of Italy, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Roman Province, Sovereign of Vatican City and Servant of the Servants of God -- refer to more limited powers of the pope and do not clash with Orthodox views.