We should all be extremely cautious about the recent comments about a Catholic-Orthodox union (Fr. Peter-Michael Preble has already raised important questions about these reports). Outside of the obvious and thorny theological questions – on both sides – that would arise, is there any way such a union could take place without first convening an all-Orthodox Council? And if such a council would move in that direction, would the whole Church accept that council as Orthodox?
In “Needed: Both Lungs,” the editors of the National Catholic Register quote Archbishop Paolo Pezzi of Moscow who told an Italian newspaper that unity between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches could be accomplished in the very near future. In fact, the paper reported, the archbishop predicted that it could be a reality “within a few months.”
At the same time, we read that “Moscow Patriarchate believes Uniate expansion in Ukraine the most complicated problem in relations with Vatican,” according to an Interfax interview with Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk.
Archbishop Hilarion expressed hope that when carrying out its mission in the mentioned countries, Vatican would conduct regular consultations with the Moscow Patriarchate local structures. The hierarch also offered to follow the existing model of the Russian Church behavior in traditionally Catholic countries as it keeps friendly and productive contacts with local Catholic dioceses.
What is encouraging, I think, is the real possibility that both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches can work more cooperatively on important social questions. As the NCR editors say:
There’s another factor that bodes well for future developments, as well: Orthodox and Catholics are finding that they share common concerns, particularly the increasing secularization of Western society. Patriarch Kirill said recently that “Catholics understand that Orthodox are their allies. And Orthodox are more and more coming to understand that Catholics are their allies in the face of hostile and nonreligious secularism.”
Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk, president of the Department for External Church Affairs of the Patriarchate of Moscow, has expressed his hope for a “united Catholic-Orthodox response to the challenges of secularism, liberalism and relativism.”
This takes us back to what Archbishop Pezzi said recently. “On issues of modernity, Catholics and Orthodox Christians feel the same way,” he said. “Nothing separates us on bioethics, the family and the protection of life.”