Vatican cardinal: Synodality is a vital tool in Catholic-Orthodox dialogue

Vatican City, Jan 19, 2021 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Strengthening synodality is “the most important contribution” that the Catholic Church can make to ecumenical dialogue, especially dialogue with the Orthodox, a Vatican cardinal has said.

Writing in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano on Jan. 18, Cardinal Kurt Koch said: “Theological and pastoral efforts to build a synodal Church have a profound effect on ecumenism, as Pope Francis emphasizes with the basic principle of ecumenical dialogue, which consists in the exchange of gifts, thanks to which we can learn from each other.”

Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said that “the synodal tradition of Christianity includes a rich heritage that should be revitalized.” The cardinal’s essay was published at the start of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which takes place on Jan. 18-25.

He welcomed Pope Francis’ decision to hold a Synod of Bishops in 2022 on the theme of synodality.

“This synod will not only be an important event in the Catholic Church, but it will contain a significant ecumenical message, since synodality is an issue that also moves ecumenism, and moves it in depth,” he explained.

He pointed to the 2007 “Declaration of Ravenna,” in which Catholic and Orthodox theologians agreed that the bishop of Rome was the “protos,” or first among patriarchs, before the separation of East and West.

According to the Swiss cardinal, this was an immensely important step in Catholic-Orthodox dialogue.

“The fact that the two dialogue partners were able to declare together for the first time that the Church is structured synodally at all levels and therefore also at the universal level, and that she needs a protos is an important milestone in Catholic-Orthodox dialogue,” he said.

For this step to bear fruit in the future, Koch argued, it is necessary to deepen the relationship between synodality and primacy.

“It is not about reaching a compromise on the lowest common denominator. Rather, the respective strengths of the two ecclesial communities should be brought in,” he said.

Koch pointed to a recommendation made by one Orthodox-Catholic working group that “the Churches must strive above all to achieve a better balance between synodality and primacy at all levels of ecclesial life, through the strengthening of synodal structures in the Catholic Church and through the acceptance by the Orthodox Church of a certain type of primacy within the world communion of Churches.”

The cardinal emphasized that “there must be a willingness to learn on both sides.”

He said that the Catholic Church “must recognize that in her life and in her ecclesial structures she has not yet developed that degree of synodality which would be theologically possible and necessary” and that “a credible link between the hierarchical and the synodal-community principles would favor the advancement of ecumenical dialogue with orthodoxy.”

“The strengthening of synodality must undoubtedly be considered as the most important contribution that the Catholic Church can make to the ecumenical recognition of primacy,” he said.

On the Orthodox side, Koch said, “we can instead expect that, in ecumenical dialogue, they will come to recognize that primacy at the universal level is not only possible and theologically legitimate, but also necessary.”

The cardinal suggested that intra-Orthodox tensions showed the need for a “ministry of unity also at the universal level of the Church” not limited to “a simple honorary primacy” but with legal elements.

“We Catholics consider the primacy of the Bishop of Rome as a gift from the Lord to his Church and, therefore, also as an offering to all of Christianity on the path of rediscovering unity and life in unity,” Koch wrote.

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