I am reading Adam DeVille’s “Orthodoxy and the Roman Primacy” at the moment. And a thought has occured to me.
In one very useful chapter, DeVille surveys the writings of recent Orthodox theologians on the Roman Papacy. Most seem to have no problem with the primacy as such, the problem is how it is exercised.
In that light, many of these theologians share the objection of Vsevolod Majdansky that the Bishop of Rome acts as “the unique holder of a still higher position” which enables him to “ride roughshod over the [other] bishops” of the Church (p27). The argument is that the primacy should be exercised only in concert with the agreement of all the other bishops of the Church, an agreement reached via councils or synods.
In general, that sounds well and good. Yet one of the strengths of the Roman primacy as an instrument of unity seems to me (and many Western theologians) to be the very capacity of the Pope to act with the full authority of the Church when there isn’t agreement between “all the bishops”. There appear to be times and circumstances when the Pope has to act for the good of the whole Church precisely when there is disagreement. (Apart from which, an ecumenical council can be a very unwieldy instrument in this day and age, when there are simply so many bishops throughout all the world.)
I am thinking of three instances in recent times, for instance, when the Pope has unilaterally determined issues about which there is disagreement:
1) On artificial contraception (Humanae Vitae)
2) On women’s ordination (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis)
3) On the restoration of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (Summorum Pontificam)
These were – and are – controversial issues in the Church, but needed to be clarified and established in the light of the Church’s dogma and sacred tradition. The Orthodox, as far as I can tell, would have no difficulty with the decisions of either (2) or (3) above – I am not sure where they stand on (1). But in all three cases, the Pope DID “ride roughshod” over the bishops (especially on (3) above).
So, here is my thought and my question: Is the primacy of the Bishop of Rome not a good thing when it grants him the independence to act in order to protect and establish the tradition of the Church?