On a number of projects, including the upcoming Orientale Lumen Conference, I work closely with Archpriest Fr Lawrence Cross, who teaches at Australian Catholic University. (What is an “Archpriest”, I hear you ask? It is the highest rank that a married Eastern Rite priest can attain.) The Rev. Dr Lawrence is no nong–in fact, he is an extremely learned fellow–but he does tend to write-letters-to-the-editor and ask questions later.
In this case, he has written a letter to The Tablet in regard to the CDF Clarifications on the Doctrine on the Church. You can’t read it online, so here it is in its entirety with my comments in [bold]. Bear in mind that Fr Cross is a priest of the Russian rite in full communion with the See of Rome, and he says that he is getting sick of going to sleep at night thinking he is Orthodox and waking up in the morning only to find that during the night Rome has decided he is really Roman Catholic.
Whatever possessed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Church in the World, 14 July) to describe Christian Orthodox Churches as true Churches, but suffering from a “wound” since they do not recognise the primacy of the Pope? [It must be born in mind that the clarification does not say this. It says that “since communion with the Catholic Church, the visible head of which is the Bishop of Rome and the Successor of Peter, is not some external complement to a particular Church but rather one of its internal constitutive principles, these venerable Christian communities lack something in their condition as particular churches.” The issue is therefore a matter of communion with the Roman Pontiff, not the simple recognition of his primacy] The statement is an ecumenically gaff, but it is also woefully ignorant. [It would be ignorant if it accused the Eastern Churches not in communion with Rome as failing to recognise Rome’s primacy. See for instance these comments by the Archbishop of Nea Justiniana (Cyprus)].
The Orthodox already acknowledge that the primacy in the universal Church was awarded to the successor of Peter in Rome. What they object to is the historical institutional development of the papacy which has made the exercise and the acceptance of that primacy unworkable: that is, Roman papal absolutism. Most Orthodox theologians appreciate that the Communion of Orthodox Churches could do with a papal primacy exercised in love by their now estranged elder brother in Rome.
Borrowing a biological analogy, the Orthodox Communion suffers from hypo-glycemia–too little of a loving primacy. On the other hand, the Roman Communion [note the term Lawrence uses here. “The Roman Communion” is a very strange way of refering to the Catholic Church. Does he mean “the Churches in Communion with Rome”? If so, he includes himself and all the the Eastern Catholic rites. I rather think he means the Curia in Rome or the Western Catholic Church], in the matter of primacy, suffers from hyper-glycemia a too absolutist primacy. Both are diabetic. Without treatment, in the shape of a reformed papacy, both suffer and the final stages of the untreated disorder might be very sad indeed. Finally, even the language of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is rooted in an ultramontane past. How condescending to “allow” [I couldn’t find this word in either the Clarification or its Commentary. I think Lawrence is reading his own bias into the documents. In fact, the Clarification and Commentary gives “unequivocal recognition” that they are “particular or local Churches” and are called “sister Churches of the particular Catholic Churches”. It would be nice if this recognition were reciprocated] ecclesial reality to the great Churches of the East who, in antiquity and later transmitted the Catholic faith to the world at large, including Rome and the West. [Another strange idea. I do not claim that the Faith originated with the Church of Rome, but how accurate is it to suggest that it originated with the Churches of the East?]
(Very Rev. Archpriest B.J. Lawrence Cross OAM
Fitzroy, Victoria 3065, Australia
Lawrence may have a valid concern over this matter, but he gets off on a wrong foot from the very beginning thinking that the issue is the primacy of the bishop of Rome. It isn’t. It is the matter of communion. Communion with the Catholic Church is essential to being a true, particular, local Church. And it won’t do to reduce the Catholic Church to “The Roman Communion”.
I find it significant that the Clarification and the Commentary consistently use the term “oriental Churches separated from full communion with the Catholic Church” rather than “Orthodox Churches” (much less, “The Orthodox Church”). This points to a conception of what is meant when the term “Catholic Church” is used. It isn’t used to mean “Western/Latin/Roman” Church. It means the Universal Church, that is, all true, local particular Churches in Communion with one another, the visible point of common communion being the Bishop of Rome and Successor of Peter. The use of the term “oriental Churches” is meant to indicate that there are number of Churches in the East (several of them of apostolic antiquity) which are not fully part of this Communion.
On the other hand, there are many Oriental Churches that ARE part of this visible Communion, such as the Russian Church to which Fr Lawrence belongs. I have it from Lawrence himself that nothing riles him more than when Rome seems to deny or ignore the existence and validity of his particular Church. In fact, the Clarification really affirms the full ecclesial validity of Fr Lawrence’s Church–something which the Russian Orthodox Church resolutely refuses to do.