During the week of September 20-27, the twelfth Plenary Session of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church met in Vienna, Austria. This group officially consists of 2 representatives from each of the 14 autocephalous Orthodox Churches, and 28 representatives from a wide range of jurisdictions within the Catholic Church. Bishop Florentin Crihalmeanu of Cluj-Gherla is one of several Eastern Catholics who are members of the Catholic delegation. The group totals 56 bishops and theologians.
When this official dialogue group resumed its work in Belgrade in 2006, after a long period of difficult relations, they undertook the most pressing issue for Catholic-Orthodox unity—the role of the Bishop of Rome in the Church. The group has met often since then, both in formal plenary session and in working subcommittees, and has produced a three-part plan:
1) study and agree on what the role of the Pope was during the first millennium of Christianity (up through the “schism” of 1054),
2) study and agree on the role of the Pope during the second millennium, and then
3) discuss and agree on the role of the Pope into the third millennium of Christianity.
The Ravenna Agreed Statement, issued at the plenary session in 2007, outlines a three-tier structure of authority in the Church—local diocese, regional or patriarchal, and universal. The acknowledgment of the existence of regional or patriarchal authority by the Catholics and universal authority by the Orthodox, are both major breakthroughs. You can find more information on the Ravenna Statement on the Vatican website and elsewhere on the internet, and video commentary by Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) and Msgr. Paul McPartlan (Catholic University) on the OLTV website: www.oltv.tv.
We all pray that this foundation of understanding will continue to improve, and will serve to not only improve relations in the short term, but perhaps one day lead to full Church unity that Christ desired when He said: “that they all may be one!”