Vatican hints at far-reaching document on the papacy


The Vatican press office says a document it is releasing about the papacy could have far-reaching consequences for relations between Christian churches.

They say the hot-off-the-press document will be released sometime today, New Zealand time.

The document

Entitled “The Bishop of Rome – Primacy and Synodality in Ecumenical Discussions and Responses to the Encyclical Ut unum sint”, the new document from the Pope’s ecumenical office continues from a Pope John Paul II 1995 encyclical.

The Vatican says the magisterial text was groundbreaking for Christian unity at the time.

The Vatican press office explained that the document held out the prospect of a new self-image and a different way of exercising the papacy, particularly with regard to the churches of the East.

When the John Paul document was being explored, he had invited other Christian churches to seek ways in which the papal office could be understood as a “service of mercy” to all churches in a “fraternal, patient dialogue” with Rome.

The Vatican’s ecumenical department subsequently set up its own dialogue forums with several churches. They deliberated for decades and the results of those deliberations are now available.

Pope Francis supported the project from the outset when he defined himself first and foremost as the Bishop of Rome.

He also decreed the revival of the historic title”Patriarch of the West” which had been cancelled by his predecessor Benedict XVI.

Renewed form of the papal office?

The Vatican press office also points to the Pope’s aim to give the Catholic world Church a “synodal” constitution.

His interpretation of synodality means the Pope alone would no longer makes decisions from above.

Bishops, theologians and lay people would be involved in consultations on fundamental Church issues.

This would make the Catholic Church more similar in its structure and functioning to the churches of the East. These have always had a synodal organisation, along with communities that emerged from the Reformation.

The Vatican describes the new document on the papacy as a “study document” which the Pope has approved.

Its purpose is to bring together the responses to “Ut unum sint” and the ecumenical dialogue on primacy and synodality.

It will make a proposal for a renewed form of papal office that can also be recognised by the other churches.

Some in the Vatican believe the proposal could see the Pope have regular and equal-footing meetings with other patriarchs and church leaders.


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