Ecclesiology and Ecumenism

Speech of H. B. Patriarch Gregorios III

During the Synod of Bishops:

Special Assembly for the Middle East

Rome October 10-24, 2010

Middle East from Space

Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate
of Antioch and All the East
of Alexandria and of Jerusalem


Ecclesiology and Ecumenism

The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, promulgated by the Venerable Pope John Paul II, says very properly that the Patriarch is Pater et Caput of his Church. The title of Patriarch is a synodal title. We very much regretted the fact that the Pope renounced his title of Patriarch.

Cardinal and Patriarch

Consequently, we want to have a role in the decisions taken about our faithful. We want to be closer to the Pope, without however becoming part of the College of Cardinals. The title of Patriarch is different, from the perspectives of protocol, ecclesiology, pastorate and history, from that of Cardinal. The Patriarch is neither superior nor inferior to the Cardinal: there is a difference of category. The title of Cardinal, which for very special reasons, was conferred on my predecessor Patriarch Maximos IV and more recently on certain of my colleagues, Patriarchs and Major Archbishops here present, confronts us with an ecclesiological problem. So we prefer to remain satisfied with the great inheritance comprised in the title of Patriarch.

Patriarchal Council around the Pope

As a corollary of that, we repeat our previously formulated proposal, which has a pastoral, ecumenical, ecclesiological and even political significance: significance for our presence in the Muslim Arab world, and importance for the dual title of this Synodal Assembly, Communion and Witness.

The proposal is the following: we are keen to request firmly that we form a Patriarchal Council around the Pope to meet according to its own agenda.

We hope that this proposal will be adopted by this Synodal Assembly and accepted by His Holiness as primordial and important fruit of this Synodal Assembly and for a good outcome of its acts and results.

Eastern Catholic Churches

From the rostrum of this Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which is entitled, The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness, we ask for a clarification as far as we are concerned. We are Eastern Catholic Churches. Why are these attributes suppressed?

We do not wish in any way to hide these Eastern titles, because of the minority presence (except in the Apostolic Vicariates of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia) of the Latin Church in the East.

We ask to be treated as Eastern Catholic Patriarchal Churches. We are neither suffragans nor dependent dioceses of some dicastery or other, as is continually stated in some Roman news bulletins.

Synod and episcopal conference

Our Synods are very different from Latin Episcopal Conferences. It should be noted that the concept of an Episcopal Conference was set out at the Second Vatican Council by our predecessor of blessed memory, Patriarch Maximos IV.

But his idea was very different from what is today the Episcopal Conference of the Latin Church. He wanted it to be an embryo of the patriarchal system.

Retreat on the ecclesiological level

We wish to be taken seriously when we tell you that our tradition, in its fullness, is Eastern and Orthodox, not Latin and Western.

In the measure that you take us seriously as authentically Eastern Churches, to that same degree the Orthodox world will believe in the veracity of the ecumenical activity and dialogue of the Roman Church.

Unfortunately, the decrees of Vatican II Unitiatis Redintegratio and Orientalium Ecclesiarum have not been sufficiently incarnate in the life and ecclesial praxis of the Latin Church nor in that of several Roman Dicasteries, contrary to what was hoped.

The Dies Orientalis instituted by Pius XI practically disappeared after Vatican II.

Interest for the Eastern Churches in general (Catholic and Orthodox) has lessened in the West, both on the official level and on the level of the faithful.

Ecclesiology was more sensitive towards the East before the Council and during its celebration, but it did not progress after the Council.

Election of bishops in the Eastern tradition

For more than two centuries, our Church elected its bishops in the context of our synods, but since the Council, our elections have to be sanctioned by a Roman enquiry.

The late Metropolitan Neophytos Edelby, in his book The Eastern Churches (written in collaboration with Archimandrite Ignace Dick) wrote, “The Melkite Synod, presided over by the Patriarch, has always proceeded freely to the election of bishops, without being required to have any prior authorisation or confirmation from the Holy See.”

From 1817 to 1954, the election of just twenty-three bishops of our Church was confirmed by the Apostolic See of Rome, and that at the express request of the Patriarch or of the bishop concerned.

Canons 251-255 of the Motu Proprio, Cleri Sanctitate of Pope Pius XII (2 June 1957) prescribe that the election of a bishop by the synod must be communicated by the Patriarch to the Roman Pontiff, who, if the elected does not figure in the list of “episcopable” priests previously drawn up (by vote) by the synod and confirmed by the Pope, either confirms or rejects the election. From 1959 to 1962, six hierarchs of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church were confirmed in that way by Rome after their election by the synod.

The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (1990), on the basis of the Vatican’s decisions, keeps the list of episcopables and replaces the “confirmation” of the episcopal lists by what is called the “consent” of the Pope to the election.

This issue has been the subject of several meetings of the Council of Eastern Catholic Patriarchs, which presented a collective paper on the matter to the Holy Father in October 2001, that was almost completely in agreement with the viewpoint set out on 21 January, 2000 in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith by the then Patriarch of Antioch of the Syrians, now Emeritus, His Most Eminent Beatitude Cardinal Ignatius Moussa Daoud.

As we did already during the plenary session of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches in November, 2002, we propose a slight modification to canon 182 of the CCEC (CCEO), with a view to introducing a more collegial procedure for gathering information about candidates for the episcopate, without losing the spirit of the legislation.

That means that the Pope and the synod will together exercise their prerogative and duty of vigilance in the choice of the Church’s pastors.

Communion between Rome and the Eastern Catholic Churches: trust and co-ordination

There must be created an atmosphere of complete trust, real collaboration and co-ordination, and effectual communion between Rome and the Eastern sui iuris Churches. The former terms of confirmation, consent or assent should be avoided and replaced by that of joinder, in the sense that the Pope joins in the synodal collegiality and adopts as his the decision of the bishops with their Patriarch.

There remains however the Pope’s right – ius vigilandi – not to join in an election but to reject it for special reasons which should be communicated confidentially to the Patriarch and eventually to the synod.

However this ius vigilandi of the Apostolic See of Rome, always exercised, from the perspective of Vatican II, in harmony with the Eastern Churches sui iuris, which themselves also enjoy this ius vigilandi, should not become the basis for regular interference.

East and West, even in the Catholic Church, must be in continual dialogue to bring about unity. The election of bishops is one of the most important issues in this regard, since it affects the East’s autonomy and furthermore the Orthodox brethren with whom we long to resume communion.

We ask to be treated as real Easterners and even, to speak plainly, as Orthodox in communion with Rome and so Catholic.

We are an Eastern Church in communion with Rome

We are an Eastern Church in communion with Rome and faithfully so, yet which wants to remain faithful to the pure, Orthodox spiritual tradition. I make bold to say that we are an Orthodox Church with the little or big plus of communion with Rome, with the Pope and our Holy Father Benedict XVI who presides in primacy and charity. Treat us as a real Eastern Church, just as you would the Orthodox on the day when the much longed for union takes place!

It is not just a matter of simple terminology or etymology. The great theologian Joseph Ratzinger certainly understands the justification for this account.

I am still referring to what the then Professor Ratzinger wrote in a book (in French) published in 1971, The New People of God: “Unitary ecclesial law, unitary liturgy, one and one and the same centralised model of bishops being nominated by Rome, all those do not necessarily form part of the primacy as such, as may be seen to be true only when both ministries [of Pope and Patriarch] become just one. So, in future, we shall have to distinguish more clearly the actual function of Peter’s successor from the patriarchal function and if need be, create new Patriarchates detached from the Latin Church.”1

These words form a very significant ecclesiological basis which has not yet been taken up and used by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, or in the dialogue and work of the Joint Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.

For all that, we urge that a place be given us on the Joint Commission.

Encouraging local dialogue: Orthodox-Catholic

On that basis, we wish then for more encouragement to develop local dialogue with our sister Orthodox Church and co-operation with her in the fields of pastoral care, catechesis, activities of confraternities, social involvement and matters relating to the personal statute.

It should be recalled that after our synodal initiative of 1996 with the aim of re-establishing communion with the Orthodox Church of Antioch, while remaining in communion with the Catholic Church, Rome, through the agency of Cardinals Joseph Ratzinger, Achille Silvestrini and Edward Idris Cassidy in a letter dated 11 June 1997, opposed no veto on that initiative, as many thought and said, but asked us to consult the Holy See for any decision in which doctrinal questions were involved.

Gregorios III

Patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church

Translation from the French: V. Chamberlain

Index of the Documents Concerning the Council for the Middle East