The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches should own up to their past misdeeds and work to restore communion, according to a Jesuit liturgical expert.
Robert F. Taft, S.J., a former professor of Eastern liturgy at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, said that the rift between the churches was sustained primarily by offensive actions—not theological differences.
“The main problem that we Catholics and Orthodox face in our ecumenical dialogue is not doctrine but behavior,” Father Taft said. “The issue is not that Catholics and Orthodox do not know how to pray and believe and live Christianity in the right and true apostolic way. The problem is that we do not know how to act.”
Father Taft delivered “Perceptions and Realities in Orthodox-Catholic Relations Today,” on June 28 at the Rose Hill campus.
He pointed to Catholic “uniatism”—aggression against another church—as a major problem blocking fruitful dialogue between the religions. He added that although the Orthodox faith has been victimized, it also refuses to admit its own misdeeds.
“Western Christianity’s historic defects of imperialism, power and domination led to the crimes for which Pope John Paul II asked pardon in Rome on the first Sunday of Lent in 2000,” Father Taft said. “Metropolitan Kallinikos of Piraeus—an official spokesman of the Orthodox Church of Greece—responded … by declaring there was nothing for which Orthodoxy had to ask pardon.”
Father Taft advocated a system of “ecumenical scholarship and theology”—a new way to study Christian tradition that seeks to reconcile and unite, rather than to confute and dominate. To accomplish this, the Catholic and Orthodox churches must recognize one another as historic apostolic sister churches, he said.
“For Catholics, such an ‘ecumenical theology’ must mean an end to declarations on the nature of the priesthood that exalt the celibate clerical state of the Latin tradition in a way that is demeaning to the thousands of legitimately married eastern clergy,” he said.
“It might also mean Catholic theologians realizing that Latin scholastic theology of the Eucharist is ‘a’ theology and not ‘the’ theology.”
The point of this new ecumenical theology is not that Catholics and Orthodox never disagree. “What it does mean, is that at the official level, disagreements can be discussed truthfully and courteously, without invective, rudeness and slander,” Father Taft said.
His was the first keynote at “Orthodox Constructions of the West,” a three-day conference that examined how Orthodox authors created artificial categories of “East” and “West” and then used that distinction as a basis for self-definition.
The event was supported by the Patterson Triennial Conference Endowment for Orthodox/Catholic Relations as well as several units at Fordham University, including the Center for Medieval Studies and Orthodox Christian Studies Program.