The implications for Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, following the Russian Orthodox Church’s decision to withdraw from it, remain to be seen, said a Catholic member of the dialogue commission.
Monsignor Paul McPartlan, the Carl J. Peter Professor of Systematic Theology and Ecumenism at the School of Theology and Religious Studies of the Catholic University of America, confirmed Wednesday that the Russian Orthodox have decided to suspend their participation in the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.
Monsignor McPartlan said a meeting of the joint coordinating committee for the international dialogue scheduled for next week at the Monastery of Bose in Italy is still on, and that he will be taking part.
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The Russians’ decision not to participate stems from the decision by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I to grant autocephaly to a local, unified Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Currently, the only Orthodox Church in Ukraine that is recognized by the rest of the Orthodox world is the Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. After Bartholomew announced that he was sending two exarchs to Ukraine as part of his decision to grant autocephaly, Moscow announced certain measures in protest. Among other things, it said it would “interrupt the participation of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Episcopal Assemblies, in theological dialogues, multilateral commissions and all other structures in which the representatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople are co-chairs.”
That statement was issued September 14, but it was amplified in a statement released after an October 19 meeting between Pope Francis and Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Department for the External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate.
“The full implications of that decision are not yet clear,” Monsignor McPartlan said.
But Ukrainian Orthodox Fr. Cyril Hovorun, Acting Director of the Huffington Ecumenical Institute at Loyola Marymount University, said the question now will be about the status of the documents the theological dialogue produces.
“Moscow will not accept them, regardless of what they state,” said Fr. Hovorun.
The Moscow Patriarchate stressed that its bilateral relations with the Catholic Church remain in place, according to a report at Catholic News Agency:
The position was explained by Metropolitan Hilarion October 27 on Russian television program, ‘The Church and the World,’ aired by Russia-24. Speaking about his October 18 meeting with Pope Francis, Metropolitan Hilarion said that a big part of the discussion was dedicated to the situation in Ukraine, but that “the breakoff of the Russian Orthodox Church’s relations with Constantinople has also to do with the relationships with the Roman Catholic Church since, along with the bilateral relations between the Russian Church and the Roman Church, there is also a pan-Orthodox-Catholic theological dialogue. And we have withdrawn from this dialogue as well.”
The coordinating committee of which Monsignor McPartlan is part will be continuing work on the latest document issued by the Catholic-Orthodox Joint Theological Commission, released after meeting in Chieti, Italy, in 2016. The document being drafted has the theme “Toward unity in faith: theological and canonical issues” and will take up the theological and canonical issues that need to be resolved in order to achieve full communion.
Fr. Ronald G. Roberson, associate director of the Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in an interview in October, likened the situation to the U.S. Catholic Church’s dialogue with Anglicans. For decades, there has been an Anglican-Roman Catholic Consultation USA. But then more conservative groups broke away from the Episcopal Church and founded ACNA, the Anglican Conservative Church in North America.
“Obviously we couldn’t have a dialogue with them together because they’re different communions now,” Fr. Roberson said. “So we do have an official dialogue with the Episcopal Church and we have conversations with ACNA.”
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