WASHINGTON (CNS) -- If the papacy is to be exercised in a way that serves Christian unity better, the Catholic Church must become more conciliar, with broader participation at all levels in church governance, several ecumenists said at forum Sept. 26 at Georgetown University.
"Hierarchy without conciliarity is tyranny. ... Conciliarity without hierarchy is anarchy," said Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko, a veteran ecumenist and dean emeritus of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, N.Y.
He has somewhat of a point. The only problem in regard to ecumenism w/the Orthodox is that the papacy is a double edged sword. On the one hand, the official magisterium is a lot closer to what the Orthodox believe than what most Catholics believe. On the other hand, b/c the Orthodox object so strongly to the papacy, cracking down on dissidents would turn the Orthodox against us, too. So we're kinda in between a rock and a hard place there, sparky!
The forum, convened by the Woodstock Theological Center to mark the 30th anniversary of its founding at Georgetown, was titled "Re-envisioning the Papacy."
The ecumenical scholars were responding to the 1995 invitation of the late Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical on Christian unity, asking church leaders and theologians to "engage in a patient and fraternal dialogue" about new ways papal primacy could be exercised that would make the pope's ministry more effective in advancing Christian unity.
Episcopal Bishop Mark Dyer, a theology professor at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Va., and former bishop of Bethlehem, Pa., stressed the fundamental notion of the church as koinonia, or communion, reflecting in the life of the church the divine communion of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Viewed that way, "each member of the church is gifted by God's spirit," he said, and he would see the pope as one who "intentionally lifts up all people's gifts."
"Lay people should have a place at the table" in all levels of church decision-making, he said, and the papacy should "respect synodical life at every level" -- parish, diocese, regional or national and global.
"A universal primacy requires universal synodality at every level," he said.
Participants used conciliarity and synodality interchangeably to express various forms of councils in which laity, deacons and priests as well as bishops would have a say in church affairs.
The Rev. Scott Ickert, pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church in Arlington, Va., and a member of the U.S. Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, said the fundamental Lutheran position is summarized in one sentence in the 1974 U.S. Lutheran-Catholic joint statement on papal primacy: "The one thing necessary, from the Lutheran point of view, is that papal primacy be so structured and interpreted that it clearly serve the Gospel and the unity of the church of Christ, and that its exercise of power not subvert Christian freedom."
Lutherans have a problem with "the extent of papal jurisdiction, the reach of the papacy" because they see it undermining the Christian freedom of local churches, he said.
Putting it in terms of the Second Vatican Council's discussion of the authority of the college of bishops in union with the pope, Rev. Ickert asked, "To what degree does collegiality exist in the Catholic Church in reality?"
He said that papal primacy would be less of an obstacle to unity, for example, if local churches had "greater freedom in the selection of bishops."
Protopresbyter Hopko said, "The pope is the de facto leader of the Christian world. He is the Dalai Lama of Christianity."
He said the Orthodox today "would affirm more than ever" the need for a single leader of world Christianity," but in Orthodox thinking "there is no bishop of bishops. Every bishop is 'servus servorum Dei' (the servant of the servants of God, one of the titles held by the pope)."
Conventual Franciscan Father John J. Burkhard, a theology professor and acting president of Washington Theological Union presented a list of "practical suggestions" that could advance ecumenical relations and make the exercise of the papacy less an obstacle to Christian unity. They included:
-- Regular meetings of the pope with the patriarchs of the Orthodox world.
-- Inserting the names of the bishop of Rome and the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople in the eucharistic prayers.
-- "A broader process of electing the bishop of Rome."
-- Reform of the process of selecting bishops.
-- Abolishing the "ad limina" visits, trips that bishops who head a diocese must make to Rome every five years to give the pope and Vatican officials detailed reports on the state of their diocese.
-- Strengthening the teaching authority of bishops' conferences and giving them authority over things such as the adaptation of the liturgy to their culture.
Ann K. Riggs, director of the Faith and Order Commission of the National Council of Churches, spoke to the forum not from her personal stance as a Quaker but as a theologian articulating the faith perspectives that Pentecostals, Baptists, evangelicals and others outside the mainline ecumenical churches bring to questions of papal primacy.
"The conceptual traditions of the Catholic Church are almost incomprehensible" to members of those churches, she said. She noted, for example, that while the Orthodox and mainline Protestants can understand the notion of "the sacramentlike quality of the church," that language is alien to Baptists and Reformed Christians, who refer even to baptism and Eucharist as "ordinances," not sacraments.
Most of these sects, especially the Baptist ones, have been around all of two days! And none of the Deformed sects go back any more than 500 years. If the language is "alien" to them, it's of their own doing. It's their own fault for not looking into the history of the Church and looking at how Christianity has been practiced in other times and other places. These ppl have put their brains in a box.
One problem facing those who approach the notion of church in terms of the local congregation, she said, is finding ways for those congregations to do mission together. If the bishop of Rome can act in ways that help the churches talk about and do mission together, it would mean something to those churches, she said.
Moderating the forum was theologian Monika K. Hellwig, who taught at Georgetown for more than 30 years and is now a research fellow at Woodstock Theological Center.