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Theological Notebook: Dropping the title "Patriarch of the West"

I noticed this tidbit the other day, but hadn't had time to copy it down here--or do anything else here--with everything going on. The ecumenical motive will be something interesting to hear, and one only hopes Rome actually does articulate something. It may seem a tiny thing, but could effectively rebalance the way the structure of the Church is understood, particularly from the perspective of Eastern Christians, depending on what the intention is here. For those trying to reunify East and West, they'll be wondering what's going on here.

Vatican removes title 'patriarch of the West' after pope's name

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In the 2006 edition of the Vatican's official yearbook, the pope is no longer referred to with the title "patriarch of the West," a change with potential ecumenical implications.

The Vatican press office confirmed the deletion of the title March 1, but offered no explanation for the change.

In the 2006 book, the pope is described as "bishop of Rome, vicar of Jesus Christ, successor of the prince of the apostles, supreme pontiff of the universal church, primate of Italy, archbishop and metropolitan of the province of Rome, sovereign of Vatican City State and servant of the servants of God."

The 2006 edition, which was presented to Pope Benedict XVI Feb. 18 and was to be on sale to the public by March 10, is the first edition printed since Pope Benedict's April 19 election.

In previous editions, the title "patriarch of the West" had been listed after "supreme pontiff of the universal church."

The last time the list of titles was changed was with Pope Paul VI's publication of the 1969 edition of the yearbook, the Annuario Pontificio. Pope Paul added the title "servant of the servants of God" and deleted the phrase "gloriously reigning."

Theologians and ecumenists contacted by Catholic News Service in Rome said the ecumenical impact of the removal of the "patriarch of the West" title would depend on the Vatican's reason for deleting it.

Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, retired prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, told the Italian news agency ANSA that the deletion was a "sign of ecumenical sensitivity" on the part of Pope Benedict.

The cardinal said that in the past some people used the title to provoke negative comparisons between the claims of universal jurisdiction by the worldwide "Patriarchate of the West" and the more restricted size and jurisdiction of the traditional Orthodox patriarchates.

"It seems to me the pope wanted to eliminate this type of comparison and that his gesture is meant to stimulate the ecumenical journey," Cardinal Silvestrini said.

Other experts, however, warned that the deletion could provoke concern if it is seen as the Vatican saying patriarchal authority is meaningless when the pope has universal authority over the church.

Msgr. Michael K. Magee, a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia who presented his doctoral thesis on "The Patriarchal Institution in the Catholic Church" Feb. 20 at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University, said that by early in the sixth century "patriarch" had become a "somewhat fixed" title used to refer to certain church leaders.

However, he said, "not until 642 can be it ascertained that a pope actually referred to himself by the title 'patriarch of Rome,'" and "by the end of the seventh century the residence of the bishop of Rome will come to be known as the 'patriarchium.'"

In the same way that the pope, as bishop of Rome, shares some of the characteristics of other bishops, Msgr. Magee said, the pope "as patriarch of the West -- or, more specifically, as head of the Latin Church -- has counterparts in the Eastern patriarchs who are also heads of larger particular churches comprised of a number of local churches of the same ecclesial tradition."

"The pope is not only a bishop, nor is he only a patriarch, but is also each of these as the first among local bishops and the first among the patriarchs," Msgr. Magee said.

Presenting his dissertation, Msgr. Magee said that already in the 1960s the former Father Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, had identified a need to draw a distinction between the pope's roles as pastor of the universal church and as patriarch of the Latin-rite Catholic Church.

After the split of the churches of the East and West, Msgr. Magee said, in the West "an understanding of ecclesial authority cast increasingly in juridical rather than sacramental terms seemed to render the patriarchal role comprehensible only as a delegation or emanation from papal authority."

The Philadelphia priest said Franciscan Father Adriano Garuti, a former official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and a professor at the Pontifical Lateran University, had written that if the pope is referred to as one of the Christian patriarchs it downplays his universal authority.

Msgr. Magee argued, however, that in addition to his universal ministry the pope is head of a "particular church" -- the Latin-rite Catholic Church -- distinguished by its own liturgy and discipline.

Maintaining a distinction between the pope's role as head of the universal church and as a patriarch, Msgr. Magee said, could be seen as protecting and opening up "the rightful place of other particular churches within catholicity."
Tags: benedict xvi, ecclesiology, europe, historical, papacy, theological notebook
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