Roman Rights and Wrongs | Dr. Adam A. J. DeVille | CWR
What needs to change for East-West unity to happen?
Every January for over a century now, Christians have set aside a special week to pray for unity. This week, my friend the Orthodox priest and historian Oliver Herbel posted an excellent reflection in which he upbraided his fellow Orthodox for, as he powerfully put it, “spitting in the eye of Rome” every time she makes advances towards East-West unity. Father Oliver then went on to note some changes that he and his fellow Orthodox should make to respond better to Rome’s invitations.
Let me return the favor of my gracious friend. Speaking as an Eastern Catholic who tries to help East and West understand each other, let me offer a few reflections on the kind of changes Eastern Catholics and, perforce, Eastern Orthodox, want to see in very practical ways for unity to become a closer and more realistic possibility. However, I do not want to be thought querulous, so let me dwell briefly on areas where I think Roman practice is right and needs to be encouraged:
1) Ecclesial organization: Anyone who knows anything about Orthodoxy in North America knows that one of her besetting struggles is with ecclesial disorganization. Early ecclesiology rather strictly prescribed one bishop to one city to avoid the problems of overlapping and conflicting jurisdictions. Orthodoxy still upholds this as the ideal (as does Rome), but has long struggled with making it a reality in this country. Indeed, the most recent effort to overcome this problem—the so-called episcopal assembly of all Orthodox bishops—seems this month on the verge of collapse, which is sad but not surprising.
Rome, however, has in some ways been better able (though not perfectly so) to avoid these problems and to keep Catholics of all traditions—Eastern and Western—united in certain (imperfect) regional structures. For example, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) includes Latin and Eastern bishops on full and equal terms and they regularly meet together in organized fashion twice a year, with Eastern Catholics also serving in the other committees of the USCCB. Though the USCCB (and comparable conferences around the world) are not the synods, they could and should be, as I have argued elsewhere, and they are at the very least a commendable start down that road.
2) Canonical updating: