The Role Of The Papacy

Today it is generally agreed that the major obstacle to the reunification of the Catholic and Orthodox churches is their different understandings of the role of the papacy. Catholics believe that the pope is the center of unity for the worldwide church and has the authority to rule over any part of the universal church. They also believe that the pope has been granted the gift of speaking infallibly, or is incapable of error, in matters of faith and doctrine, so that the church may be guarded from serious error and departure from the Gospel message.

The Orthodox, on the other hand, believe that the pope is the first among bishops in the world and has a moral authority of honor that should be respected among all the world's churches. However they do not agree that the pope should directly govern all the churches of the world. The Orthodox also believe that the infallible teaching of the church must be agreed upon in a universal gathering of bishops and not merely through the teaching of the pope. Pope John Paul II had made it a priority of his pontificate to seek reunification with the Orthodox churches. In an important encyclical letter, Ut Unum Sint (Latin for "That all may be one"), he suggested that the Catholic Church is open to dialogue on the issue of the role of the papacy in order to arrive at a common understanding with the Orthodox churches.

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