Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Pope John Paul II and the Orthodox Church

By Thomas FitzGerald

Pope John Paul II affirmed the importance of the ecumenical movement and strengthened the quest for the restoration of full communion with the Orthodox Church. Continuing the tradition established by Paul VI, Pope John Paul II traveled to Constantinople (Istanbul, Turkey) in 1979 to meet with Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios, senior bishop of the Orthodox Church. This visit expressed the pope’s desire for dialogue between Rome and the Orthodox Church.

At that meeting, the religious leaders established of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church. This historic action signaled that both churches saw that the time was right to begin examination of points of agreement and difference. The new commission followed the establishment in 1965 of a similar Bilateral Dialogue in the U.S.

The leaders met again in Rome in 1987, the year the twelve hundredth anniversary of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (787). This is the final Ecumenical Council jointly recognized by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches and affirmed the value and use of icons especially as an expression of authentic Christology.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was elected to his office in 1991 when the relationship between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church was severely strained in many parts of the world. Following political changes in Russia and Eastern Europe, there was a resurgence of the Eastern Catholic Churches, which led to sharp clashes between members of the Eastern Catholics and the Orthodox over property rights. The revival of the Eastern Catholic Churches troubled many Orthodox.

Amidst such tensions, Pope John Paul wrote the encyclical Ut Unum Sint in 1995, which reaffirmed the importance of the quest for unity. The pope also called upon other church leaders and theologians to engage in a “patient and fraternal dialogue” on the role of the Bishop of Rome. The Orthodox welcomed the Pope’s encouragement of this study, since most Orthodox see the present articulation of this primacy as a key impediment to the restoration of full communion.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew visited Rome later in 1995. Relationships were still troubled, but both the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch reaffirmed the importance of the theological dialogue between their churches.

This meeting set the stage for meetings with other Orthodox leaders. Pope John Paul met with Patriarch Teoctist and the synod of the Church of Romania in 1999 and with Archbishop Christodoulos the primate of the Church of Greece and its synod in 2001. At this meeting, the Pope issued a formal apology for the historic abuses of Catholics against the Orthodox, with a particular reference to the sack of Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade of 1204. A year later, the Pope met with Patriarch Maxim and the synod of the Church of Bulgaria in 2002.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew found Pope John Paul committed to the process of reconciliation between Orthodoxy and Catholicism. They both supported the restoration of the Theological Consultation that met in Baltimore in 2000 after a period of inactivity. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew also joined with the pope at an historic meeting in Assisi, Italy in 2002, for a “Day of Prayer for Peace in the World.” The two issued an historic joint declaration on the protection of the creation in 2002.

Knowing that the pope’s health was in decline, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew journeyed to Rome and met with him on June 29, 2004. A few months later, they presided at an historic celebration in St. Peter’s in Rome, November 27, 2004. This marked the return to the Orthodox of the relics of St. Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom, honored by both Orthodox and Roman Catholics. The return of the relics stood as a vivid reminder of how much the two churches share, including the veneration of the saints, and showed that the relationship between the churches had improved.

When Pope John Paul died in 2005, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew led the Orthodox delegation at the funeral in Rome on April 8, 2005. It was truly a dramatic and unprecedented gesture of respect for the pope who advanced the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.


Father Thomas FitzGerald, Th.D. (Greek Orthodox) is the Professor of Church History and Historical Theology and former Dean at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, MA. He is the Orthodox Executive Secretary of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Bilateral Consultation.

Five Things To Remember On April 23

1. Pope Francis said today that the risen Jesus, not money or power, is the source of life.

2. Have you checked out our series on the two Popes that will be canonized this week? The bloggers cover so many aspects of the lives of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II that each is a must-read.

3. Deirdre McQuade, Assistant Director for Policy and Communications of the USCCB's Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, sees a positive trend in a new Pew Research Center that shows a shrinking majority in the support of the death penalty.

4. The Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue in the United States (ARC-USA) has concluded a six-year round of dialogue with the release of “Ecclesiology and Moral Discernment: Seeking a Unified Moral Witness,” approved at the most recent meeting February 24-25, at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia.

5. God loves you.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Five Things To Remember On April 22

1. This is a big week in the Catholic Church, as two popes, John XXIII and John Paul II, will be canonized as saints in Rome on April 27. Read expert reflections on each.

2. People are making Earth Day today and you can see the USCCB's efforts on the environmental justice.

3. Father James Martin, SJ, points out the humor of Pope John XXIII is well-known, now get to see some of his jokes and quips.

4. The Vatican has set the 51st World Day for Vocations for May 11, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, commonly known as Good Shepherd Sunday. The theme for this year’s celebration, which falls on Mother’s Day this year, is “Vocations, Witness to the Truth.”

5. God loves you.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Five Things To Remember On April 17

1. Pope Francis will wash the feet of 12 guests today in a Holy Thursday Mass at a rehabilitation center.

2. Questions about the next few days of the Holy Week are natural. Here are some answers for you.

3. Students from The Catholic University of America took part in an outdoor Stations of the Cross this week.

4. The USCCB will be closed on Good Friday, April 18. We wish you a moving Holy Week and a Happy Easter.

5. God loves you.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Five Things To Remember On April 16

1. Francesco Cesareo, Ph.D., is is in his first year as Chairman of the National Review Board, a lay body that collaborates with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to prevent sexual abuse of minors by persons in the service of the Church. He explores some of the myths and truths surrounding abuse in the Church today.

2. Helen Osman, the secretary for communications at the USCCB, explains how Pope Francis is changing the way the church transmits its message.

3. During this Holy Week, you may have questions about the Paschal tridduum. We have 18 answers and questions about this time in the faith.

4. The  Pope will distribute pocket-sized Gospels in a Roman prison today.

5. God loves you.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Continuing Myths of the Sexual Abuse Crisis in the Catholic Church

By Francesco Cesareo, Ph.D

In 2002 the Catholic Church was faced with its biggest crisis in decades if not centuries- the child sexual abuse scandal. Many strides have been made over the past 12 years; the Catholic Church has taken considerable action to protect children, help victims heal, and remove offending clerics. Much has been accomplished in this arena. In spite of these strides to protect children many people do not know about the changes that have been made.

Myth: The Catholic bishops have done nothing since 2002 to stop the sexual abuse of children.

Fact: Catholic bishops have implemented the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, along with Essential Norms and a Statement of Episcopal Commitment. 99% of clerics, employees, educators and volunteers have had background checks and have been trained on how to create safe church and school environments. Nearly 6,000 clerics who had credible accusations made against them were removed from ministry between the years 1950 and 2013. There is a zero tolerance policy and all clerics with a credible allegation must be permanently removed from ministry.

Myth: Thousands of children are still being abused by Catholic priests

Fact: While the Church receives hundreds of allegations each year, 99% of them are reporting abuse that happened years ago. Current allegations from minors averaged 10 per year between 2005 to 2013. Everyone agrees that is 10 too many and the church continues to take steps to protect children and to remove those who would harm them.

Myth: Child sexual abuse occurs only in the Catholic Church

Fact: Child sexual abuse occurs in all socio-economic levels, and does occur in every type of youth serving organization from sporting teams, to churches of all denominations and public and private schools. The Catholic Church has implemented effective measures to stop sexual abuse from occurring in its parishes and schools. It requires background evaluations on all clerics, employees and volunteers. It requires all be trained on how to create and maintain safe environments for children. Clergy with credible allegations are permanently removed from ministry.

Myth: Bishops cover up abuse and hide priests from the law

Fact: Dioceses are required to report all cases to the local law enforcement agencies. Failing to report known abuse is a crime. Victims and their families are encouraged to report abuse directly to police. Each diocese is required to have a victim assistance coordinator and a diocesan review board to review the allegations and make recommendations to the bishop.

Myth: The Holy See insists that bishops protect the church at the expense of children.

Fact: In May 2011, a directive in the form of a letter required all episcopal conferences to have policies and procedures on dealing with sexual abuse by clergy. The Holy See requires all allegations of sexual abuse to be reported to local civil authorities.


Francesco Cesareo, Ph.D., is president of Assumption College, Worcester, Massachusetts. He is in his first year as Chairman of the National Review Board, a lay body that collaborates with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to prevent sexual abuse of minors by persons in the service of the Church.

Five Things To Remember On April 15

1. Pope Francis asks people during Holy Week to think about which character in Jesus' story they resemble.

2. Sister Mary Ann Walsh looks at Holy Saturday and the many people who are joining the Catholic faith.

3. In 12 days, Blessed John XXIII and John Paul II will be canonized saints. Check out this helpful chart created by Catholic News Service that explores the often long road to becoming a saint.

4. See video reflections in Spanish on the Word of God for the Triduum and Easter on our Lent Videos page.

5. God loves you.