How much weight John Paul II’s successor will give to unity with the Orthodox remains to be seen. If the new Pope comes from Africa or Latin America he may put little or no weight on this question. Indeed the Orthodox may find that John Paul II was their best opportunity for unity; when they had the chance they refused to take it. History rarely offers a second chance. ~Paul Weyrich

Mr. Weyrich is not a theologian or a student of theology, so I did not expect him to understand why the schism has occurred and, more importantly, why it has persisted. It is a bit disappointing to find the Orthodox Church blamed for “refusing” to take the opportunity for unity, as if the Orthodox are the ones who have been the losers thereby. Schism is lamentable and a scandal, but it will persist as long as Rome holds to the two great stumbling-blocks that have ever prevented union in faith and truth: papal primacy, with its added difficulty of the claim of infallibility, and the addition of the filioque. The initiative always remains with the innovating party to renounce innovation, even if it is centuries old. Orthodox efforts to seek unity with Western confessions without regard to truth has caused the deeply painful upheavals within the Orthodox Church of the last 80 years, but even now it is not we, the Orthodox, who have failed to embrace union with non-Orthodox, but all others who have failed to embrace God’s revelation in Orthodoxy in all its fullness, which we can find securely only in the Orthodox Church.

In light of the election of the new Pope, Benedict XVI, it is instructive to see how he viewed the matter from a Catholic perspective in his role as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith only a few years ago in the statement Dominus Iesus. The statement reads: “Therefore, there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him. The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches. Therefore, the Church of Christ is present and operative also in these Churches, even though they lack full communion with the Catholic Church, since they do not accept the Catholic doctrine of the Primacy, which, according to the will of God, the Bishop of Rome objectively has and exercises over the entire Church.”

The rather wobbly ecclesiology aside, which manages to imagine unity on the basis of apostolicity and a “valid Eucharist” in churches that at the same time essentially lack catholicity in the view of Rome, it is clear that the historical distortion of a reasonable understanding of a Roman primacy of honour has become a non-negotiable matter for Rome. If this is the case, union is as far away as ever. This is very much to be regretted, but it is not the Orthodox who have set up barriers to union.