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Pope Francis approves new document elevating ecumenism and synodality above papal primacy
The new ‘study document’ from the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Promotion of Christian Unity emphasizes an intimate link between papal primacy and synodality, advocating for decentralization, granting more authority at regional levels while enhancing ecumenism.

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Pope Francis is met by Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, Ieronimos II as he arrives on the Greek island of Lesbos at Mytilene airport on April 16, 2016, in Mytilene, Lesbos, Greece
Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images

Jun 13, 2024
This article was originally published by PerMariam: Mater Dolorosa.

VATICAN CITY (PerMariam - slightly adapted, not all hyperlinks included) — The Vatican has unveiled a pivotal document on the papacy, which contains numerous calls to fundamentally alter the understanding of the practice of papal primacy and authority in order to aid ecumenism and synodality.

Titled “The Bishop of Rome. Primacy and Synodality in the Ecumenical Dialogues and in the Responses to the Encyclical Ut unum sint,” the text was launched via a press conference in Rome, June 13.

Billed as “the first document to summarize the entire ecumenical debate on the service of primacy in the Church since the Second Vatican Council,” the document is the fruit of almost four years of “truly ecumenical and synodal work.” The text presents the results of a process initiated by the Dicastery for the Promotion of Christian Unity (DPCU) in 2020, which saw the 25th anniversary of Ut Unum Sint.

The document, drawn up under the guidance of the DPCU, has received input from “Orthodox and Protestant theologians,” as well as the Roman Curia and the Synod of Bishops. As such, the text is a “study document”: not presenting a new line which the Vatican is set to adhere to – at least not yet – but giving a strong indication of probably future direction on the papacy which may soon emerge, partially from the Synod on Synodality.

As with many elements of the Catholic Church today, ecumenism is at the fore. The dicastery summarized that following Vatican II the “ecumenical dimension” of the papacy “has been an essential aspect of this ministry.”

Writing his preface to the 150-page document, DPCU prefect Cardinal Kurt Koch noted that:

Quote:It is our hope that it will promote not only the reception of the dialogues on this important topic [the papacy], but also stimulate further theological investigation and practical suggestions, ‘together, of course,’ for an exercise of the ministry of unity of the Bishop of Rome ‘recognized by all concerned’ (UUS 95).

Indeed, The Bishop of Rome appears to present the blueprint for a new understanding of the papacy and papal primacy in the 21st century, an era marked by a focus on ecumenism and “synodality.” As noted in the document itself:

Quote:The following pages offer a schematic presentation of

(1) the responses to Ut unum sint and documents of the theological dialogues devoted to the question of primacy;
(2) the main theological questions traditionally challenging papal primacy, and some significant advances in contemporary ecumenical reflection;
(3) some perspectives for a ministry of unity in a reunited Church; and
(4) practical suggestions or requests addressed to the Catholic Church.

This synthesis is based both on the responses to Ut unum sint and on the results of the official and unofficial dialogues concerning the ministry of unity at the universal level. It uses the terminology adopted by these documents, with its advantages and limitations.

Windswept House? Primacy or committees?

The document’s theological arguments and essays are followed by a summary along with “practical suggestions or requests addressed to the Catholic Church” regarding the future exercise of the office of the papacy. As with other elements of current ecclesial life, the text bears a peculiar resemblance to Malachi Martin’s Windswept House, in which the globalist and Masonic-aligned cardinals are attempting to force the “Slavic Pope” to resign by arguing that for him to do so would help the damaged unity of the Church, and improve relations between the (heterodox) bishops and the pope.

Though not aimed at forcing Pope Francis to resign – since he has approved of The Bishop of Rome and ordered its promulgation, the DCPU’s text appears aimed at changing the papacy generally, not at any pope in particular. The “principles for the exercise of primacy in the 21st century” present a change in understanding of the papacy which would be at the service of ecumenism and synodality, the text outlines.

Papal primacy, the DCPU’s text states, should be intimately linked with synodality – reflecting the current wave of thought sweeping through the Church at the instigation of Pope Francis. “A first general agreement is the mutual interdependency of primacy and synodality at each level of the Church, and the consequent requirement for a synodal exercise of primacy,” the DCPU’s text reads.


Cdl. Kurt Koch. [Credit: Michael Haynes]

Another point agreed on by the numerous ecumenical bodies involved in writing the text is that the papacy should be understood in a new sense by opening the door to decentralization of power. In this light, a call is made for synodality to be effected by granting more power to the “regional” levels of the Catholic Church, and “a continuing ‘decentralization’ inspired by the model of the ancient patriarchal Churches.”

Moving on, the text then presents the “practical suggestions” from all the ecumenical dialogues and bodies involved, before adding a further couple of suggestions from the DCPU in particular.

Even before the concrete and “practical suggestions” are presented – giving the DCPU’s ecumenical assessment on how to increase ecumenical unity and synodality by changes to the papacy – the subtext is remarkably clear: in the modern “enlightened” age in which the Church now exists, and given the self-understanding of “synodality” which is now endemic, papal primacy should be quietly faded out.

First change: Primacy a historical fad?

First on the DCPU’s list of “practical suggestions” is a call for a “re-interpretation” of the teachings of Vatican I – the council which issued the dogmatic constitution Pastor Aeternus which outlines the primacy and infallibility of the pope, two ecumenical stumbling blocks. Pastor Aeternus reads:

Quote:We teach and declare that, according to the Gospel evidence, a primacy of jurisdiction over the whole Church of God was immediately and directly promised to the blessed apostle Peter and conferred on him by Christ the lord… Therefore whoever succeeds to the chair of Peter obtains by the institution of Christ Himself, the primacy of Peter over the whole Church.

These teachings appear to be in the crosshairs of the DCPU via The Bishop of Rome. They call for “a Catholic ‘re-reception,’ ‘re-interpretation,’ ‘official interpretation,’ ‘updated commentary’ or even ‘rewording’ of the teachings of Vatican I.” The document states that some of the contributors to its compilation have argued that Vatican I’s “teachings were deeply conditioned by their historical context, and suggest that the Catholic Church should look for new expressions and vocabulary faithful to the original intention but integrated into a communio ecclesiology and adapted to the current cultural and ecumenical context.”

“Deeply conditioned by the historical context,” should be interpreted as “no longer acceptable for the brave, modern world in which we now live.”

Second change: Stick to the diocese of Rome to ‘renew’ the papacy

Continuing the Windswept House theme, the DCPU presents its second suggestion for how to alter the papacy. Just as the scheming cardinals in Windswept House presented a forced papal resignation as a good thing for ecclesial unity, so also the DCPU presents a stripping of papal power as a means to “renew the image of the papacy.”

The DCPU issues a request for “a clearer distinction between the different responsibilities of the Bishop of Rome,” which would, it argues, aid his “ministry of unity.” This call includes the desire for how “other Western Churches might relate to the Bishop of Rome as primate while having a certain autonomy themselves” – arguably translated as “will the Pope please consider himself just the bishop of an important diocese, and allow other ‘primates’ to enjoy some equitable power like he does?”

Indeed, the DCPU goes so far as to make this very argument, removing the need for the customary interpretation of Vatican-style linguistics. “A greater accent on the exercise of the ministry of the Pope in his own particular Church, the diocese of Rome, would highlight the episcopal ministry he shares with his brother bishops, and renew the image of the papacy,” the DCPU recommends.

Third change: Ecumenism demands more synodality, including for the papacy

If it was not already clear that the two watchwords of the modern church are “ecumenism” and “synodality,” the DCPU makes such crystal clear in its third suggestion on how to reassess the papacy. The DCPU wrote that the theological dialogues involved in compiling the document had identified how “a growing synodality is required within the Catholic Church,” which would be evidenced by increasing the authority of bishops’ conferences. The text reads:

Quote:Putting an emphasis on the reciprocal relation between the Catholic Church’s synodal shaping ad intra and the credibility of her ecumenical commitment ad extra, they identified areas in which a growing synodality is required within the Catholic Church. They suggest in particular further reflection on the authority of national and regional Catholic bishops’ conferences, their relationship with the Synod of Bishops and with the Roman Curia.

At the universal level, they stress the need for a better involvement of the whole People of God in the synodal processes. In a spirit of the ‘exchange of gifts,’ procedures and institutions already existing in other Christian communions could serve as a source of inspiration.

Fourth change: More ecumenical meetings

Pope Francis has continued to champion the cause of ecumenical meetings between religious leaders throughout his papacy, increasingly linking it to the current Synod on Synodality. These encounters appear set to continue under the spirit of The Bishop of Rome, since the DCPU highlights them as its fourth recommended change.

“A last proposal is the promotion of ‘conciliar fellowship’ through regular meetings among Church leaders at a worldwide level in order to make visible and deepen the communion they already share,” the text reads. “In the same spirit, many dialogues have proposed different initiatives to promote synodality between Churches, especially at the level of bishops and primates, through regular consultations and common action and witness.”

Commentators have long expressed concerns about the effect of such ecumenical meetings (like holding joint Catholic-Anglican vespers in the Basilica of St. Paul’s outside the Walls in Rome) since they create the impression that the Catholic Church and the Pope are on an equal footing with all the multitude of religions customarily represented at such events.


Pope Francis and Justin Welby at ecumenical Vespers, January 25, 2024. [Credit: Michael Haynes]

Speaking to this correspondent in Rome last year, Bishop Athanasius Schneider attested that modern ecumenism “undermines the truth that there is only one Church of God and this is the Catholic Church, the Church of Peter, united with the Holy See, the chair of Peter – the popes.”

While the Vatican heavily promotes interreligious actions, Schneider stated that “such gestures, or inter-religious meetings, are undermining these truths, and therefore these actions have to change.”

He added that Catholics must ensure that charity is always practiced with non-Catholics, but they must also inform non-Catholics “that they are unfortunately in an objective error, and that they are called by God to join the Holy Mother Church which is the Catholic Church, which is the will of God.”

Goodbye to the ‘universal Church’

Amongst the specific aims of the DCPU’s own direct recommendations, which conclude the text, is a peculiarly convoluted argument against understanding the Catholic Church as “universal.” “It seems particularly necessary to clarify the meaning of the expression ‘universal Church,’” the DCPU writes, employing another standard phrase, “clarify the meaning,” which is more correctly interpreted as “reject.”

The DCPU declared that “since the 19 century, the catholicity of the Church has often been understood as its worldwide dimension, in a ‘universalistic’ way.” This understanding, Cdl. Koch’s dicastery argues, “does not take sufficient account of the distinction between the Ecclesia universalis (the ‘universal Church’ in the geographical sense) and the Ecclesia universa (the ‘whole Church,’ the ‘entire Church’), the latter being the more traditional expression in the Catholic magisterium.”

By having “a merely geographical notion of the catholicity of the Church,” the DCPU wrote that a risk exists of “giving rise to a secular conception of a ‘universal primacy’ in a ‘universal Church,’ and consequently to a secular understanding of the extension and constraints of such a primacy.”

Instead, the DCPU urged a shift in the understanding of the universal Church and the power necessary to govern such a universal body. “Roman primacy should be understood not so much as a universal power in a universal Church (Ecclesia universalis), but as an authority in service to the communion between the Churches (communio Ecclesiarum), that is to the whole Church (Ecclesia universa).” That is to say, once the language is stripped away, the papacy should not seek to exercise its divine authority – the authority outlined in Pastor Aeternus – and instead work on using a restrained practice of power to foster ecumenical unity.


Tying all its many pages together, The Bishop of Rome concludes by urging the acceptance of the suggestions and recommendations made, in order to make a renewal – an unqualified renewal – of the “exercise of the ministry of the Bishop of Rome” and to further aid ecumenical unity.

“Building on the above principles and recommendations, which are fruits of common ecumenical reflection, it may be possible for the Catholic Church to renew the exercise of the ministry of the Bishop of Rome and to propose a model of communion based on ‘a service of love recognised by all concerned’ (UUS 95),” the text opines.

As is already widely documented, modern ecumenism has as its aim simple unity, not unity as outlined in the traditional teaching of the Church. For the papacy to become directly subordinated to the modern form of ecumenism would appear to be the next stage in a long process of ecumenical “walking together” – together, but away from truth.