Archimandrite Robert Taft, SJ
I've recently been involved in some discussions of the papacy and Eastern Orthodoxy, so I thought I might splash some jesuitry into the mix.
Taft is an expert on the life of the pre-Schism Church, especially its liturgies, so his word has some weight. He speaks simultaneously like a salty Rhode Island cabbie and elite Jesuit scholar. I like his style. Consider some of his words:
The post-Vatican II goal of the ecumenical movement was full structural unity. Is that a pipe dream with the Orthodox?
No, it’s not a pipe dream, but it depends what you mean. The only possible aim for ecumenism is communion. The old notion that the church begins with God, then the pope, and on down in pyramidal fashion, is gone. What we’re dealing with now is sister churches. That’s what we had before the East/West schism. Does anybody think that Rome had anything to say about who became patriarch of Constantinople? Or who became the metropolitan of Nicomedia? Of course not. These guys were bishops there just like we had bishops here, and when they met they’d say, “You’re a bishop? Hey, I’m a bishop too. How’s it going?” They were all in communion. It’s not like Rome was telling them what to do.
How do we get communion?
First, let’s be clear that this is all we’re ever going to get.
When will we get it?
I don’t know. Certainly not in my lifetime. I would suspect that it’s going to take a few more centuries.
Do you agree that the central problem is the papacy?
Of course. What we’ve made out of the papacy is simply ridiculous. There’s no possible justification in the New Testament or anyplace else for what we’ve made out of the papacy. That doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in a Petrine ministry. I believe that Rome has inherited that Petrine ministry. But there’s no reason on God’s earth why the pope should be appointing the bishop of Peoria. None whatsoever. So we really need a devolution, a decentralization. The Catholic church has become so big that we need some kind of a synodal structure in the West the same way you have in the East. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops ought to be a kind of synod of Catholic bishops in the United States. They ought to be able to elect the bishops. Leave Rome a veto, if you want. By the way, this would be no guarantee of better bishops. The notion that the locals will necessarily pick better people than Rome is obviously false, as anybody who knows the East understands. But at least people will see these guys as their bishops and not Rome’s. Make your own bed and sleep in it. The pope could say: ‘You don’t like the archbishop of New York? Hey, I didn’t name him.’
Given all the hassles, is there a case for simply forgetting about dialogue with the Orthodox?
The Catholic church never calls anybody else a “church” if they don’t have an episcopate. In that strict sense of the term, the Russian Orthodox is the largest church in the world after the Catholic church. To ignore them would be like the United States’ policy on China for so many years. There are a billion people over there, and the U.S. tried to pretend they don’t exist. How stupid can you be? So we’ve got to come to terms with Moscow, but they also have to come to terms with us. Like it or lump it.
I also wanted to pass along his great essay on liturgy in the East and West, "'Eastern Presuppositions' and Western Liturgical Renewal".