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Relations between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church

The Balamand Document was the first attempt to deal with this extremely delicate question, and therefore a major step forward. Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople supported it as a step in the right direction. But on the local level reactions were mixed. In Greece, the Orthodox Church condemned the Balamand document, and called for the abolition of the Eastern Catholic Churches as the only solution to the problem. In Romania, the document was approved by the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church, but rejected out of hand by the country’s Greek Catholic bishops. It was only in Ukraine that Balamand gained support from both Eastern Catholics and Orthodox.

In any case, the Orthodox side insisted that, since there was no consensus regarding Balamand, the same topic would have to be treated in more depth before the commission could return to its theological agenda. After many delays, the Joint Coordinating Committee met at Ariccia, near Rome, in June 1998 and produced a draft text entitled, “The Ecclesiological and Canonical Implications of Uniatism.” The eighth plenary session was then scheduled to take place at Mount St. Mary’s College/Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, USA, hosted by Cardinal William Keeler, the Archbishop of Baltimore, in June 1999. But in March 1999 the meeting was again postponed when it became clear that some of the Orthodox would be unable to travel to a country participating in the NATO bombing of Serbia. The plenary finally took place from July 9 to 19, 2000.

The only text that came out of the Emmitsburg meeting was a Joint Communiqué, issued on July 19, 2000. It notes that the documents previously issued about uniatism had met with strong opposition in some quarters, and that it had been necessary to make another attempt to reach agreement on this “extremely thorny question.” Then comes the key paragraph:

The discussions of this plenary were far reaching, intense and thorough. They touched upon many theological and canonical questions connected with the existence and the activities of the Eastern Catholic Churches. However, since agreement was not reached on the basic theological concept of uniatism, it was decided not to have a common statement at this time. For this reason, the members will report to their Churches who will indicate how to overcome this obstacle for the peaceful continuation of the dialogue.

Clearly an impasse had been reached at Emmitsburg on the question of the status of the Eastern Catholic Churches, and six years would pass before the dialogue would meet again. During the intervening period, great efforts were made to create the conditions under which the dialogue could resume. In a certain sense, this was a re-intensification of the “dialogue of love” that had been forged by Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, and which had never ceased even after the theological dialogue had begun.

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