EMMITSBURG, Md. — Ten days of talks between international Roman Catholic and Orthodox leaders resolving disputes over church property in the former Soviet Union ended Wednesday without producing an agreement.
The discussions of the Joint International Commission for theological dialogue between the two churches hit a snag over the thorniest issue they face: papal primacy.
Roman Catholicism is strictly hierarchical, with ultimate authority residing in the pope. Orthodoxy makes up 16 self-governing churches, and ultimate authority resides in a representative meeting called the Holy Synod.
"We do not have a pope who says, 'Roma locuta est, causa finita' (Rome has spoken, the case is closed)," Archbishop Stylianos of Australia, the leader of the Orthodox delegation, said Wednesday at a news conference. "The problem is how to achieve unity without betraying our authentic identity."
The immediate issue facing the two sides was the relationship between Orthodox churches and the Eastern Catholic churches, which recognize the authority of the pope. First under Josef Stalin and then by the communists, these Eastern Catholic churches were suppressed and their properties seized, many of them given to Orthodox churches.
With the fall of the Soviet empire, these Eastern Catholic churches re-emerged and demanded their property, leading to disputes, particularly in the Ukraine and Romania.
The Orthodox were concerned about a resumption of the Catholic policy of "uniatism," luring Orthodox churches back into the Catholic fold through missionary efforts.
Stylianos implied Wednesday that the very existence of the Eastern Catholic churches was a contradiction.
"Here we have a group of people who have been taken under certain well-known historical conditions, cut off from the Orthodox Eastern churches," he said. How is it possible, he asked, for them to retain the language and rituals of their mother churches and yet profess papal primacy and infallibility, which run counter to Orthodox faith?
Although no agreement was reached, Cardinal William H. Keeler, who was host for the ecumenical meeting, said the relationships forged in the past 10 days should give the dialogue momentum.