widespread media speculation on the Vatican’s abandonment of the papal
title, “Patriarch of the West”, the Holy See today offered
clarification about the move saying the title was unclear and had
become obsolete. It’s absence, they added, may now increase chances for
meaningful ecumenical dialogue.
Speculation first started circulating after observant watchers noticed the familiar title conspicuously missing from this years edition of the “Annuario Pontificio” or pontifical yearbook.
Officials from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity said in a statement today that "From a historical perspective, the ancient Patriarchates of the East, defined by the Councils of Constantinople (381) and of Chalcedon (451), covered a fairly clearly demarcated territory. At the same time, the territory of the see of the Bishop of Rome remained somewhat vague.”
They explained that “In the East, under the ecclesiastical imperial system of Justinian (527-565), alongside the four Eastern Patriarchates (Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem), the Pope was included as the Patriarch of the West. Rome, on the other hand, favored the idea of the three Petrine episcopal sees: Rome, Alexandria and Antioch.”
“Without using the title 'Patriarch of the West,'“ the group added, “the Fourth Council of Constantinople (869-870), the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) and the Council of Florence (1439), listed the Pope as the first of the then five Patriarchs.”
"The title 'Patriarch of the West' was adopted in the year 642 by Pope Theodore. Thereafter it appeared only occasionally and did not have a clear meaning. It flourished in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in the context of a general increase in the Pope's titles, and appeared for the first time in the 'Annuario Pontificio' in 1863," the statement said.
The Pontifical Council explained that difficulty arises because “The term 'West' currently refers to a cultural context not limited only to Western Europe but including North America, Australia and New Zealand, thus differentiating itself from other cultural contexts.”
"If we wished to give the term 'West' a meaning applicable to ecclesiastical juridical language, it could be understood only in reference to the Latin Church." In this way, the title "Patriarch of the West," would describe the Bishop of Rome's special relationship with the Latin Church, and his special jurisdiction over her.
They admitted that "The title 'Patriarch of the West,' never very clear,” saying that “over history, [it] has become obsolete and practically unusable. It seems pointless, then, to insist on maintaining it.”
“Even more so now that the Catholic Church, with Vatican Council II, has found, in the form of episcopal conferences and their international meetings, the canonical structure best suited to the needs of the Latin Church today," the Council added.
The office concluded today‘s statement saying that "Abandoning the title of 'Patriarch of the West' clearly does not alter in any way the recognition of the ancient patriarchal Churches, so solemnly declared by Vatican Council II. ... The renouncement of this title aims to express a historical and theological reality, and at the same time, ... could prove useful to ecumenical dialogue."