Vatican to publish new document on papal primacy

Pope Francis Pope Francis waves to the crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square to hear his Angelus address on Sunday, June 9, 2024. | Credit: Vatican Media

The Vatican will publish a study document on papal primacy and ecumenism on Thursday that will contain proposals “for a renewed exercise of the bishop of Rome’s ministry of unity” recognized by all Christians.

The document, titled “The Bishop of Rome: Primacy and Synodality in Ecumenical Dialogue and Responses to the Encyclical Ut Unum Sint,” will be released on June 13 with the approval of Pope Francis. 

The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Promotion of Christian Unity put together the study document to summarize the ecumenical dialogue that has occurred on the question of papal primacy and synodality in the past 30 years.

In particular, the document includes responses by different Christian communities to Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical on Christian unity, Ut Unum Sint (“That They All May Be One”).

According to the Holy See Press Office, the document “concludes with a proposal from the dicastery identifying the most significant suggestions put forward for a renewed exercise of the bishop of Rome’s ministry of unity ‘recognized by one and all.’”

Ut Unum Sint says that the bishop of Rome as the successor of the Apostle Peter has a “specific duty” to work for the cause of Christian unity. 

The encyclical acknowledges that “the Catholic Church’s conviction that in the ministry of the bishop of Rome she has preserved, in fidelity to the apostolic tradition and the faith of the Fathers, the visible sign and guarantor of unity, constitutes a difficulty for most other Christians, whose memory is marked by certain painful recollections.” 

It notes that the “primacy of the bishop of Rome has now become a subject of study” in the Church’s dialogue with other Christian communities.

In his encyclical John Paul II wrote: “As bishop of Rome I am fully aware, as I have reaffirmed in the present encyclical letter, that Christ ardently desires the full and visible communion of all those communities in which, by virtue of God’s faithfulness, his Spirit dwells.”

“I am convinced that I have a particular responsibility in this regard, above all in acknowledging the ecumenical aspirations of the majority of the Christian communities and in heeding the request made of me to find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation,” the pontiff said.

“It is out of a desire to obey the will of Christ truly that I recognize that as bishop of Rome I am called to exercise that ministry. I insistently pray the Holy Spirit to shine his light upon us, enlightening all the pastors and theologians of our Churches, that we may seek — together, of course — the forms in which this ministry may accomplish a service of love recognized by all concerned,” he added.

The Polish pope invited Christian leaders and theologians to “to engage with me in a patient and fraternal dialogue on this subject.”

Notably absent from the 1995 encyclical is the word “synodality,” which appears to be one of the novelties in the Vatican’s new study document.

The Vatican will hold a press conference featuring Anglican and Armenian representatives to discuss the new papal primacy document on June 13.

Cardinal Mario Grech, the secretary-general of the General Secretariat of the Synod, will join Cardinal Kurt Koch, the prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, in presenting the study document at the press conference.

Ian Ernest, the director of the Anglican Center in Rome and personal representative of the archbishop of Canterbury to the Holy See, will join the conference remotely via video link as will Khajag Barsamian, the Armenian Apostolic Church’s representative to the Holy See.

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