A communiqué issued today by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity clarifies that with this renouncement, the Pope hopes to promote ecumenical dialogue.
News of the omission of the title "Patriarch of the West" in the 2006 Pontifical Yearbook was published Feb. 19 by journalist Arcangelo Paglialunga in the Gazzetino di Venezia.
Subsequent comments by observers prompted a need for "a clarification," according to the president of the pontifical council, Cardinal Walter Kasper.
In a message to ZENIT, Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Vienna and Austria, a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church to the European Institutions, had requested a clarification by the Vatican dicastery.
The clarification explains that the title "Patriarch of the West" was introduced in the East, in the ambit of the imperial ecclesiastical system of Justinian (527-565), alongside the four Eastern patriarchates: Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem.
However, it adds, in Rome this title was not used, favoring "the idea of the three Petrine episcopal sees: Rome, Alexandria and Antioch."
No clear meaning
Without using the title "Patriarch of the West," the statement says, "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."
It continues: "The title 'Patriarch of the West' was used in the year 642 by Pope Theodore I. Thereafter it appeared only occasionally and did not have a clear meaning. It flourished in the 16th and 17th 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."
In fact, the note clarifies, in today’s cultural context the term "West" includes North America, Australia and New Zealand.
"Obviously, this meaning of the term 'West' does not try to describe an ecclesiastical territory, and cannot be used as the definition of a patriarchal territory," the Vatican statement observes.
The document adds that "the title 'Patriarch of the West,' never very clear, over history has become obsolete and practically unusable."
The text stresses that "Abandoning the title 'Patriarch of the West' clearly does not alter in any way the recognition of the ancient patriarchal Churches, so solemnly declared by the Second Vatican Council."
It adds: "The renouncement of this title aims to express a historical and theological reality, and at the same time could prove useful to ecumenical dialogue."