The Holy Father and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow have, in the wake of their historic meeting in Cuba, released a joint declaration, which is, to a great extent, in the words of Fr. John Hunwicke, is “better than good.” We confess, however, that we are simply not sufficiently versed in matters touching upon the eastern churches in communion with Rome to judge these paragraphs:
24. Orthodox and Catholics are united not only by the shared Tradition of the Church of the first millennium, but also by the mission to preach the Gospel of Christ in the world today. This mission entails mutual respect for members of the Christian communities and excludes any form of proselytism.
We are not competitors but brothers, and this concept must guide all our mutual actions as well as those directed to the outside world. We urge Catholics and Orthodox in all countries to learn to live together in peace and love, and to be “in harmony with one another” (Rm 15:5). Consequently, it cannot be accepted that disloyal means be used to incite believers to pass from one Church to another, denying them their religious freedom and their traditions. We are called upon to put into practice the precept of the apostle Paul: “Thus I aspire to proclaim the gospel not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on another’s foundation” (Rm 15:20).
25. It is our hope that our meeting may also contribute to reconciliation wherever tensions exist between Greek Catholics and Orthodox. It is today clear that the past method of “uniatism”, understood as the union of one community to the other, separating it from its Church, is not the way to re–establish unity. Nonetheless, the ecclesial communities which emerged in these historical circumstances have the right to exist and to undertake all that is necessary to meet the spiritual needs of their faithful, while seeking to live in peace with their neighbours. Orthodox and Greek Catholics are in need of reconciliation and of mutually acceptable forms of co–existence.
26. We deplore the hostility in Ukraine that has already caused many victims, inflicted innumerable wounds on peaceful inhabitants and thrown society into a deep economic and humanitarian crisis. We invite all the parts involved in the conflict to prudence, to social solidarity and to action aimed at constructing peace. We invite our Churches in Ukraine to work towards social harmony, to refrain from taking part in the confrontation, and to not support any further development of the conflict.
27. It is our hope that the schism between the Orthodox faithful in Ukraine may be overcome through existing canonical norms, that all the Orthodox Christians of Ukraine may live in peace and harmony, and that the Catholic communities in the country may contribute to this, in such a way that our Christian brotherhood may become increasingly evident.
Our background is, as you may have guessed, Latin rite all the way down. Thus, we lack the framework to weigh this declaration appropriately. However, we imagine that some of these formulations will be puzzling to a Latin-rite Catholic, since it sure looks like the Pope of Rome has essentially said “hands off” as far as Orthodox Christians are concerned. We are sure that there are good and important reasons for such statements, but given the Roman Church’s historic articulation of its primacy (and 1870 isn’t all that long ago, really), it seems strange to a Latin-rite Catholic to see statements like this subscribed to by the Supreme Pontiff.
And, for all we know, it may be strange to an Eastern-rite Catholic to read these statements. For example, Gabriel Sanchez, of Opus Publicum, who knows quite a bit more about eastern matters than we do, posted at his blog a translation of a statement by Sviatoslav, patriarch of Kyiv-Halych and All Rus. (Sviatoslav is the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.) Because it appears that Sanchez obtained special permission to reproduce the translation, we will not quote it here, but we will urge you to read the whole thing there. While nice, ecumenical statements are pleasant business in Rome and Moscow and elsewhere, we dare say that this is deadly business for Patriarch Sviatoslav, and his words ought to be weighed carefully.