Monday, February 15, 2016

Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill Release Statement

On February 12th, Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill met in Havana, Cuba to heal a thousand year-old rift between their respective churches, Voice of America reports. According to USA Today, the meeting is the first time heads of the two churches have come together since the Great Schism of 1054, when eastern and western Mediterranean Christians split apart.

Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill have since released a joint statement encouraging unity of purpose between Catholics and Orthodox believers. The statement addresses urgent issues facing the two religious communities, such as persecution of religious minorities in Iraq and Syria, the Syrian refugee crisis, and armed conflict in Ukraine.

The attention that Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill have given to these humanitarian crisis is noble. However, their comments about other social issues suggest that the two leaders still hold narrow-minded opinions on secularism and LGBTQ issues.

First, the statement contains language about supposed affronts to religious freedom in secular countries that sounds very similar to that of the American Religious Right. Paragraph 15 laments the alleged "restrictions to religious freedom" that Christians endure in secular countries.
"At the same time, we are concerned about the situation in many countries in which Christians are increasingly confronted by restrictions to religious freedom, to the right to witness to one’s convictions and to live in conformity with them. In particular, we observe that the transformation of some countries into secularized societies, estranged from all reference to God and to His truth, constitutes a grave threat to religious freedom.  It is a source of concern for us that there is a current curtailment of the rights of Christians, if not their outright discrimination, when certain political forces, guided by an often very aggressive secularist ideology, seek to relegate them to the margins of public life."
The statement also indirectly devalues same-sex marriage. Paragraph 20 complains that "other forms of cohabitation" are receiving the same respect as opposite sex marriage, and that gender roles in marriage are being "banished from the public conscience". Given Patriarch Kirill's offensive comments about LGBTQ persons, as well as Pope Francis' failure to bring about meaningful policy change on LGBTQ matters in the Catholic Church, this should not surprise us.

"The family is based on marriage, an act of freely given and faithful love between a man and a woman. It is love that seals their union and teaches them to accept one another as a gift. Marriage is a school of love and faithfulness. We regret that other forms of cohabitation have been placed on the same level as this union, while the concept, consecrated in the biblical tradition, of paternity and maternity as the distinct vocation of man and woman in marriage is being banished from the public conscience."
Much to my amusement, the statement urged Catholic and Orthodox Christians to raise their children in the same religious faith that they received from their parents. Perhaps the Catholic and Orthodox churches are losing so many members that they desperately want the next generation of believers to stay in the faith.

"God loves each of you and expects you to be His disciples and apostles. Be the light of the world so that those around you may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:14, 16). Raise your children in the Christian faith, transmitting to them the pearl of great price that is the faith (cf. Mt 13:46) you have received from your parents and forbears. Remember that “you have been purchased at a great price” (1 Cor 6:20), at the cost of the death on the cross of the Man–God Jesus Christ."
What really brought Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill together for this historic meeting? Was it the realization that good relations between the churches would help them address global challenges such as war, religious persecution, and refugees? Was it the cessation of Cold War-era tensions between the two religious communities? Was it political opportunism on Russia's part? Or was it the fact that both religious traditions are losing members and facing real challenges to their authority and teachings?

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

NPR: Pope Francis Meets Head Of Russian Orthodox Church In Havana

Religion News Service: Putin may benefit from meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill

Pew Research Center: Concern for Christians in the Middle East helps drive historic meeting between Catholic, Orthodox leaders

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