There is to be sure a pervasive anti-Catholic mentality among Orthodox Christians. Denying this is pointless and foolish and I have called Orthodox Christians on it both publicly and privately. But identifying a problem is easier than understanding its causes. My pastoral experience suggests to me that while anti-Catholic rhetoric can reflect a lack of charity, it more often is rooted in theological/historical illiteracy.
That said, I don’t think that Orthodox anti-Catholicism is institutional . While individual Orthodox Christians–laity and clergy–are guilty of this sin, it is not the Orthodox Church as such which is anti-Catholic anymore than the Catholic Church as such is responsible for say the sacking of Constantinople (to pull an Orthodox favorite).
So yes, there is a pervasive anti-Catholic mentality among the Orthodox. But in a conversation about the theological differences between our two Churches this is a red herring. I do think that the psychological question of various attitudes of Orthodox Christians toward Roman Catholics is an important one–as is, by the way, the diversity of not always irenic Catholic attitudes toward the Orthodox–but it seems to me that we must be careful to not mix psychological and theological questions.
I do think that while Catholics are right to object to much of the rhetorical excesses of Orthodox apologists, they are often unaware of how not simply individual Catholics, but official Catholic policy have contributed to the hard feelings. Let me explain.
Currently I serve as a priest in the Orthodox Church in America. As deacon I served in the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of Johnstown. In many ways, these jurisdictions are very different not only in their liturgical and ascetical practice but also their own internal ethos. They share however a common historical foundation in the experience of those Greek Catholics who lived in America in the late 19th and ealry 20th centuries. Central to this experience was the often hostile response of Roman Catholic bishops and lower clergy to Greek Catholics clergy and laity.
Among contemporary Byzantine Catholics stories of enforced Latinization of Greek Catholic parishes by unsympathetic Latin rite bishops are still told. The memories of past injustices are still fresh. These injustices include not only the imposition of alien liturgical customs and practices but the denial of Holy Communion to Greek Catholic clergy wives in (Latin rite) Catholic hospitals and the denial of admission to (Latin rite) Catholic parochial schools of the children of the Greek Catholic clergy.
Psychologically and historically one of the most prominent injustices committed by Latin rite Catholics against their Greek Catholic brethern is Archbishop John Ireland‘s refusal to allow Fr Alexis Toth to serve the Carpatho-Russian Catholic faithful in Minneapolis, MN. Archbishop Ireland’s justification for this was that Toth was a married (albeit, widowed) priest. What made Ireland’s refusal so noteworthy is that it was that he did so in direct contradiction to the canonical rights of both Fr Toth and the Greek Catholic community. Eventually, Toth and tens of thousands of Greek Catholics would leave the Catholic Church and join the Orthodox Church forming the nucleus of what is now the Orthodox Church in America (in 1994, “Protopresbyter Alexis Toth was glorified as St. Alexis of Wilkes-Barre). But this sad chapter did not end the conflict between Latin rite and Greek rite Catholics in America.
In the 1920’s, and again in violation of the canonical rights of their own Greek Catholic faithful in America, Rome suppressed the ordination of married men to the priesthood. This lead in time to the creation of what is today the Carpatho-Russian American Orthodox Diocese of Johnstown under Bishop (and later, Metropolitan) Orestes (Chornock).
None of this ancient history either for ethnic Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Christians in America. Nor is it ancient history for their Byzantine Catholic counterparts who share not only a common history here in America but often blood ties. Sadly, this history is too little known by Catholics outside these circles. This is unfortunate because while it does not justify the misrepresentation of Catholic doctrine or practice, does go a long way to helping us understand at least one stream of Orthodox anti-Catholicism.
Fr Alexander Schmemann was an Orthodox observer at the Second Vatican Council. His thoughts on the Council can summarize what is the commonly held complaint by both Orthodox and Byzantine Catholics against Rome.
Responding to Council’s Decree on the Eastern Catholic Churches (Orientalium Ecclesiarum),Schmemann writes, “The Orthodox appreciate, to be sure, the efforts made in these last years by some spiritual leaders of these communities to represent and voice within the Roman Catholic Church the Eastern tradition as a whole, efforts which were especially obvious at the Council itself and which no doubt greatly contributed to the basic orientation of the present Decree. ” He goes on to describe the document as a whole as “positive, irenic, and constructive’ (Response to Decree on Eastern Catholic Churches).
Nevertheless, he has several “important reservations” about the document.
First of all, the Decree seems to “take for granted” and to perpetuate the reduction of the differences between the East and the West to the sole area of rites, discipline, and “way of life.” But it is precisely this reduction which forms the basis of “uniatism” that the Orthodox reject, for they affirm that the liturgical and canonical tradition of the East cannot be isolated from doctrinal principles which it implies and which constitute the real issue between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.
Finally, one word about the communicalio in sacris. In regard to this painful and complex problem, the Decree shows great tact and caution. An Orthodox commentator must stress, however, that even a partial solution of this problem must be a bilateral action and that, given its crucial importance, it must express, on the Orthodox side, the consensus of all Orthodox Churches.
The decree solemnly proclaims the equality of the Eastern tradition yet, at the same time, formulates and regulates it in terms of a Western and even juridical ecclesiology hardly adequate to its spirit and orientations. To a great degree it remains thus a Latin text about the Eastern tradition. The institution of Patriarchates, for example, is not only given an importance it does not have, in fact, in the Eastern Church, but is also defined as a personal jurisdiction of the Patriarch over other bishops, which is alien to the Eastern canonical tradition, where the Patriarch or any other Primate is always a primus inter pares.
To use a modern idiom, the Latin Council fathers, and Roman Catholics in general, just don’t get it–“it” being the Christian East, Orthodox and Catholic.
Recently I wrote in a comment on another blog (Called to Communion), where I said that I acknowledged that many Protestant inquirers to the Orthodox Church come wanting a polemical presentation of the Gospel. This is understandable because it is what they know. It is also one of things that Fr Seraphim Rose warned about–the tendency of Protestant converts to bring into the Orthodox Church their spiritual baggage. Sadly, as one Greek Old Calendar bishop told me, that too many converts to the Orthodox Church see in Orthodoxy a chance to vindicate, at least in part, the Reformation and their own animus toward the Church of Rome. Pastorally this is simply a reality and one which sober spiritual fathers work to heal in their spiritual children.
One cannot fully understand Orthodox anti-Catholic rhetoric without first understanding the real harm Roman Catholics have caused in their mistreatment of Byzantine Catholics. Too often Latin rite Catholics have acted unilaterally in matters that effect both Latin and Byzantine Catholics or Catholic and Orthodox Christians.
So what can be done? I will look at that in my next post. Until then your constructive thoughts are welcome.
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