In a speech during a meeting with Pope Tawadros II, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, and other Coptic Orthodox representatives on May 11, 2023, Pope Francis announced that the Coptic Orthodox martyrs killed by ISIS in 2015 will be added to the Catholic Church’s official list of saints. / Credit: Vatican Media

Vatican City, Jun 14, 2023 / 13:17 pm (CNA).

Catholic-Orthodox relations took a step forward this month with the publication of the first joint statement in seven years.

The document said Pope Francis’ hope for a synodal Church promotes “a more effective synodality,” which could eventually bring the Catholic and Orthodox Churches closer together on the issue.

It also quoted Pope Francis’ words in the 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, that “in the dialogue with our Orthodox brothers and sisters, we Catholics have the opportunity to learn more about the meaning of episcopal collegiality and their experience of synodality.”

The joint statement, on “Synodality and Primacy in the Second Millenium,” gives an overview of the history of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches from the Great Schism of 1054 to today.

According to the statement, it “strives to give as far as possible a common reading of that history, and it gives Orthodox and Roman Catholics a welcome opportunity to explain themselves to one another at various points along the way.”

The document concludes by “drawing lessons from the history that has been surveyed,” including that “major issues complicate an authentic understanding of synodality and primacy in the Church.”

“The Church is not properly understood as a pyramid, with a primate governing from the top, but neither is it properly understood as a federation of self-sufficient Churches,” the statement says.

“Our historical study of synodality and primacy in the second millennium has shown the inadequacy of both of these views,” it continues. “Similarly, it is clear that for Roman Catholics synodality is not merely consultative, and for Orthodox primacy is not merely honorific.”

The theological dialogue commission released the joint statement following its 15th plenary session in Alexandria, Egypt, June 1–7.

Ten Orthodox Churches were represented at the meeting, which was attended by 18 Catholic commission members.

The previous joint statement of the commission, which was published in 2016 after a meeting in Chieti, Italy, examined the state of the Christian Church in the first millennium after Christ.

“Today,” the 2023 document says, “there is an increasing effort to promote synodality at all levels in the Roman Catholic Church. There is also a willingness to distinguish what might be termed the patriarchal ministry of the pope within the Western or Latin Church from his primatial service with regard to the communion of all the Churches, offering new opportunities for the future.”

The joint statement called for Roman Catholics and Orthodox to continue along a path of dialogue in charity in order to come to an authentic understanding of synodality and primacy “in light of the ‘theological principles, canonical provisions, and liturgical practices (Chieti, 21)’ of the undivided Church of the first millennium.”