The New Pope

An Orthodox View


It struck me, watching the coverage of John Paul II’s death and the election of Joseph Ratzinger as Benedict XVI, that non-Catholics were generally more inclined to praise the late pope and to feel somewhat welcoming toward his successor than many Catholics were. There are good reasons for both the positive and the wary-if not downright negative-reactions. John Paul II did more to reach out to Jews, Muslims, and Eastern Orthodox Christians than any of his predecessors. Of course, his way was paved by John XXIII and Paul VI, but his achievement was nevertheless undeniable. As an Orthodox, I can say that the openness demonstrated in Ut unum sint was appreciated by at least some Orthodox. The French Orthodox theologian Olivier Clement published a cordial response in You Are Peter (New City Press, 2003). I am sorry that John Paul’s relationship with the Moscow Patriarchate was not a good one, but it wasn’t helped by Rome’s insensitive creation of new dioceses in Russia, done without consulting a church she called, at times, a “sister.” That’s no way to treat family. Still, John Paul’s relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate were much better, and his desire for reconciliation genuine, even if he seems often not to have understood the Orthodox point of view. That genuineness was what non-Catholics appreciated, as they appreciated his role-a major one-in the fall of communism. There is little doubt that Benedict XVI,...

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About the Author

John Garvey is an Orthodox priest and columnist for Commonweal. His most recent book is Seeds of the Word: Orthodox Thinking on Other Religions.