It is regrettable that the ancient and abiding roles of the Patriarchs of the Eastern Patriarchal Churches does not appear to have been acknowledged or included in the proposed constitution of this “council of cardinals”. It is not sufficient that a patriarch be offered the cardinalate so as to have access to the Bishop of Rome when he wishes to express concerns for his own Patriarchal Church. The patriarchs share a special bond with the Bishop of Rome whose ministries of witnessing and building unity for all the Churches is exercised as a supreme authority under Peter according to the canons of the Eastern and Western codes. Patriarchal Churches and their synodal governments are ancient while the vigilance exercised by a permanent “council of cardinals” cannot be said to be so, nor historically intended. The Universal Church is after all constituted East and West. The Latin Church alone is not the Universal Church so why the omission of patriarchs? Collegiality is nowhere more historically evident and supremely relevant than in relation to the Eastern Churches Catholic and Orthodox.
Collegiality is of the constitutional nature of the Universal Church. The Eastern Catholic Churches should function within an authentic autonomy, unhindered and un-mediated in their relationship to the Bishop of Rome in his exercise of the Petrine ministry. Patriarchs, eparchs and synods legitimately exercise their pastoral care as shepherds of the flock entrusted to them by Christ. This exercise of the tri-munera by patriarchs and eparchs should not be exercised or understood as a ‘concession’ under the vigilance of a Roman dicastery. They exercise catholic and apostolic ministry established and willed by Christ.
The acknowledgement of the importance of Patriarchal Churches is long overdue in the Universal Church and may hold the possibility to re-invigorate ancient customs and canons of the Eastern Churches. Were the importance and exercise of Patriarchal Churches to be restored within the Universal Church in relation to the Bishop of Rome as Supreme Pontiff new legislation could be drafted and inserted into the codes of canon law of the East and West. Such a restoration may hold great ecumenical opportunities for the Eastern Catholic Churches in their relations to the Orthodox Churches. In a decade that has seen savage attacks upon ancient Patriarchal Churches who have witnessed to Christ for centuries by their rich and diverse theological traditions a clearer and stronger voice would be welcome. There is a rich theology of marriage and its pastoral care that could also give nuance to our own Western practices. It is to be hoped that the conciliar teaching contained in Orientalium ecclesiarum will be re-examined in this Year of Faith so that the theological and liturgical treasury of all the Churches may be rediscovered.