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Habemus Papam! Pope Benedict and the Struggle Against Militant Secularism

Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev

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On the evening of 19 April 2005 I gave a lecture at the Catholic Theological Faculty of the University of Fribourg (Switzerland). I began by saying a few words about Pope John Paul II and his strong opposition to the secularism, liberalism and relativism prevailing in modern Europe. In speaking about the current onslaught of militant secularism, which was the main subject of my lecture, I insisted on the necessity for Catholics and Orthodox in Europe to form a common front against it and to create a pan-European alliance of traditional Christianity in order to defend spiritual values. Concluding my lecture, I expressed my hope that the new Pope, whom the Conclave was to elect, would be as active an opponent of secularism and liberalism as was John Paul II.

As soon as I finished, the Dean of the Faculty, Professor Barbara Hallensleben, took the floor in order to announce the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Benedict XVI, the 265th Pope of Rome. All participants at the meeting rose in order to thank the Lord for this election and to say 'Our Father' together.

What do I, as an Orthodox bishop living and serving in Europe, expect from the new pontificate?

First of all, that the Catholic Church continues to preserve its traditional doctrinal and moral teaching without surrendering to pressures from the 'progressive' groups that demand the ordination of women, the approval of the so-called 'same-sex marriages', abortion, contraception, euthanasia etc. There is no doubt that Benedict XVI, who has already made his positions on these issues clear, will continue to oppose such groups, which exist both within the Catholic Church and outside it.

Secondly, I hope that the new pontificate is marked by a breakthrough in relations between the Roman Catholic and the Russian Orthodox Churches, and that a meeting of the Pope of Rome with the Patriarch of Moscow does take place. This meeting must be preceded by concrete steps in the direction of a better mutual understanding, and by careful elaboration of a common position on major dividing issues.

I hope, next, that there will be a general amelioration in the relations between the Catholic Church and the world Orthodoxy. In 2000 I represented the Moscow Patriarchate at the session of the Joint Catholic-Orthodox Theological Commission, which discussed the question of Uniatism. No agreement on this issue was reached, and the discussion, which was full of frustration, disappointment and bitterness on both sides, ended without a clear decision as to whether the work of the commission would ever be resumed. I hope that under the new pontificate the commission starts again, or that a new commission for bilateral dialogue is formed in order to discuss Uniatism, primacy and other theological and ecclesiological questions which still divide our churches.

The work of the bilateral commission will not be an easy one and is likely to continue for many years to come. My fear, however, is that by concentrating exclusively on the dividing issues we are likely to lose precious time that could be used for a common witness to the secularized world. Europe, in particular, has so rapidly dechristianized that urgent action is needed in order to save it from losing its centuries-old Christian identity. I strongly believe that the time has come for Catholics and Orthodox to unite their efforts and to defend traditional Christianity, which is being attacked from all sides. In twenty, thirty of forty years it may simply be too late.

This is precisely why I propose that a European Catholic-Orthodox Alliance is formed in order for the official representatives of the two churches to be able to elaborate a common position on all major social and ethical issues, and to speak with one voice. There is already the Conference of European Churches, where the Orthodox work together with Protestants; there is the COMECE, where Catholics discuss matters of pan-European importance among themselves. But where is there a common Catholic-Orthodox forum? There are so many striking similarities in our social and ethical doctrine: why can we not reveal them urbi et orbi?

Perhaps it will be Benedict XVI who will accomplish the historic mission of bringing Catholics and Orthodox together for the defence of Christianity against the challenge of militant secularism.

Bishop Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Vienna and Austria is the representative of the Russian Orthodox Church to the European Institutions.

Read this article on the Orthodox Europe website (new window will open).

Posted: 22-Apr-05

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