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Pope Benedict drops one of his nine titles

Written by: Staff
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VATICAN CITY, Mar 1 (Reuters) Pope Benedict has dropped one of his nine official titles, giving up ''Patriarch of the West'' in a discreet step apparently intended to help promote closer ties with the Orthodox churches of the East.

Benedict will retain titles such as Vicar of Jesus Christ and Servant of the Servants of God, but the patriarch title will not appear in the Vatican's annual directory due out later this month, Roman Catholic Church officials said today.

The Pope has stressed his desire to improve ties with the Orthodox churches, which split from Rome in 1054, and a Vatican aide said scrapping the patriarch title was meant to help that.

''In the past, the patriarchate of the West was contrasted with that of the East,'' Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, former head of the Vatican office for eastern rite churches, told the Italian news agency ANSA.

''I think the Pope wanted to remove this sort of contrast and his act is intended as a spur to ecumenical progress.'' Some Vatican observers were not so sure this would help.

The daily Corriere della Sera said the Orthodox churches ''could see this papal innovation ... as an indirect affirmation of himself as a 'universal patriarch'.'' Vatican relations with the Russian Orthodox Church, the largest of these churches, have been strained because the Moscow hierarchy suspects the Catholic Church of trying to win new members there following the fall of communism in 1991.

Orthodox leaders could see the move as a Vatican bid to ignore geography and rise above the ancient structure of Christianity as centred in the five main patriarchates of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem.

Rome is the centre of the Roman Catholic Church while Istanbul, the former Constantinople, is home of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, symbolic head of the Orthodox churches. The others play much lesser roles in Christian affairs.

Benedict will visit Bartholomew in Istanbul in November.

The Pope's remaining eight titles are Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Roman Province, Sovereign of Vatican City and Servant of the Servants of God.

REUTERS SRS RN2322

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