Pope gave up title to help dialogue-Vatican
VATICAN CITY, Mar 22 (Reuters) Pope Benedict dropped the title ''Patriarch of the West'' from his list of honorifics because it was outdated and removing it could help dialogue with other Christian churches, the Vatican said today.
The title did not appear in the 2006 edition of the Roman Catholic Church's annual directory early this month. Lacking any explanation, Vatican observers asked if this was a gesture to Orthodox churches Benedict wants to work more closely with.
''Renouncing this title is an act of historical and theological realism,'' the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity said in its first official statement on the move. ''Giving up the claim to this title could help ecumenical dialogue.'' The title was not clearly defined geographically in 642, when Pope Theodore I took it to distinguish his responsibility for western Christianity from that of the eastern patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem.
''The term 'the West' refers now to a cultural context not only in Western Europe but also extending from the United States to Australia and New Zealand,'' it said. ''Obviously, this meaning of 'the West' cannot refer to a Church territory.'' The statement indicated that the change did not mean the Pope was making any new claims, for example as a kind of ''universal patriarch,'' nor did it imply any less respect for patriarchs in other parts of the Christian world.
By making clear the title only referred to the historical Catholic Church in Western Europe as opposed to the Orthodox churches in Eastern Europe, the statement implied that scrapping it could also help Vatican relations with Protestant churches.
Benedict made ecumenical cooperation a top priority for his papacy after being elected last April. He has stressed closer ties to the Orthodox churches and has met Protestant leaders and discussed ways for further cooperation.
Vatican relations with the Russian Orthodox Church, the largest of the Orthodox 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.
But Russian Patriarch Alexiy II said in a letter to Benedict released last week that he hoped for a ''rapid resolution'' to the problems between the two churches.
Benedict plans to meet Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, symbolic head of all Orthodox churches, in Istanbul in November.
After dropping ''patriarch of the West,'' Benedict still has eight titles after his name -- 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 PG KN2150