In the end, the almost 2.000 congress participants give a standing ovation. The idea was so successful that the moderator even referred to it as a "historic podium" afterwards. With a "strategic alliance", the Russian Orthodox Church, together with the Catholics, wants to preserve the Christian identity of Europe, which, according to Metropolitan Hilarion at the weekend in Wurzburg, has lost its cultural and religious roots.
he head of the Moscow Patriarchate's foreign office spread his plan publicly for the first time at the World Church Congress of the Catholic relief organization "Church in Need" – much to the delight of the audience. A few days earlier, in the Russian capital, he had discussed the project with Cardinal Kurt Koch, the highest papal ecumenical representative, who had also come to Wurzburg.
Both read out prepared statements, initially delivered in communique style. Hilarion explained that it is necessary to consolidate the importance of traditional ideas of marriage and family as well as the value of human life from conception to death in society's consciousness. In the secular world, he said, these concepts are subject to radical reinterpretation. In addition, he said, the increasing discrimination and persecution of Christians must be countered together.
In his culture-fighting plea, the Moscow metropolitan completely exposed old points of contention between his church and Rome
Back: from the role of the pope to the problem of Eastern churches united with Rome to the still-simmering accusation of Catholic poaching of Orthodox believers. "Orthodox and Catholics today should not regard each other as rivals, but as allies for the protection of Christianity," he concluded his remarks.
The reaction of the Cardinal of the Curia to the recruitment attempt was differentiated. "Strategic alliance" sounds very military to Western European ears, Koch asserted an initial conceptual reservation; at the same time, however, he signaled agreement in principle. It is like parents who are happy about the birth of a child, but still have to discuss the name.
Koch's euphoric support for Hilarion's project is hindered not least by internal Catholic differences. These were reflected, for example, six weeks ago in the memorandum of more than 200 professors of theology, which, among other things, demanded respect for same-sex partnerships and an opening of the church office to women. In front of journalists, the cardinal later made no secret of his assessment: If the Catholic Church were to implement these demands, ecumenism with Orthodoxy would immediately come to an end.
Can a predominantly skeptical to dismissive attitude toward modernity be the basis of a new ecumenical movement?? This question was in the room at the end of the day. Tradition-conscious partners would also exist in the Anglican Church and Protestant denominations, such as the High Church movement in England or the Evangelical Alliance in Germany. Hilarion also has them in mind.
"We need to think about the process of liberalization of Christian doctrine, which has seized Protestant and also Catholic theology," the metropolitan said. The alliance he proposed was necessary to protect Christianity "from corruption and distortion". Progressive-minded theologians, not just evangelical ones, should have their ears ringing at these words.
It was meant as a consolation when the German "Church in Need" chairwoman Antonia Willemsen said at the end to the cardinal, who is worried about cohesion in his own ranks: "If the Catholic Church as a whole were like this audience, your problems would be much easier."