EWTN Catholic Q&A
Question from James Sas on 08-14-2008:

What are the significant differences that prevent the Eastern and Western Catholic Churches from uniting into one? Are both sides striving towards a reunification?

Answer by Fr. Thomas Loya on 10-24-2008:

Glory to Jesus Christ!


Perhaps the greatest difference between the East and West is their respective ecclesiologies. In the Church there is what we call "universal" and "local" jurisdiction in terms of Church structure and functioning. In other words there are offices like the Papacy or in the case of the East a "Patriarchate." But there is also the local bishops and priests together with the laity.

In the Roman Catholic Church there is a stonger emphasis on the Universal jurisdiction where the validity of each clergy and layperson, diocese and monastery is based on their unity with the Pope of Rome. In the East, validity of something does not have to go further than the respective Patriarch or Major Archbishop. The East puts more emphasis on a more "local" ecclesiology. The reason why this is such a big difference between the east and west is because the East fears that that if they reunite with Rome that Rome will exert an authority upon the Eastern Churches that the East believes the Pope does not really have. Conversely, without a more "universal" jurisdiction the Roman Church fears a certain lack of cohesiveness in the East in terms of Church teaching or statements especially on moral issues.

There are other issues that need to be worked out as well such as the theology of the sacrament of marriage. In the West there is greater emphasis on the convenant made between the bride and groom where the ordained minster is a witness. In the west there is also the practice of the annulment process in the case of a marriage that fails. In the East the validity of a marriage is based upon the reception of the blessing of the priest (the Church) upon the couple. The Eastern Orthodox Churches do not use the annulment process.

--Fr. Thomas J. Loya, STB., MA.