Fr Richard Mcrien talks of Fr. Taft and his ecumenical work:
Father Robert Taft, however, did not need a papal reminder of Catholicism’s global dimensions. He has devoted his adult life, his priestly ministry, and his scholarly career to the building of bridges between Eastern and Western Christianity. In appreciation for his efforts, he has been honored by Eastern Catholics, and by Orthodox and separated Oriental Christians alike — not by all Orthodox, to be sure, but certainly by those with a capacity for objective self-criticism.
In his report to the New England Jesuits ten years ago, Father Taft spoke of various theological issues that the 34th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus addressed through the work of his committee.
The first concerned a “rediscovered communion ecclesiology of collegiality and co-responsibility.” This means that the church is not an absolute monarchy under the headship of the pope, but rather a community of local churches, or dioceses, each of which is the Body of Christ in their own locale and together constitute the universal church.
The challenge is always to balance somehow the need to maintain the unity of the whole church (a traditional emphasis of the West) with equal regard for the autonomy of the local churches (a traditional emphasis in the East).
Father Taft pointed out that, if John Paul II’s understanding of the “two lungs” were really taken to heart, it would mean that “the church is no longer [to be] identified with the pope, the Vatican, the hierarchy — nor should it be.”
A second issue concerned the renewed theology of the Petrine ministry itself in the light of modern New Testament scholarship, the documents of Vatican II, ecumenical contacts with the East, and various historical studies.
The papacy of the First Christian Millennium did, in fact, “breathe with two lungs,” while the papacy of the Second breathed, for the most part, with only one.
A third issue had to do with the hierarchical magisterium. “Anyone who knows church history,” Father Taft noted, “could bring forward numerous irrefutably documented historical instances of clear and authoritative supreme magisterial pronouncements to which no one would dream of assenting today.”
Finally, regarding the concept of authority as such, Taft insisted that “the only absolute authority in the church…is that of God.”
Indeed, if we feel free today to criticize the unjust and sometimes criminal behavior of popes and bishops in the past, “it is only because they were criminal and unjust while they were alive; they did not become so only after death.”
“Two lungs” indeed.