The Eastern Orthodox-Roman Catholic dialogue team of bishops and theologians has issued a statement of agreement on the sacrament of marriage.
The statement stressed fundamental agreement on doctrinal issues but noted that the Orthodox Church, unlike the Catholic Church, permits divorce and "tolerates" remarriage.
The document was signed by the 22 members of the official dialogue group of the two churches, including the consultation cochairmen - Arch-bishop Iakovos, primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of the Americas and Cardinal William Baum of Washington - following a two-day meeting at the Greek Orthodox Arch-diocese offices here.
The statement also declares: "By sanctifying the marriage bond, the church affirms a permanent commitment to personal union." It notes, however, that the Orthodox Church permits divorces after it exhausts all possible efforts to save the marriage and tolerates remarriages in order to save "further human tragedies."
The Roman Catholic Church, the document explains, often investigates failed marriages "to uncover whether there exists some initial defect in the marriage covenant which would render the marriage invalid," thus permitting the freedom to remarry again in the church.
The statement also notes that the Orthodox Church accepts as a sacramental marriage only those married by an Orthodox priest, while the Catholic Church in exceptional cases, does recognize a sacramental marriage entered into without the witness of an ordained Catholic priest.
The document concludes by stressing that differences between the two churches pertained "more to the level of secondary theological reflection than to that of dogma," or the doctrine of marriage.
The consultation was the 19th meeting of the Eastern Orthodox-Roman Catholic dialogue group, which has published previous agreements on ordained ministry and the sacraments of baptism and eucharist.
The Rev. J. Peter Sheehan, who represents the U.S. Catholic Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs on the Orthodox-Roman Catholic consultation, reported that the two churches are on the threshold of forming an international commission to study the question of papal primacy and jurisdiction.
Sheehan said that the question of papal jurisdiction was the "only fundamental issue" preventing full union between the two churches. "We are steadily moving in the direction of reuniting a once undivided church," he said.