A joint commission of Orthodox and Catholic theologians has agreed that the Pope has primacy over all bishops, though disagreements about the extent of his authority still continue.
The Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue reached the agreement in a meeting in Ravenna, Italy last month, according to a document published Thursday.
The meeting from October 8 to October 15 was only the second since Catholic-Orthodox dialogue resumed in 2006 after a six-year break.
Pope Benedict has said that uniting all Christians and healing the split is a "fundamental" priority of his pontificate.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, who led the commission’s discussions, told Vatican Radio that "the real breakthrough is that for the first time the Orthodox were ready to speak about the universal level of the church" whereas in the past discussion is limited to the church on a local or regional level under a patriarch or archbishop.
Even more importantly “this means that there is also a Primate; according to the practice of the ancient Church, the first bishop is the bishop of Rome," Cardinal Kasper said.
The commission agreed "that the bishop of Rome was therefore the 'protos' among the patriarchs." "Protos" is an ancient Greek word meaning "first."
Acknowledging the difference of interpretation, the document noted disagreement "on the interpretation of the historical evidence from this era regarding the prerogatives of the bishop of Rome as 'protos."'
"While the fact of primacy at the universal level is accepted by both East and West, there are differences of understanding with regard to the manner in which it is to be exercised, and also with regard to its scriptural and theological foundations," the document continued.
The commission advised more in-depth study of the role of the Bishop of Rome--that is, the Pope--in communion with other churches.
The Russian Orthodox representative Bishop Illarion walked out of the meeting over a territorial dispute with a rival Orthodox Church. Bishop Illarion posted the final document on his website. However, he noted that the document's adoption in the absence of representatives of the Moscow Patriarch cast doubt over whether it could be considered to reflect Moscow's views. The website posting said Moscow would present its views after further analysis of the document.
The Catholic and Orthodox Churches were united until the Great Schism of 1054. The Joint Theological Commission is working to heal the split between the churches.