Thursday, September 13, 2007

Daniel, the Friendly Patriarch

It's no secret that among Benedict XVI's top priorities -- both for reasons ad intra and ad extra, and reflecting his personal affinities -- is a better state of relations with the Orthodox world. Ergo, the Eastward-reaching pontiff is likely smiling today at the choice of a top ecumenist to head Orthodoxy's second largest branch.

Forty-four days after the death of Patriarch Teoctist, the synod of the Romanian church elected its second-ranking prelate, Metropolitan Daniel of Moldavia, as its new leader "for a new age" last night in Bucharest. The sixth patriarch of all Romania, 56, won on the second round with 88 votes, trouncing the octogenarian Metropolitan Bartolomeu, a protege of the leadership group that, in decades past, sought coexistence with the nation's authoritarian regimes.

Born Daniel Ciubotea, local reports said that the winner spent "the worst" of the Ceausescu regime in the West, where his ecumenical commitment reportedly took root during his studies at Catholic and Protestant institutions in the US. Last week, Daniel hosted Europe's highest-profile ecumenical gathering in a decade in the Romanian city of Sibiu, where the Catholic delegation was headed by Cardinals Walter Kasper, the Holy See's Christian unity czar, and the Hungarian Peter Erdo, head of the continent's mega-conference of bishops.

Addressing the Sibiu gathering, Kasper took a curious stance in the wake of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's recent statement on Catholicism's place at the table, saying that Christianity's various branches can air their differences "without being controversial or restrictive."

"Instead of converging at the lowest common denominator," the German cardinal said, "we can enrich each other with the heritage that we have been given." He went on to note that, in releasing the CDF statement the Holy See "did not mean to hurt anyone" and that remaining ecumenical differences "have dimmed the light of Jesus Christ for many people."

Seen as the candidate of the synod's Western-influenced "reformist" arm, Daniel is, like Joseph Ratzinger, an academic theologian with a professorial background in the discipline. He's also acquired a reputation for being media-savvy, having founded a radio station in Moldavia. Already, expectations on the ground are that an "Orthodox TV" network will be rolled out under his patronage.

With close to 20 million members around the world, the Romanian church is Orthodoxy's second-largest branch behind the 85 million communicants of the Moscow patriarchate.

In a post-election press conference moments after the balloting wrapped, Daniel began his media push, offering his wish that the church's activities be made "famous" and pledging "more information" about "every aspect" of its life.

Currently the church's interim head, the incoming patriarch will be formally installed on 30 September.

AP/Vadim Ghirda