Ultimate authority is the major impediment to Christian unity, greater than the real and profound differences between churches regarding priestly celibacy and the ordination of women, says the longtime ecumenical officer for the Episcopal Diocese of New York.

"Obviously, our Lord is the final authority, but the question of how we perceive God's will for us is not an easy thing," said the Rev. Paul Clayton Jr., speaking Jan. 22 during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

The Catholic Church has spent one and a half millennia developing the doctrine that gives universal and immediate jurisdiction to the bishop of Rome, he said, while Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran and Protestant churches make decisions through the action of councils and reject papal claims.

"I believe the basic ecumenical question now is how we take up (Blessed) John Paul II's challenge to find a common vision of primacy in the Church," he said.