PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN UNITY
Introductory Report of the President
Cardinal Walter Kasper
In the two years since the last Plenary held in November 2001, the PCPCU has continued, in accordance with its mandate, to encourage and promote ecumenism, “as it is understood by the Church” (cf. Christus Dominus 16), on the basis of Catholic principles formulated by the Second Vatican Council in the Decree Unitatis redintegratio [UR] and often developed by the Holy Father, particularly in the Encyclical Ut unum sint [UUS] in 1995. The juridical principles of this mandate can be found in the Code of Canon Law [CIC], in the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches [CCEO], in the constitution Pastor bonus (1988) and in the Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism (1993).
In line with this responsibility, the PCPCU does not shape an ecumenism to its own liking, nor does it seek to impose it as it pleases. The Dicastery is bound to undertake the mission that Jesus entrusted to his disciples on the eve of his death (Jn 17,21) and acts on behalf of the Church, which – as often highlighted by the Holy Father – has chosen irrevocably the ecumenical path inaugurated by the Second Vatican Council. Unity is a fundamental concept of the New and Old Testaments, as well as of the profession of faith of the Church. Indeed, we profess the one God, the one Lord Jesus Christ, the one Spirit, the one baptism, and the one Church (cf. Ef 4,4–6). For this reason, ecumenism is not simply an appendix added on to the pastoral mission of the Church, but pertains intrinsically to its life and action (UUS 9; 20); the Second Vatican Council includes it among its principal tasks (UR 1), and it is one of the pastoral priorities of the current pontificate (UUS 99). The path of ecumenism is the path of the Church (UUS 7).
The promotion of the unity of Christians is the task both of an ecumenism ad extra – that involving dialogue with the Churches and Ecclesial Communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church – and of an ecumenism ad intra, that is, the promotion and dissemination of the ecumenical spirit and action within the Catholic Church itself. The latter involves, for example, encounters with bishops and episcopal conferences, particularly within the framework of ad limina visits, as well as various visits and conferences aimed at widening understanding and encouraging the ecumenical commitment within the local context.
The ecumenism promoted both ad intra and ad extra is not just any sort of ecumenism. It is ecumenism in truth and in love: in no way can it be achieved at the cost of truth (UR 11; UUS 18, 36). Its declared aim is the visible unity of the Church in the faith, in the sacraments, above all in the shared celebration of the Eucharist, and in the ministry (UR 2; UUS 9). Both the theological basis and the scope of ecumenism qualitatively distinguish ecumenical dialogue from interreligious dialogue. The latter is not a broader type of ecumenism or a macro–ecumenism, but a dialogue based on mutual human and religious respect, with the view to attaining a deeper understanding in terms of friendship and collaboration.
During the last Plenary in 2001, we attempted to clarify our aim through reference to the biblical and patristic concept of communio within the context of the Catholic ecclesiology of communion. This fundamental concept has been the underlying basis of our work over the last two years. In this Plenary, we hope to deepen reflection on this concept through reference to the spirituality of communion, as it has been presented by the Holy Father in his vision of the third millennium and in his Apostolic Letter Novo millennio ineunte (particularly nos. 43–45) (2001).
II. The Ecumenical Situation: Lights and Shadows
1. If it is true that our mission has remained the same over the last two years, it is also true that the context within which that mission is undertaken is rapidly changing. What was said in 2001 with regard to the changing ecumenical situation is even more true today. Our appraisal then has been reconfirmed: the change in the ecumenical scene of which we spoke has become more noticeable. Lights and shadows have been cast on both ends of the scale.
On the one hand, we now witness an encouraging growth in basic ecumenical understanding. For many communities and associations, ecumenism has become an enriching reality now taken for granted, deeply ingrained in the life of the Church. This emerges clearly from the contributions we have received for this Plenary. The informal relations and testimonies that we have gathered, representing only a selection of examples, speak eloquently in this regard. They demonstrate that ecumenism has not simply taken an external form; we have received a great many moving testimonies of lived ecumenical spirituality. I call to mind with profound gratitude those groups and communities that have taken on the responsibility of organising the “Prayer for Christian Unity”. While it emerges that there are areas in which spiritual ecumenism must still develop, both the Reports on the Practice of Spirituality prepared for this Plenary and the Inquiry undertaken by our Dicastery among the Episcopal Conferences regarding the diffusion of the “Prayer for Unity” highlight that the spiritual focus of ecumenism is expanding substantially. Overall, it can be affirmed that the task entrusted to the PCPCU bears out the expectations and aspirations of many Christians, that “all may be one”.
In this perspective, the words of John Paul II when speaking of the fruits of ecumenical dialogue in Ut unum sint still maintain their relevance: “It is the first time in history that efforts on behalf of Christian unity have taken on such great proportions and have become so extensive. This is truly an immense gift of God, one which deserves all our gratitude” (N.41). The Holy Father affirms that the true fruit is rediscovered fraternity: “It happens for example that, in the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount, Christians of one confession no longer consider other Christians as enemies or strangers but see them as brothers and sisters”. In summary, the Pope observes: “In a word, Christians have been converted to a fraternal charity which embraces all Christ’s disciples”, and adds “It needs to be reaffirmed in this regard that acknowledging our brotherhood is not the consequence of a large–hearted philanthropy or a vague family spirit. It is rooted in recognition of the oneness of Baptism and the subsequent duty to glorify God in his work” (N.42).
At the same time, the unity of the Church is the sign or instrument of the unity of humanity (Lumen gentium 1). Thus, solidarity among Christians is a service to all humanity. A common commitment has emerged to safeguard the values of liberty, justice, peace, and the future of the world, in the same way that concrete collaboration has developed in the field of charity and diakonia. “It is clear, as experience shows, that in some circumstances the united voice of Christians has more impact than any one isolated voice” (UUS 43).
The spontaneous compactness of the Churches and Ecclesial Communities in speaking out for peace and against war, both this year and last, is moving and meaningful. On the Day of Prayer for Peace celebrated in Assisi in 2002, they affirmed together that God speaks a word of Peace, and that he cannot ever be invoked to justify violence. In Europe, collaboration with the Orthodox Churches and the Conference of European Churches [CEC] has intensified in order to highlight and safeguard the Christian roots of the continent.
2. In contrast to the ecumenical trend towards unity, there are also opposite tendencies sustaining tension and, sometimes, even division within the Churches, Ecclesial Communities and confessional families. If on the one hand it has been possible to overcome longstanding hostility or, at least, to move towards rapprochement, on the other hand, new divergences have emerged, mainly in the field of ethics, on issues such as abortion, divorce, euthanasia, homosexuality, etc. Similarly, ethnic, social and political issues often have the effect of creating division. Disputes among the autocephalous Orthodox Churches, within the Anglican Communion, within the Reformed ecclesial communities and, at times, within the Catholic Church itself, are destructive for ecumenical dialogue. The lack of consensus internally can only obstruct, and at times impede, the attainment of ecumenical consensus ‘externally’, and could lead to a paralysis in ecumenism and even to its impotence.
In this context, we must ask ourselves who then are our partners, given the paralysis of some confessional families due to internal conflicts, while at the same time individual groups within these families remain open to dialogue and come knocking at our door? In principle, the PCPCU undertakes theological dialogue with the Orthodox Churches overall and with the world confessional families. However, in the current situation we should ask ourselves, as we did during the last Plenary, whether it may not be possible to contemplate a “two–speed ecumenism”. Undoubtedly, this is a sensitive question, but we should also ask ourselves whether in the long–term it is possible to avoid merely for reasons of diplomacy.
Another problem relates to the fact that ecumenical understanding and practice are often superficial. Modern and post–modern pluralist and relativist thought, which distances itself from the question of truth, would look at the existing differences in matters of faith with a misconstrued sense of tolerance, not based on respect for the opinions of others, but on an attitude of indifference with respect to one’s own convictions of faith and those of others. One thing should be quite clear: ecumenism is not the cause, but the victim of this relativism, widespread also in other contexts, and of the loss of the understanding of faith and its substance. Indeed, the conviction that dogmatic problems between the churches have, in principle, already been resolved or have become in the meantime irrelevant or obsolete leads only to a transitory ‘wild ecumenism’, which does not respect the boundaries of ecclesial discipline and ultimately negates itself. Thus, ecumenism becomes irrelevant.
In the face of this danger, all the Churches and Ecclesial Communities show signs of a new confessionalism. Despite the fact that this trend highlights concerns that may be justified and are certainly not to be neglected, retreating into one’s own and self–sufficient confessional identity does not represent a practicable solution. Such an attitude denotes a particularism and a nationalism that are at the same time ancient yet modern, a sort of anti–global mentality. In contrast to the ecumenical attitude of openness to new thought, to conversion and reconciliation, one discerns the opposite tendency, characterised by arrogance, or rather by obstinacy and self–interest. When this attitude verges on fanatical fundamentalism, it can lead – even today– to confessional hostility and even to violence.
3. This phenomenon is particularly noted in the older and newer sects and in many neo–religious movements. Bishops of the third world constantly call our attention to this problem, which has intensified after the Council. The Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism (N.35–36) refers to this issue, as do the Continental Synods and many Addresses of the Holy Father. The issue is extremely complex and has multiple causes. The concept of “sect” itself is difficult to define, and theologians and sociologists of religion have not yet arrived at definitive conclusions. We are dealing with a very wide range of phenomena that are all but uniform, and that are emerging with different characteristics in various parts of the world, ranging from the religious panorama of the third world, the breakdown of the countries of the ex–Eastern bloc, and our materially saturated and secularised Western society.
Various underlying motives and factors can be discerned in this trend: there are authentic spiritual concerns and our own pastoral inadequacies; but there are also often eclectic and syncretistic, or rather ideological elements of a new gnosticism, and also political and economic factors; as well, the yearning for the miraculous and an element of vainglory also play a part, and even sometimes there are satanistic elements.
The problem of sects must be fundamentally distinguished from the question of ecumenism. Clearly, ecumenical dialogue pre–supposes reciprocal respect. While meekness and charity may make possible many things, dialogue becomes very difficult, if not at times impossible, with sects that aggressively maintain a fanatical exclusivity with regard to salvation. From a practical point of view however there are often gradations. This is the case particularly with respect to the charismatic and pentecostal movements. Indeed, with many of these we undertake a congenial and productive dialogue; with others, dialogue is practically impossible due to their aggressive proselytism. It remains our task to seek dialogue wherever possible, as these movements are in constant expansion throughout the world, while the traditional mainline churches decline. This is an important aspect of the global ecumenical situation that is rapidly changing. It is a situation that calls for further clarification of the relationship between ecumenical theology and missiology.
Some aspects of this changing situation will be briefly commented upon in the reflections that follow, with examples taken from specific dialogues. For a deeper assessment of this issue, more detailed information is available in the activity reports of the PCPCU made available to participants in the Plenary.
III. Dialogue with the Churches of the East
1. Dialogue with the Churches of the East has been one of the most salient priorities of this Dicastery over the last two years. We are very close to these Churches in terms of faith, sacraments and episcopal ministry, and we are bound to them in a “communion of faith and charity”, in “family ties which ought to thrive between local Churches, as between sisters” (UR 14; UUS 55–57; 60). They have conserved a spiritual richness that is the patrimony of the universal Church (Orientalium Ecclesiarum 1). Yet, a range of non-theological factors, and a divergence in our history, culture and mentality, have often been the cause of considerable misunderstanding. Nonetheless, it is a source of joy to affirm that over the last two years the bonds of fraternal communio with many individual Orthodox Churches have been reinforced in a way that was unthinkable until only recently. And this is an aspect that is still not widely known and sufficiently appreciated in the changing ecumenical situation.
This ecumenical development has been considerably enhanced by the visits of the Holy Father to countries with Orthodox majorities: Romania, Armenia, Egypt and Mount Sinai, Jerusalem, Syria, Greece, Bulgaria. The PCPCU has also been able to establish a series of new contacts and to weave new friendships through its own visits. Many of these Churches have made return visits of high–ranking representatives to Rome. The change of climate in relations with the Orthodox Church in Greece and in Bulgaria, as with the Serbian Orthodox Church, can only be defined as simply astonishing; in the meantime, an increasing and cordial collaboration with individual Orthodox Churches has been progressively developing. It should also be borne in mind that relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate continue to be intense and cordial, as in the past.
A further and encouraging experience of dialogue has been shared with the Ancient Churches of the East. After a dialogue with individual Churches, in January this year a new dialogue was resumed with these Churches as a whole. The atmosphere of the first preliminary session was serene, friendly and fraternal. The first plenary of this dialogue will be held in January next year, most probably in Egypt. The great respect and veneration for the Holy Father within the Orthodox Churches and the Ancient Churches of the East has been clearly expressed, particularly in relation to the 25th anniversary of his pontificate.
The Catholic Committee for Cultural Collaboration has also played an important role in this improvement in relations. As well as the scholarships, which are particularly sought after, the Committee also supports various theological centres (Minsk, Kyiv, Sofia, Belgrade, and Moscow) through financial aid and educational materials. This assistance to future ministers and lay people involved in serving their Churches has in time revealed itself to be a most promising ‘investment’. The PCPCU maintains constant contact with CNEWA, Kirche in Not, Renovabis, and Missio, to which it regularly offers advice and encouragement. We are also kept updated through contact with individual dioceses and institutions (such as Ostkirchliches Institut in Regensburg, Pro Oriente in Vienna and others), and with communities and movements (such as Sant’Egidio, Opera di Maria and the Focolarini Movement).
2. Relations with the Russian Orthodox Church, which had been positive overall until the political upheaval of 1989/90, have assumed a very delicate character (beyond the latest crisis in relations with the Orthodox Church of Georgia). Accusations of uniatism (with regard to the Greek Catholic Church in Western Ukraine) and proselytism have been made since 1989–1990, worsening in 2002 with the introduction of ecclesiastical jurisdictions in the Russian Federation and, more recently, in Kazakhstan the establishment of two new dioceses in Eastern Ukraine. These difficulties emerge against a background of theological issues concerning the understanding of the Church (autocephaly, canonical territory, understanding of the term Sister Church), as well as issues relating to the affirmation of a religious and cultural identity, and the identification with the Russian culture as a counterpoise to so–called Western liberalism, with religious liberty taken to be an expression of such liberalism.
Nonetheless, dialogue has never been completely interrupted; a series of informal contacts have taken place over the last two years and, more recently, signs have emerged of the willingness to engage in for a distinct if slow improvement of relations. For our part, while maintaining a firm line on principles, we must offer proof of our patience, our trust and our understanding for the difficulties and concerns of our partner. We must demonstrate above all our respect for the longstanding ecclesial and spiritual tradition of Russia. On this basis, it would be beneficial to establish a sort of ‘code of behaviour’ between the Patriarchate of Moscow and the Catholic Episcopal Conference of Russia (that is, the Holy See). Moreover, on many issues (Europe, the Near East, peace in the world) a closer form of collaboration could be possible and desirable, in the interests of both.
3. The main problem in our relations with the Eastern Churches is represented by the impasse in the international theological dialogue established in 1980 with the Orthodox Churches as a whole. No progress has been made on the question of so–called ‘uniatism’ since the last plenary session of the Commission in Baltimore in 2000. Since then, internal difficulties in some of the Orthodox Churches have impeded a new convocation of the Commission, although both sides have expressed the will to continue the dialogue. The Catholic Church and the Ecumenical Patriarch are firmly determined to do so. In the meantime, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has undertaken to obtain consensus among the Orthodox Churches on the continuation of the dialogue, on the issues its should tackle, and on the presidency on the Orthodox side of the International Commission. We hope to receive a positive answer on the outcome of this undertaking during the visit of the Delegation of the Holy See to the Phanar for the Feast of Saint Andrew on 30 November.
Without wishing to ‘substitute’ the official theological dialogue, but rather with the intention of providing a contribution to it, the PCPCU convened last May a Catholic–Orthodox academic symposium on the Petrine ministry, in response to the invitation of Pope John Paul II in no.95 of the Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint. The meeting featured high–level presentations, and its atmosphere was very positive; despite differences, encouraging openings were observed, on both sides. The proceedings of the symposium will be published shortly. The participants expressed the wish for a similar symposium on the theme of koinonia/communio. This theme touches the crucial theological problem in relations with the Eastern Churches: that is, the problem of autocephaly, which is also – according to many renowned Orthodox theologians themselves – the fundamental problem of Orthodoxy. With a perspective to the future, there needs to be an appraisal of the concept in concrete terms and of the practice of universal communion fully respecting the rich and ancient liturgical, theological, spiritual and canonical traditions of the Eastern Churches (UR 14–18).
All things considered, it would be absolutely out of place to speak of a general crisis in relations with the Eastern Churches. Rather, the contrary is true. Our relations with individual Eastern Churches are following a positive and most promising direction. In order to evaluate our current situation, we cannot take our cue from sensational and short–term episodes. While it is true that we sometimes come across obstacles that impede us and even cause us to retreat, it is also true that the Holy Spirit holds many new and positive surprises in store. Generally speaking, with small steps, rather than huge strides, we may arrive more slowly, but more surely at our destination.
IV. Dialogue with the Western Ecclesial Communities
1. The differences with the Western Ecclesial Communities are not only historical and cultural, but also of a doctrinal nature, and are more serious than those with the Eastern Churches (UUS 64–68). However, what we have said about the changes in the ecumenical scene and on the lights and shadows of ecumenism is also relevant to dialogues with Western Ecclesial Communities. We are committed to many of these. Among the Churches and Ecclesial Communities, the Catholic Church is by far the one that undertakes the greatest number of ecumenical dialogues. After the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (1999), and as will be clearly evident in the Activity Reports of the officials of this Dicastery, the dialogues continue to progress, albeit slowly, yet seriously, within a context of positive relations. Many dialogues have had positive developments, particularly with respect to the World Evangelical Alliance with the document on Church, Evangelisation and Bonds of Koinonia, and the Methodists, who have initiated a process of adhering to the Joint Declaration on Justification. New dialogues, or rather conversations, have been established with Mennonites and Adventists. Difficulties arose after the publication of the Declaration Dominus Iesus (2000), the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003), and after the Kirchentag in Berlin (June 2003). Yet overall, a solid foundation based on trust has been created, enabling us to overcome difficulties and disagreements, and to resolve them within the degree that is possible.
Particular mention should be made of the dialogue with the Anglican Communion. After the document The Gift of Authority (1998), the Anglican–Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) is now finalising a document on Mariology. Over the last two years, following the meeting in Mississauga (2000) at the level of Bishops, we have established a new International Anglican–Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) dealing with the reception of documents published to date. Although the two commissions undertake positive and fruitful work, perhaps more than any other dialogue, our collaboration with the Anglican Communion highlights the current problem and aporia of ecumenism: namely, the emergence of new ethical problems and the internal fragmentation of an Ecclesial Communion. We had an opportunity to discuss these concerns in a candid yet friendly manner during the visit of the new Archbishop of Canterbury to Pope John Paul II in October 2000. While not intending to interfere, it should be borne in mind that as ecumenical partners we are not simply observers, but active participants; indeed, the ecumenical fabric has become very closely woven, and the decisions of one partner impinge upon relations with all the others, and therefore these decisions should be taken in solidarity with one another.
Such solidarity and commitment for the unity of all the disciples of Christ is also a determining feature of our collaboration with the World Council of Churches (WCC), particularly through the Faith and Order Commission. The problems and difficulties of the Orthodox members regarding ecclesiology and the criteria for common prayer during ecumenical meetings present new challenges; yet they also highlight the changes in the ecumenical scene, changes that also emerge from recent discussion of the new ecumenical landscape (various ecumenical coalitions, Statutes of the World Council of Churches, the World Christian Communions, regional ecumenical organisations, non–government ecumenical organisations, etc.). The outcomes of this discussion are still very much an open matter.
2. Beyond current and mainly transient challenges, a deeper evaluation of these difficulties enables us to note the fundamental problem in dialogue with the Ecclesial Communities of the Reformed tradition. We are dealing with diverse ecclesiologies that lead to different conceptions of the same ecumenical goal to which we strive. In turn, these conceptions raise different expectations that, by their very nature, lead to disappointment on the part of one or other of the partners due to the very fact that one is not responding to the other’s expectations, or cannot respond due to a different concept of the ecumenical goal. Such a situation has led in part to a sort of stalemate that makes substantial progress impossible, at least until the questions relating to ecclesiology have been fundamentally resolved.
As we have already stated, the ecumenical goal, from the Catholic point of view, is full and visible communion in faith, sacraments and ministry. This communion – as demonstrated, among other things, by the example of the Eastern Churches – considers the plurality of the forms of expression of the various local Churches to be a richness, on condition that it does not involve substantial divergence. The model of unity proposed by the Leuenberg Agreement (1973), which has become predominant in the context of continental European Protestantism, deviates from this understanding.
According to this model, the previously separated confessional Churches adopt a form of ecclesial communion pre–supposing a consensus in principle regarding the understanding of the Gospel, while leaving aside different professions of faith. From the confessional and institutional point of view, the Churches remain separated, yet are in communion for the pulpit and the Last Supper; furthermore, they mutually recognise each other’s respective ministries. Such confessional pluralism is not considered a scandal; rather, quite the contrary – as E. Käsemann and others after him sought to demonstrate – it is considered legitimate on the basis of the New Testament. The most recent documents of the German Evangelical Church (EKD), Kirchengemeinschaft nach evangelischem Verständnis (2001) and Das Abendmahl (2003), follow this line.
It is clear that such an understanding of ecclesial communion is fundamentally distinct from ecclesial unity as the unity of communio according to the Catholic conception. Thus, one understands how and why the Protestant churches currently insist upon intercommunion or rather eucharistic hospitality; similarly, one understands how and why the Catholic Church must interpret this insistence in terms of a demand that it cannot meet because doing so would involve relinquishing its ecclesiological identity. Inversely, the Protestant Churches interpret the ecumenical goal corresponding to Catholic self–understanding as an imposition made of them insofar as it implies the recognition of the historical episcopal ministry and the Petrine ministry. Hence the current stalemate, which could also be defined as temporary ecumenical aporia.
3. The Leuenberg model is not the one and only model used by the evangelical side; there is also that constituted by the outcomes of dialogue with Anglicans in the Porvoo Declaration of the Scandinavian countries (1992), the Declarations Called to Common Mission (2001) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and Called to Full Communion of Windsor (2001) of the Lutheran Church of Canada. These dialogues are along the line of the Lima Documents Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (BEM) (1982). The same can be said of the dialogue of ARCIC in the document Gift of Authority (1998) and for the German document Communio Sanctorum (2000).
Lutheran scholars, both Protestant and Catholic, have demonstrated that Luther’s intention – and that of the other reformers – was not to establish a separate confessional Church, but to reform, on the basis of the Gospel, the existing universal Church. This intention failed for both theological and political reasons. Given that currently the ecumenical movement embraces the legitimate requests of all involved as “an exchange of gifts” (UUS 28), the legitimacy of every separation of the Churches is called into question. In this sense, F. Heiler, the High Church movement, the older Una–Sancta movement and currently W. Pannenberg, H. Meyer and other German, American and Scandinavian Lutheran theologians have arrived at the conception of an Evangelical catholicity that does not stop at non–reconciled plurality, but that aspires to an authentically reconciled unity in diversity; such a catholicity extends to the recognition of the episcopal ministry in the apostolic succession and, truthfully, until now with some reservations, of the Petrine ministry.
Therefore, we are dealing with two different interpretations of the fundamental intention of the Reformation of the sixteenth century. While one constitutes a fundamental difference, the other has as its starting point a consensus of principle that ought to lead, through theological dialogue and an ‘exchange of gifts’, to full consensus encompassing legitimate diversity. Until such time that Protestants are able to resolve this divergence between ecumenism of consensus and ecumenism of difference, no substantial progress can be made with the Ecclesial Communities of the Reformed tradition. The PCPCU has made a suggestion to the World Lutheran Federation to discuss these themes relating to the intention of the Reformation in the perspective of the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation, to be held in 2017.
V. Ecumenism in the short–term
Next year marks the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the promulgation of the Conciliar decree on ecumenism Unitatis redintegratio (1964); the year 2004 also marks the anniversary of the conquest of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade (1204), and the following year, 2005, the 40th anniversary of the abrogation of the excommunications between Rome and Constantinople (1965). Especially in the light of the first of these anniversaries, the PCPCU has organised a meeting of presidents of the ecumenical commissions of the episcopal conferences and synods of the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris in order to reflect upon the current situation and future direction of the ecumenical movement and to offer a new impetus to the Catholic commitment to the ecumenical movement.
The situation we have described should not lead us to resignation. As already observed during the last Plenary Assembly, the ecumenical movement has reached an intermediate phase of good relations and ecclesial communio that is much deeper if not yet complete. We are now dealing with an ecumenism of life; it is a matter of giving a shape to this intermediate situation and to imbue it with life. Many possibilities have presented themselves, as we observed also in the 2001 Plenary Assembly, and they are a long way from being exhausted. In the same measure that we give life to and gain insight from these possibilities, we will also witness the advent of a new, more serene situation, that will enable innovative and substantial developments. If we could attain all that is truly feasible and appropriate, without difficulty and without infringing ecclesial norms, we would already be well ahead on our journey.
In the light of this, I would outline three tasks to be undertaken, drawing particular attention to the third, which constitutes the theme upon which the Plenary will reflect this year.
1. Faced with the current danger of the erosion of what the Catholic principles of ecumenism (UR 2–4) maintain to be the ecumenical foundation of faith – baptism and baptismal faith, the Creed – it becomes necessary to reinforce such foundations. In line with the last Plenary Assembly, the PCPCU has initiated this task by approaching the Episcopal Conferences with a request to come to an agreement with their ecumenical partners on the mutual recognition of baptism, or to appraise and deepen existing agreements. This is not simply a matter of the formal recognition of the validity of baptism conferred by water and the Trinitarian formula, but an agreement on the understanding of baptism and the profession of faith of which it forms part. The replies we have received to date to this initiative have been encouraging. This work must clearly be continued.
2. Aristotle argued that for its very preservation every community, including the State, depends on friendship and the circle of its friends (Nic. Etica 1155; 1160a–61a). Friendship is an important category of the New Testament and is a term used by the early Christians to describe themselves (Jn 15, 11–15; 3Jn 15). Ecumenism does not make progress principally on the basis of documents and actions, but on the strength of friendships that overcome confessional barriers. By virtue of the one baptism, the common membership in the one body of Christ, and the life emanating from the Holy Spirit, these friendships go beyond simply human empathy and create above all a climate of trust and mutual acceptance enabling theological dialogue to make substantial progress. For this reason, the PCPCU strives to create as many personal contacts as possible and to collaborate towards creating an ecumenical network of friendships.
3. Spiritual ecumenism is the soul and fulcrum of the ecumenical movement (UR 7s; UUS 21). When we speak of ecumenical spirituality, we do not use this word – which is unfortunately overused – to mean a spirituality that is vague, weak, merely sentimental, irrational and subjective, that does not take into account the objective doctrine of the Church, or even ignores it. On the contrary, it means the teaching of Scripture, of the living tradition of the Church, and of the outcomes of ecumenical dialogues that have been personally and totally assimilated, filled with life and in contact with life. Mere ecumenical activism is destined to exhaust itself; merely academic debate among experts, no matter how important it may be, escapes the ‘normal’ faithful and touches only the margin of their hearts and lives. We can only expand the ecumenical movement by deepening it.
The pride of place in ecumenical spirituality belongs to prayer, culminating in the “Week of Prayer for Unity”; through it, our understanding grows that unity cannot only be the fruit of human effort; unity is a gift of the Spirit; we cannot as human beings ‘make’ it (UUS 21–27). Personal conversion and sanctification play important roles, as there cannot be true ecumenism without personal conversion and institutional reform (UUS 15s; 21; 34s; 82s) and, ultimately, without a spirituality of communio (Novo millennio ineunte, 43–45). I would further mention the shared reading and meditation of Sacred Scripture, exchanges between monasteries, communities and movements of spirituality, visits to pilgrim sites and centres of spirituality, the study of the classical witnesses of the faith and of the new ‘martyrs’. This list could continue. I would also add that the theme of Mariology and the veneration of Mary in ecumenical terms can only be tackled adequately and productively within a spiritual context.
Without anticipating the paper of Bishop Kurt Koch and the subsequent debate, I believe that by starting with a purer and clearer understanding of ecumenical spirituality, we can move towards a renewed and more profound ecumenical practice, capable of providing a new impetus to the ecumenical quest and of releasing it from its current difficulties, aporie and crises.
Questions for discussion
1. Does this description of the ecumenical situation outlining its positive and negative aspects represent a realistic view? Are there other aspects that members of the Plenary would like to add on the basis of their own pastoral experiences?
2. Does the Plenary approve the theological basis of the work of the PCPCU? Are there any observations regarding the work of the Dicastery over the last two years or any suggestions for the future at the theological, dialogical or pastoral levels?
3. Is the direction to be taken in terms of concrete ecumenical work, particularly the focus on spiritual ecumenism, the right choice from the pastoral and theological points of view?
4. Are there any suggestions for the meeting to be organised next year of the Presidents of the Ecumenical Commissions of the Episcopal Conferences and the Synods of the Catholic Patriarchates sui iuris?
[Translation from original Italian text]