THE COLLABORATION 1965-1975
Since the Joint Working Group was formed in 1965, cooperation
and collaboration between the Roman Catholic Church and the World
Council of Churches have developed progressively. There have been
the jointly sponsored studies on "Common Witness and Proselytism"
and "Catholicity and Apostolicity." Roman Catholic membership
in the Faith and Order Commission has come about, and the Roman
Catholic Church has set up consultative relations with the Commission
on World Mission and Evangelism and the Christian Medical Commission.
The preparation of material for use in the annual Prayer for Christian
Unity is done jointly. The concern for development and peace was
taken up in partnership by the formation of the joint Committee
on Society, Development and Peace (SODEPAX).
It was this growth of collaboration that created
the atmosphere in which the Joint Working Group was led to consider
the possibility of membership by the Roman Catholic Church in
the World Council of Churches.
At its meeting in Gwatt (Switzerland), in 1969,
the Joint Working Group decided that the "advantages of...
a closer and more permanent association of the Roman Catholic
Church with the World Council of Churches" should be studied.
Thus a study got under way and the consideration given to this
question occupied on both sides a great amount of time and energy.
The results of the study were published in 19721
but by this time it had been made clear that an application by
the Roman Catholic Church for World Council membership would not
be made in the near future.
Why did it not prove possible to give this form
of visible expression to the relations between the Roman Catholic
Church and the World Council of Churches? There is no doubt that
the Roman Catholic Church could accept the Basis of the World
Council of Churches, but there are factors, some theologically
based, which at present militate against membership as the visible
expression of the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church
and the World Council of Churches. To a much greater degree than
other churches the Roman Catholic Church sees its constitution
as a universal fellowship with a universal mission and structure
as an essential element of its identity. Membership could present
real pastoral problems to many Roman Catholics because the decision
to belong to a world-wide fellowship of churches could easily
be misunderstood. Then there is the way in which authority is
considered in the Roman Catholic Church and the processes through
which it is exercised. There are also practical differences in
the mode of operation, including the style and impact of public
The decision at present not to apply for membership
was not intended to weaken or downgrade the need for close collaboration.
Cardinal Willebrands and Dr. Eugene C. Blake, in their preface
to the report on possible Roman Catholic membership, stated this
quite clearly: "Cooperation... must not only continue, it
must be intensified"2.
The same conviction was reiterated and confirmed in the message
sent by Pope Paul VI to the Central Committee on the occasion
of the silver jubilee celebrations of the World Council of Churches,
on August 26, 1973, when he said : "It is our sincere desire
that this collaboration may be pursued and intensified in accordance
with the spirit of the Second Vatican Council"3.
The decision also does not mean that the question of membership
has been closed. At its meeting at Windsor, in 1973, the Joint
Working Group explicitly stated that it could be "re-opened
at a later date." But for the immediate future another question
has to be asked: how can the Roman Catholic Church and the World
Council of Churches, without forming one structured fellowship,
intensify their joint activities and thereby strengthen the unity,
the common witness and the renewal of the churches?
At Windsor, the Joint Working Group had an extensive
discussion on this question and came to the conclusion that for
the planning of the future collaboration a careful analysis of
the actual ecumenical experience in different national and local
situations was required. It was recognized that the progress of
the ecumenical movement largely depends on the commitment of Christians
in their actual life situations and thus interaction of ecumenism
at the local level and the international level is of fundamental
importance. Joint activities at the international level must therefore
be intimately related to the experience of the churches and seek
to serve their needs. For this reason, the Joint Working Group
decided to undertake a survey on the present state of the ecumenical
movement. What are the problems the churches face as they carry
out their mission? What are their consequences for the ecumenical
movement? This survey formed the basis of discussion at the following
meeting of the Joint Working Group in Venice, 1974, as it sought
to discern appropriate programs and patterns of collaboration
for the future4.
The debate resulted in the recommendations which
Review 21, 3 (1972) 247-288.
and Reports of 26th Meeting of the World Council of Churches
Central Committee, 1972 (Geneva: World Council of Churches,
One in Christ
11, 1 (1975) 30-87; Il Regno - Documenti 20, 1 (1975)8-16;
Unité des chrétiens 17 (1975) 19-22;
Dialogo Ecumenico 9, 35/36 (1974) 591-616; Una Sancta
30, 3 (1975) 156-169.