In its Fourth Report the Joint Working Group gave
a prospective outline of priorities for collaboration and joint
action in the years following 1975. Three of them have engaged
the Joint Working Group in a major degree and call for description
in this section.
PRIORITIES FOR COLLABORATION
1. The Unity of the Church - the Goal and the Way
This question had featured prominently in the initial reflections
of the Joint Working Group when it was in process of formation.
It was introduced again in order to look at new common perspectives
coming out of theological discussions involving the Roman Catholic
Church and member churches of the World Council of Churches over
the preceding decade. For since the Joint Working Group had come
into being, a number of old questions concerning unity had been
clarified. A study so wide in its implications would need to go
on over a number of years and it was to be structured in three
identification of the convergences beginning to appear between
the RCC and WCC member churches;
studies and consultations on the goal of unity, with mention
of (a) elements of unity, (b) the Church as sign and instrument;
consideration of the way to unity, i.e. the visible interim
steps that lead to the goal.
The Joint Working Group itself took up the first of these
in its meeting in 1977 as it looked at work already done and especially
at the convergences in basic areas of faith and order. It had
before fit this material.
draft notes on convergences between the RCC and the WCC
reactions to the Faith and Order report, "One Baptism,
One Eucharist and a Mutually Recognized Ministry";
reactions to a survey on the extent to which churches have agreed
on the mutual recognition of baptism, as administered by each
other (the survey was published as Faith & Order Paper N.
The Joint Working Group felt its work on this first part
of the topic was only an initial step which would have to be developed
in the future and this task still remains to be done.
Since the Joint Working Group is not itself an organ of
study it sought the help of the Faith and Order Commission in
organizing the second part of the study. Using the plans developed
by the joint Working Group, the Commission organized a consultation
at Venice in 1978 on the issue of unity in faith. From this came
a report which, after revision by the JWG and by a number of theologians
from various traditions was published as the Faith and Order Study
Paper N. 100 with the title, "Towards a Common Profession
of Faith." It makes these points:
Ecumenical growth will require agreement on a common profession
the essential elements of such a profession are known to us through
the witness of the apostolic
community transmitted in the Scriptures;
the ancient professions of faith were developed in response to
particular challenges and tensions;
the needs of the contemporary world could lead the churches to
give new emphasis to different aspects of the apostolic texts;
diversity of doctrinal expressions in the divided churches is
not always a sign of dividedness in the faith.
The significance of this phase of the study is that a first
step has been taken to speak together of the one apostolic faith
and of the convergences in theological understanding which can
help Christians to move towards professing it together. Thus the
study has started with a crucial point from which it can now move
to the questions raised originally by the Joint Working Group.
The significance for the study of the other work
being done in the Faith and Order Commission (where twelve Catholic
theologians are members) ought to be noted. Since its 1978 meeting
at Bangalore the Commission has had its own long-term study project,
"Towards the Common Expression of the Apostolic Faith Today."
It had already identified this as one of the requirements for
unity, along with the need for agreement on baptism, Eucharist
and ministry. The study is being continued, preliminary reports
have been published, and are now being put to WCC member churches
and the RCC for response. This is a new and important step for
the growth in theological convergence and has implications for
the RC relation with the WCC, as member churches and the RCC are
invited to look at the implications of this work.
The Third part of the study has concentrated on current
forms of ecumenical collaboration, especially councils of churches,
as illustrating ways to unity. At its meeting in 1979 the Joint
Working Group outlined a proposal for developing this theme and
an exploratory consultation was held in Venice in 1982 focusing
on the role of councils of churches and "preconciliar structures"
in promoting visible interim steps towards unity. The consultation
reflected on the role of councils of churches as a means of meeting
and mutual recognition, and of growing together towards full communion.
It also looked at the importance of RC involvement in councils
for fulfilling this role.
There are other elements which relate to the study. One
was mentioned by the JWG in its Fourth Report when it spoke of
the need "for an evaluation of the relation of bilateral
confessional dialogues to one another and to multilateral conversations."
Something was done towards this when between 1978 and 1980 the
secretaries of Christian World Communions, the Secretariat for
Promoting Christian Unity and the Faith & Order Commission
organized three sessions of a forum on bilateral dialogues which
has enabled an exchange of information and some reflection on
the necessary interaction between multilateral and bilateral approaches
to unity within the one ecumenical movement.
This was the second of the principal questions to engage
the Joint Working Group in the period after Nairobi and it was
a major topic for discussion in its meeting in 1977. In the late
1960s the JWG had already done a study which was published in
1970 under the title "Common Witness and Proselytism."
Meanwhile, common witness at all levels had increased greatly
and took many new forms. Together with the rapid changes in society
and in human relations, this seemed to warrant a new look at the
topic. It was decided to begin with actual experience and the
Ecumenical and Missiological Institute of Leiden generously enabled
a survey to be made with a reflective analysis of the data obtained.
This was the starting point for further work done in small groups
and then in a larger consultation at Venice in 1979. The text
produced was submitted to the JWG which authorized its publication
at the beginning of 1981 with an appendix which contains examples
from several countries of various kinds of common witness. It
has been published, not as a definitive document, but as a working
paper which can stimulate discussion and obtain reactions.
To appreciate the development to which the new study testifies
it may be useful to compare the two studies commissioned by the
Joint Working Group. That of 1970 began as an attempt to confront
the problem of proselytism. While remaining somewhat marked by
its problem-orientation, it was able to move forward to an effort
at articulating the value of common Christian witness. This study
remains a valuable point of departure and a resource for further
work, but it needed to be reviewed in light of what has happened
The 1981 study takes up parts of the previous document
that had not been sufficiently utilized and expands others that
require development. Its major thrust is an attempt to develop
the notion of common witness on the basis of a new understanding
of unity and mission. The genuine practice of common witness on
the local level in so many places has put the problem of proselytism
in a different light, even if it is still a difficulty in new
ways in some places. The study, in trying to reflect on and evaluate
the new rich heritage of common witness, aims at drawing the attention
of the churches to the importance of such witness for the unity
that is sought and for the ecumenical movement as a whole. It
also takes into consideration the factors which have stimulated
common witness since 1971 and the difficulties which have impeded
it. Here one sees the relevance of the examples which are attached
as an appendix.
The timeliness of the new study and the need for such an
instrument of sensitization may be seen by looking at two recent
major statements on common witness. The first is taken from the
report of the World Missionary Conference held at Melbourne in
celebrating, we witness to the power of the Gospel to set us free.
We can only celebrate in honesty if the churches realize the damage
done to their common witness by the scandal of their comfortable
life in division - we believe that unless the pilgrimage route
leads the churches to visible unity, in the one God we preach
and worship, the one Christ crucified for us all, the one Holy
Spirit who creates us anew, and the kingdom, the mission entrusted
to us in this world will always be rightly questioned" (Your
Kingdom Come, p. 201).
The second is from an address given by Pope John Paul II:
the urgent duty of Catholics is to understand what this witness
must be, what it implies and requires in the life of the Church...
In all situations, according to circumstances, it would be necessary
to endeavor, with great pastoral wisdom, to discover the possibilities
of joint witness of Christians. Doing so, we will come up against
the limits that our divergences still impose on this witness and
this painful experience will stimulate us to intensify the effort
towards a real agreement in faith ... It is necessary to advance
in this direction with prudence and courage" (Address to
the Plenary of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity,
Feb. 8, 1980, Information Service 43(1980/II).
From the time of the Second Vatican Council there has been
quite a range of collaboration in the social field between the
Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches. It took
place in the context of the whole relationship between the two
bodies and of the activity of the joint Working Group which concerned
itself with this field from the beginning. Hence there was exchange
of information, regular consultation and various contacts and
efforts of collaboration between the agencies on each side.
a) A common effort was launched in 1968 with the setting
up of SODEPAX as a joint venture of the Pontifical Commission,
Justice and Peace, and the World Council of Churches. Described
as "an ecumenical experiment," it was given a three
year mandate to awaken the Christian churches and their members
to a realization of their obligations to promote social justice,
human development and peace. With a competent staff, SODEPAX made
a widespread response to local initiatives and began to work in
six program areas - social communications, education for development,
mobilization for peace, development research, theological reflection,
work with peoples of other faiths.
After thorough reassessment SODEPAX continued with a much
smaller staff and program, for three further mandates until 1980.
In this period it concentrated on its program of education for
development in the sense of awareness building. It served as a
liaison between the Pontifical Commission justice and Peace and
the Unit of Justice and Service of the World Council of Churches,
stimulating them to extend and intensify the already existing
collaboration. In more recent times it issued a regular bulletin,
"Church Alert." SODEPAX maintained its local contacts
and continued to act as a catalyst for some initiatives. It has
been in making study and information resources for joint initiatives
available to local situations, that SODEPAX perhaps rendered the
However as a joint venture SODEPAX continually came up
against problems concerning its own structure and function as
well as the limits of the whole relation between the Roman Catholic
Church and the World Council of Churches. And this rendered its
operation at times unduly difficult. It also happened that the
whole wide range of social collaboration tended to become limited
to what SODEPAX itself was doing. As a consequence initiatives
that might have been taken up by the various responsible bodies
on each side were neglected. Hence in 1980 it was decided that
SODEPAX be discontinued.
b) Meanwhile, both within the churches and between them,
differences on social ethics became acute in new ways. Different
ecclesial presuppositions, divergent attitudes to the role of
ideologies, different approaches to methods of social and political
changes, different stands on questions of sexual ethics, different
understanding of the relation of Church and Society are some examples.
So in 1975 while mapping out its program for the period after
the World Council's Nairobi Assembly, the Joint Working Group
listed collaboration in social thought and action among its priorities.
The present report deals only with activities between the
Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches on the
international level. But the ecumenical effort affected concrete
situations and attitudes and brought about collaboration at all
levels. Hence it is clear that although they are not mentioned
in this report, all initiatives at the local, national and regional
levels have a special importance. The Joint Working Group, insofar
as it is within its competence, wants to promote and sustain them
in their development and wider diffusion.
A new discussion began at the JWG meeting at Le Louverain
in 1979 when an outline was formulated for a study on collaboration
in social thought and action. Three areas for the work were pointed
up: a) the respective characteristics of the two partners as they
act in the social field. This would be an attempt to take seriously
the difference in nature between them and the different styles
of operation it implies; b) the areas of apparent convergence
on issues of social ethics, and those of obvious divergence; c)
points on which it is desirable to deepen and enrich the joint
reflection of the RCC and the WCC. In specifying this plan further,
the JWG in 1980 gave its opinion that the differences in structure
and operation need to be taken fully into account if progress
is to be made, emphasizing at the same time that "the differences
in almost every case are not such as to prevent collaboration
but rather call for sensitivity and careful planning to achieve
coordination of efforts, participation in each other's studies
and programs, or common action according to the circumstances.
For what ultimately matters and indeed determines whether structures
and styles of operation are experienced as helps or hindrances
is the will to work together effectively" (Minutes of the
JWG 1980, Marseilles).
The JWG was aware both that new means of expressing the
collaboration would have to be sought, and that it was also necessary
to find better instruments for the whole relation in this field.
Therefore the JWG proposed a consultation to look at the structures
and styles of operation on both sides and to find flexible intermediate
instruments to reinforce the collaboration and develop new forms
to express it. The consultation took place in March 1981 and the
aide-mémoire it produced was given to the relevant organisms
on each side in the hope that it might enable further steps to
be taken together.
c) Until the present this study has been an effort to respond
to the facts of the situation and to find ways to move ahead in
developing the partnership between the bodies on each side. Because
both the RCC and the WCC wished to find a concrete visible means
to foster further collaboration, the JWG developed the idea of
a new flexible body which would assist it in planning, perform
a liaison function, and serve as a sign of the ecumenical will
to work together. After the conversations of the Joint Working
Group on social collaboration at Le Louverain and Marseilles,
the Executive of the JWG advocated the setting up of a joint consultative
group for social thought and action.
The constituent members of this joint consultative group
are the sub-units of Unit II: i.e. the Commission on Inter Church
Aid, Refugee and World Service (CICARWS), the Commission of the
Churches on International Affairs (CCIA), the Commission on the
Churches' Participation in Development (CCPD), the Christian Medical
Commission (CMC), the Program to Combat Racism (PCR), as well
as one representative of each of the program Units: Faith and
Witness, and Education and Renewal. On the Catholic side they
are: the Pontifical Commission justice and Peace, the Pontifical
Council Cor Unum, the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the Secretariat
for Promoting Christian Unity. It is an interim structure to give
visibility to the collaboration between the staffs on each side.
It does not make decisions but is to help orientate the collaboration
in the social field, to facilitate its coordination, and advise
the Joint Working Group, where appropriate, suggesting initiatives
to the JWG and to its participating bodies as well as receiving
suggestions from them. It is to hold three meetings and then its
role and continued existence will be reviewed.
The Joint Consultative Group considers its experience to
date a positive one. It has allowed a general exchange of information
and has proposed areas to be pursued, notably an effort of catechesis
in the field of peace and disarmament and joint reflection on
social involvement and proclamation of the Gospel. The joint Consultative
Group can also provide a framework within which questions of immediate
collaboration between the various commissions concerned with issues
of justice and service in the WCC and the corresponding bodies
of the RCC can be stimulated, further clarified, and organized
on a more regular and organic basis. It seems it may be expected
to play a modest but useful role in an area where more needs to
be done. It feels that its initial period will help in finding
more long-term forms of collaboration and foresees the possibility
of its own continuance.
d) Relations between individual offices of the Holy See
and sub-units of the World Council continued and intensified in
the period 1975-1983:
CICARWS, CCPD, and the Christian Medical Commission carried
on various kinds of collaboration with the Pontifical Commission,
Justice and Peace, and the Pontifical Council, Cor Unum. This
included participation in each other's meetings, work groups
and study groups as well as providing information and expertise
for one another's works. It was helped by means of joint staff
meetings between some dicasteries and some of the sub-units,
which clarified positions and mutually enriched outlook and
programs. One result of these joint staff meetings is the recent
joint publication by CCIA/PCJP of the volume "Peace and
Disarmament" (Documents of the World Council of Churches
and of the Roman Catholic Church).
There has been a special relationship between the Christian
Medical Commission, the Secretariat for Promoting Christian
Unity (since 1971) and Cor Unum. Among other things, this made
it possible to have a Roman Catholic consultant with the CMC
staff until summer 1979. Since then the position has not been
filled. CMC invites Cor Unum, together with other RC participants,
to all its meetings. CMC has participated in Cor Unum study
groups on Health. There is cooperation at national and local
levels which focuses especially on primary health-care and is
expressed through more than twenty national coordinating offices
for health, and through joint efforts in the procurement of
The Commission Justice and Peace has developed a relationship
with Church and Society sub-unit through the latter's study,
"Faith, Science and Technology."