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III. Activities of the Joint Working Group



    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.


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 parte:

(1) identification of the convergences beginning to appear between the RCC and WCC member churches;

(2) studies and consultations on the goal of unity, with mention of (a) elements of unity, (b) the Church as sign and instrument;

(3) 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. 90).

    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 of faith;

- 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.

2. Common Witness

    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 since 1970.

    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 May 1980:

"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:

"...Yes, 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).

3. Social Collaboration

    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 greatest service.

    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 pharmaceutical supplies.

- The Commission Justice and Peace has developed a relationship with Church and Society sub-unit through the latter's study, "Faith, Science and Technology."

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