The Joint Working Group of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC)
and the World Council of Churches (WCC) joyfully celebrates its
twenty five years of ecumenical endeavor. Its mandate to serve
the RCC/WCC relationships was given by the Central Committee of
the WCC at Enugu, Nigeria in 1965 and by the authorities of the
RCC in the same year.
Since then the Group has made five reports. They
reflect the steady growth and maturing in the relations between
the RCC and the WCC. The Sixth Report is prepared in a spirit
of gratitude for these fruitful years. It gives an account of
the activities of the Group since the last Assembly of the WCC
at Vancouver in 1983. It also looks to the future with hope as
the relationships continue and develop.
THE ECUMENICAL SITUATION
The life of the churches and the thrust of the ecumenical
movement are affected by the situation of our world. Today there
are many signs of hope for the human family, not least in places
where spiritual forces have helped to break down the forces of
tyranny. But we also face many grave problems which threaten the
well-being of humanity and call for the concern and solidarity
of all people of good will. The followers of Jesus Christ have
a special duty to be fully present in the world in this time of
promise and difficulty. It is a time when the ecumenical movement
is more than ever necessary if the churches and Christian communities
are to be a sign and seed of the unity, peace and hope which the
human family needs.
There is much room for encouragement. An increasing
number of Christian communities and ecumenical organizations are
active in working for unity among Christians. A number of the
essential issues dividing Christians have still to be resolved,
but suspicion and hostility have in large part given way to good
will and mutual respect. Churches and Christians of different
confessions often engage in common witness and in projects of
inter-church-aid which respond to urgent human need. In a world
so often marked by despair the ecumenical movement itself, as
an historic effort to achieve full reconciliation among Christians,
is a source of hope. The movement reaches back to the deepest
spiritual roots that all Christians share and can be an answer
to the spirit of secularism which marks our modern world.
The WCC and the RCC have played an important part
in the ecumenical process, not least through their Joint Working
Group (JWG). The official visit of Pope John Paul II in 1984 to
the WCC, as well as the visit of Dr Emilio Castro, General Secretary
of the WCC, to the Holy See in 1986, have helped consolidate the
relationships and the cooperation. In its letter to the Extraordinary
Synod in 1985, the Central Committee of the WCC could speak of
the bonds of "Fraternal Solidarity" that exist between
the two partners. On important ecumenical occasions each has shared
in the initiatives and events of the other. The Assisi Day of
Prayer for Peace, called by Pope John Paul II in 1986, was supported
by the presence of a high level delegation from the WCC. There
has been notable Roman Catholic (RC) presence in the WCC Assemblies
So the ecumenical task has continued well. However,
it has yet to reach its goal of full visible unity. The JWG still
has substantial work to do. It is more than ever called to help
the RCC and the WCC to strive for the unity of Christians and
for the unity and solidarity of all human beings.
Patterns of Relationships Between the WCC and the RCC
Twelve RC theologians are full members of the Faith
and Order Commission.
Seven others participate as consultants in the Commission
on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME). A RC representative is
on the Bossey Board. For a number of years now, three Roman Catholics
have worked on the WCC program staff: in CWME, Bossey and JPIC.
Various forms of contact and working relationships have developed
also between other WCC sub-units and Vatican offices, and missionary
societies. There has been useful and continual mutual exchange
of information, of newly-published documents and of staff visits.
Catholic consultants and observers have participated
in a series of WCC conferences, meetings, consultations and seminars.
Many member churches of the WCC and the RCC have
close relationships on regional and national levels in taking
part in the contributing to ecumenical organizations.
Factors that Influence the Relationships
The above-mentioned patterns are positive factors
which promote ecumenical collaboration and strengthen relations
not only between WCC sub-units and Vatican departments but also
between WCC member churches and the RCC throughout the world.
Encouraging statements about the results of this collaboration
and achievement of the JWG have been made by Pope John Paul II,
representatives of the WCC and leaders of local churches.
Through the agenda of the JWG and other ecumenical
endeavors, the RCC and the churches in the WCC fellowship have
faced the challenges of division. They have shared in some basic
theological reflections on visible unity and contributed to the
process of reconciliation, renewal and growing communion. The
WCC and the RCC have increased awareness of the need for mission
and dialogue, for promoting the values of the Gospel in secularized
societies, for Christian stewardship of creation, for furthering
justice and peace, for the protection of human rights and dignity.
The WCC member churches belong to almost all Christian
traditions. They bring a variety of theological streams into the
WCC, which has implications for ecumenical dialogue and collaboration.
The diverse understanding of the ecumenical goal
and of the means of achieving visible unity may affect ecumenical
progress. Acts of proselytism, excessive concern for "confessional
identity," lack of awareness about common problems and ecumenical
tasks also affect dialogue and rapprochement. Divergencies on
basic doctrinal questions, ethical, social and political issues
further limit the process of advancing towards full communion
and effective common action.
The WCC and the RCC differ in their nature, their
structure, their style of operation, their exercise of authority.
Sometimes these differences are a hindrance to cooperation. The
RCC is a universal Church with a strong hierarchical structure
fostering unite in diversity. The WCC is a fellowship of autonomous
churches bound together in the search for visible unity and common
witness. They are not held together by canonical/structural form,
but see themselves as belonging to an ecumenical fellowship which
enables them to grow together.
The ecumenical partners need to be sufficiently
attentive to the use of their own press and other media in portraying
the image of the "other." Likewise, more care needs
to be taken in the ways the partners speak of some events in the
life of the churches and their ecumenical significance.