Index > Interconfessional Dialogues > JWG > Seventh Rep. | CONT. > Part II
FOREWORD - select

The Collaboration between the RCC and the WCC

III. ACTIVITIES OF THE JWG, 1991-1998 - select
A. The unity of the church – the goal and the way
B. Common witness
C. Ecumenical Formation

V. PROSPECTS FOR THE FUTURE (1998-2005) - select
 APPENDIX A - select
 APPENDIX B - select
 APPENDIX C - select
 APPENDIX D - select


II. The Collaboration between the RCC and the WCC and its Member Churches

1. The WCC and the RCC

In 1965 the WCC central committee and the Roman Catholic authorities committed the WCC and the RCC to future collaboration through the visible expression of the JWG. Both partners realized then their differences. As collaborative efforts increased, the JWG came increasingly to respect the ways in which the WCC and the RCC differ in their nature, main structure, exercise of authority and styles of operation.

  1. The WCC is a "fellowship" constituted by member churches. Churches which agree with the WCC Basis — that they "confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior according to the Scriptures and therefore seek to fulfil together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit" — may apply for membership and are accepted if at least two-thirds of the member churches approve.

    While the WCC's constitutional documents do not define what is meant by "church" (and the Toronto Statement of the 1950 Central Committee indicates that the WCC "cannot and should not be based on any one particular conception of the church"), its Rules do set forth certain criteria which member churches must satisfy. These include a "sustained independent life and organization," the practice of "constructive ecumenical relations" and a membership of at least 25,000 (10,000 for associate member churches). In fact, nearly all member churches are organized within a single country. The Rules also specify certain "responsibilities of membership," among them participating in the Council's governing bodies and activities, encouraging ecumenical commitment and making an annual financial contribution commensurate with their means.

    The constitutional documents specify that the WCC has no legislative authority over its member churches. Organized to "offer counsel and provide opportunity for united action in matters of common interest" (Constitution, Art. IV), it may act on behalf of a member church or churches only when that church or those churches request it to do so; and the authority of any public statements it makes consists "only in the weight which they carry by their own truth and wisdom" (Rules, X, 2). General policies for the WCC are set by the Assembly of official delegates elected by all member churches, which meets every seven years. Implementation of these policies in specific activities is supervised by the Central Committee of about 150 members elected by each Assembly to serve until the next one.

  2. The RCC is a communion of local churches or dioceses, each entrusted to a bishop. It is one church with a worldwide mission and structure of sanctifying, teaching and governance through the "college of bishops," with and under the bishop of Rome, the pastor of the whole Catholic Church who must ensure the communion of all the churches (cf. Code of Canon Law, canons 331, 375). "The concern for restoring unity involves the whole church, faithful and clergy alike" (Decree on Ecumenism, 5). But "it pertains especially to the entire College of Bishops and to the Apostolic See to foster and direct among Catholics the ecumenical movement..., which by the will of Christ the Church is bound to promote" (canon 755; Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 902). Conferences of bishops are juridical institutions of a nation or territory, with specific duties and responsibilities designated by canon laws and other decrees; for example, the national conference decides whether or not to be a full member of a national or regional council of churches. No diocese, no conference is autonomous. This "hierarchical communion with the head of the college and its members " (canon 375), which fosters unity in diversity, is an essential element of the RCC's self-identity and of its ecumenical commitment.

    2. The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) and the WCC

    The pope "usually conducts the business of the universal church by means of the Roman Curia ... for the good and service of the [local or particular] churches" (canon 360). Within the Roman Curia is the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) which has "the competency and duty of promoting the unity of Christians." The PCPCU is entrusted with the correct interpretation and carrying out of the Catholic principles of ecumenism: and with initiating, promoting or coordinating ecumenical efforts at national, regional and worldwide levels. The PCPCU is responsible for relations with the WCC' and for bilateral relations. The PCPCU facilitates WCC relations with other departments of the Roman Curia, such as those for the evangelization of peoples, interreligious dialogue, justice and peace, aid and development, the laity, and Catholic education.

    The PCPCU members are from national conferences of bishops and departments of the Roman Curia: over 30 cardinals, archbishops and bishops, and 25 official consultors. They meet in plenary every 18-24 months. The PCPCU has a full-time staff of 23 persons.

  1. Functions, operations and structure of the JWG

    The JWG functions according to its original 1966 mandate as modified by the 1975 WCC assembly

    1. The JWG is a consultative forum. It has no authority in itself but reports to its parent bodies the WCC assembly and central committee, and the PCPCU — which approve policies and programs.

    It undertakes its spiritual and pastoral tasks in a spirit of prayerful conviction that God through Christ in the Spirit is guiding the one ecumenical movement. The group tries to discern the will of God in contemporary situations, and to stimulate the search for visible unity and common witness, in particular through collaboration at world, regional, national and local levels between the RCC, the WCC, and the WCC member churches. This means giving attentive support and encouragement to whatever contributes to ecumenical progress.

    The JWG initiates, evaluates and sustains forms of collaboration between the WCC and the RCC, especially between the various organs and programs of the WCC and the RCC. Its styles and forms of collaboration are flexible, as it discerns similarities and differences which foster or hinder WCC/RCC relations. Concentrating on ad hoc initiatives, it keeps new structures to a minimum in proposing new steps and programs, carefully setting priorities and using its limited resources of personnel, time and finances.

    2. At present the JWG has 17 members, with two co-moderators. Its co-secretaries are a PCPCU staff member and the WCC's deputy general secretary responsible for relations with non-member churches. Most members are involved in pastoral and ecumenical ministries in different regions. Some are from departments of the Roman Curia and from the WCC units. The JWG also coopts consultants for its particular tasks. The co-moderators, co-secretaries and four others form the executive, which oversees the JWG between its plenaries and prepares the agenda and materials for them.

    Between 1991 and 1997, the JWG has met in plenary six times: Wenningsen, Germany, 1992; Venice, 1993; Crete, 1994; Bose, Italy, 1995; Chambésy, Switzerland, 1996; Venice, 1997.

    4. Relationships between the RCC and the WCC (1991-1998)

    Among the many contacts at various levels have been those between leaders or representatives of the WCC (in Geneva) and the RCC (in Rome) which illustrate their close partnership.

    1. The visit to Rome of WCC General Secretary Dr Emilio Castro (1991) helped to clear up misunderstandings that had arisen around the impression of some that the Canberra assembly was equating the ecumenical movement with the WCC, and around the discussions about the ecclesial nature of the WCC-RCC relationship. Pope John Paul II and Dr Castro exchanged views on the role of the churches in the crisis in Yugoslavia; on the 500th anniversary of the colonization and evangelization of Latin America; and on the re-evangelization of Europe. Discussions with the PCPCU staff focused on specific continuing collaboration With the WCC.

    2. The RC meeting of representatives of the National Episcopal Commissions for Ecumenism (Rome, 1993), convened by the PCPCU, focused on ecumenical formation and the activities of these commissions. In addition to representatives of 78 episcopal conferences, participants included a WCC member of the JWG and delegates from nine churches and Christian world communions with which the RCC is a partner in bilateral dialogue.

    3. The meeting in Geneva between the WCC officers and PCPCU officials (November 1993) raised key questions on the role of the JWG: its impact on local ecumenism, its specific contribution in bringing together the work of the national councils of churches (NCCs), and its role in the reception process of various dialogues. With realism on both sides, participants listened to each other's descriptions of the practical differences in the ways they operate. They stressed the important role of the Faith and Order commission in ecumenical dialogue.

    4. A plenary session of the WCC Central Committee (Johannesburg, January 1994) discussed the relationship between the RCC and the WCC following presentations on the experiences of the PCPCU by its staff member, Msgr John Mutiso-Mbinda, and on the experiences of RCC membership in national and regional councils of churches such as the Council of Churches in Britain and Ireland and the Caribbean Conference of Churches. Each Central Committee member received a copy the PCPCU's recent Directory on Ecumenism (1993), with a recommendation to read its first chapter of those principles which commit the RCC to ecumenism. The discussion focused on three issues: the potential for local ecumenism, especially in the light of the Directory; the new challenges arising from the participation of the RCC in national and regional councils or conferences of churches; the double pattern of relationships, in which it is possible to agree on theological issues and sometimes on socio-political matters, such as churches' attitudes towards war — and yet not be able to dialogue on some other moral questions (cf. Minutes of the WCC Central Committee, Johannesburg, 20-28 January 1995, pp. 26-27).

    5. The visit to Rome by General Secretary Dr Konrad Raiser and WCC executive staff (April 1995) affirmed that the JWG is progressing in a trusting atmosphere as it facilitates relationships and cooperation between the two parent bodies. Questions arose: how better to cooperate in responding to problems which face both the WCC member churches and the RCC, for example, on civic religious freedom, Christian witness and proselytism; how better to use the existing links and the findings of many years of collaboration in local situations where most ecumenical expectations emerge; how the JWG can use its experience and instrumentality not only to provoke common thinking but also to prompt joint action in pressing situations related to the daily life and witness of the local churches? In the discussions between Pope John Paul II and Dr Raiser, the General Secretary affirmed the WCC's deep commitment to a "culture of life" and to a witness for peace — a major theme of the Pope's encyclical Evangelium Vitae (1995). The principle of mutual accountability and solidarity among churches on theological, social and ethical questions was underscored as crucial for ecumenical cooperation.

    6. Joint meeting in Rome (December 1997). In consultation with each other and considering that structural changes in the WCC (cf. below, III.A.5, "Common Understanding and Vision of the WCC") would have consequences on the relationships between the RCC and the WCC, Dr Raiser and Cardinal Cassidy agreed to a meeting between the PCPCU and the WCC in order to share information, to express mutual concerns, and to seek ways to strengthen collaboration.

    5. The PCPCU and Canberra assessments of the JWG's Sixth Report

    1. In a letter to Dr Emilio Castro prior to the Canberra assembly, PCPCU president Cardinal Edward Cassidy approved the Sixth Report. He underlined the role of the JWG as an instrument for the co-operative relationship between the two parent bodies in the common quest for Christian unity. In stressing the Catholic Church's conviction of the critical importance of unity of faith for progress towards Christian unity, the cardinal strongly supported the work of Faith and Order; but he also pointed to the necessity of theological foundations in the studies and activities of other WCC programs and suggested that more development of this dimension could facilitate RCC co-operation in them. The letter recalled the desire of Pope John Paul II that common Christian witness be achieved wherever and as soon as possible. This was especially necessary in common reflection on those issues which tended to divide churches, for example, ethical concerns in which the churches should collaborate in exercising moral leadership.

    2. The Canberra assembly received the Sixth Report with appreciation. The impressive survey of the joint activities between the RCC and the WCC since the 1983 Vancouver assembly did not hide unresolved difficulties and failures. The assembly cited the dissolution of the Joint Consultative Group on Social Thought and Action as an illustration of the particular difficulties facing collaboration in this urgent area. It recommended that the JWG be liberated from monitoring some of the ongoing staff work between Geneva and Rome in order to concentrate on a thorough review of the RCC-WCC relationship and how it might be given more substantial visible expression.

    6. Mandated JWG priorities, 1991-1998

    Both the Canberra assembly and the PCPCU approved and encouraged the priorities which the Sixth Report had recommended to the next JWG:

    - the unity of the church: goal, steps and ecclesiological implications;

    - ecumenical formation and education;

    - ethical issues as new sources of division;

    - common witness in missionary endeavors;

    - social thought and action.

    The November 1993 meeting between WCC officers and PCPCU officials underlined that the JWG should now focus on its style of working and on identifying those programmatic areas where cooperation was necessary and possible. It acknowledged that in encouraging and facilitating reception of its work, the JWG experiences challenges similar to those faced by the bilateral dialogues.

    This Seventh Report demonstrates that the JWG has offered concrete results in meeting its mandated priorities. The exception is "social thought and action," but even in this case progress has been made in better understanding past difficulties and in opening the way towards new perspectives and possible positive initiatives for future collaboration.

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