ECUMENICAL DIALOGUE ON MORAL ISSUES: POTENTIAL SOURCES OF COMMON
WITNESS OR OF DIVISIONS
A Study Document of the Joint Working Group Between the Roman
Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches
I. Ethics and the Ecumenical Movement
II. The Church as Moral Environment for Discipleship
III. Common Sources and Different Pathways of Moral Deliberation
IV. Different Authoritative Means Of Moral Discernment
V. Ecumenical Challenges To Moral Formation And Deliberation
VI. Christian Moral Witness in a Pluralistic Society
for the Ecumenical Dialogue on Moral Issues
Already in 1987, the Joint Working Group (JWG) began to discuss
new potential and actual sources of divisions within and between
the churches, and it gradually focused on personal and social
ethical issues and positions as potential sources of discord or
of common witness.
The JWG summarized its reflections in its 1990 Sixth Report. The
Report noted that "in fact there is not enough serious, mature
and sustained ecumenical discussion on many ethical issues and
positions, personal and social; for example, nuclear armaments
and deterrence, abortion and euthanasia, permanent married love
and procreation, genetic engineering and artificial insemination"
[III. 1. c].
The JWG submitted the Sixth Report to the Roman Catholic authorities
and to the Seventh Assembly of the World Council of Churches (Canberra,
February 1991). Both mandated that the JWG should deepen the study
as one of the priorities during its next period. It was not to
examine the substance of the potentially or actually divisive
issues, but it was to describe them and outline how they may best
be approached in dialogue, in the hope that such issues can offer
new opportunities for the increase of mutual understanding and
respect and for common witness, without compromise of a church's
convictions or of Christian conscience.
The JWG commissioned consultations, co-directed by Dr Anna-Marie
Aagaard (University of Aarhus), one of the WCC presidents, and
by Fr Thomas Stransky CSP (Tantur Ecumenical Institute, Jerusalem),
a Roman Catholic member of the JWG. The report of the first consultation,
held in October 1993 (Rome),1
was submitted to the JWG plenary in June 1994 (Crete, Greece)
for decisions on future procedures. Tantur hosted the second larger
consultation in November 1994.2
A draft received the reactions of the JWG Executive (February
1995) and of the Tantur participants. The JWG plenary in May 1995
(Bose, Italy) corrected a new draft, and accepted the text as
a Study Document of the JWG itself.
The Study is in two parts:
1. "The Ecumenical Dialogue on Moral Issues: Potential Sources
of Common Witness or of Divisions";
2. "Guidelines for Ecumenical Dialogue on Moral Issues".
The Study is intended primarily for those dialogues at local,
national and regional levels, where Roman Catholics are partners.
It may be useful for other bilateral or multilateral discussions.
It is important to understand that the Study does not analyze
specific controversial issues as such in an attempt to arrive
at norms. Rather, it describes present situations and illustrates
some underlying contexts which help to place the issues. It suggests
possible ways and not the results of dialogue.
The JWG places this Study within its general concentration on
"The Unity of the Church the Goal and the Way"
(cf. Sixth Report, III.A.), and more specifically, on new Christian
ways of rendering common witness in society at large. Furthermore,
the JWG is aware of the Study in progress within the WCC (Units
I and III) on "Ecclesiology and Ethics", and suggests
that it may be complemented by the JWG Study Document.
Eminence Metropolitan Elias of Beirut
Most Rev. Alan C. Clark
Co-moderators of the Joint Working Group
25 September, 1995
I. Ethics and the Ecumenical Movement
Of increasing urgency in the ecumenical movement, in the relationships
between the churches called to give common witness, is their need
to address those moral issues which all persons face and to communicate
moral guidance to church members and to society at large.
I.1. Cultural and social transformations, conflicting basic values,
and scientific and technological advances are fraying the moral
fabric of many societies. This context not only provokes questioning
of traditional moral values and positions, but it also raises
new complex ethical issues for the consciousness and conscience
of all human beings.
I.2. At the same time, renewed expectations rise in and beyond
the churches that religious communities can and should offer moral
guidance in the public arena. Christians and those of other faiths
or of secular persuasions desire to live peacefully and justly
in a humane society. Can the churches together already offer moral
guidance as their contribution to the common good, amidst experienced
confusion and controversy?
I.3. Pressing personal and social moral issues, however, are prompting
discord among Christians themselves and even threatening new divisions
within and between churches. This increases the urgent need for
the churches together to find ways of dealing with their controversial
ethical issues. By taking the time and care to listen patiently
to other Christians, we may understand the pathways by which they
arrive at moral convictions and ethical positions, especially
if they differ from our own. Otherwise, Christians will continue
often to caricature one another's motives, reasonings and ways
of behavior, even with abusive language and acts. Dialogue should
Other Christians or other churches holding diverging moral convictions
can threaten us. They can question our own moral integrity and
the foundations of our religious and ethical beliefs. They can
demean the authority, credibility, and even integrity of our own
church. Whenever an individual or a community selects a moral
position or practice to be the litmus test of authentic faith
and the sole criterion of the fundamental unity of the Church,
emotions rise high so that it becomes difficult to hear one another.
Christians, while "speaking the truth in charity" (Eph
4:15), are called upon, as far as possible, "to maintain
the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace", (Eph 4:3)
and avoid wounding further the koinonia which already exists,
although imperfectly, among Christians.
I.4. Therefore, if some ethical issues arouse passionate emotions
and create awkward ecumenical relations, the churches should not
shun dialogue, for these moral issues also can become church-reconciling
means of common witness. A variety of issues are woven into the
moral positions of communities. In a prayerful, non-threatening
atmosphere, dialogue can locate more precisely where the agreements,
disagreements and contradictions occur. Dialogue can affirm those
shared convictions to which the churches should bear common witness
to the world at large. Furthermore, the dialogue can discern how
ethical beliefs and practices relate to that unity in moral life
which is Christ's will.
I.5. Attentive concern for the complexities of the moral life
should not cause Christians to lose sight of what is most fundamental
for them all: the starting and ending point is the grace of God
in Jesus Christ and the Spirit as mediated in the Church and in
creation. Our life in God is the fundamental continuing source
of our movement towards deeper koinonia. Only God's initiating
and sustaining grace enables Christians to transcend moral differences,
overcome divisions and live their unity in faith.
II. The Church as Moral Environment for Discipleship
Included in the call to the Church to be the sign and instrument
of salvation in a transformed world, is the call to create a moral
environment which helps disciples of Christ to shape their personal
and communal ethical lives through formation and deliberation.
II.1. The Church has the enduring task to be a community of "The
Way" (cf. Acts 9:2, 22:4), the home, the family which provides
the moral environment of right living and conduct «in Christ»,
who in the Spirit makes known «the paths of life»
to his disciples (Acts 2:28; Ps 16:11).
Discipleship holds together what Christians believe, how believing
Christians act, and how they give to fellow Christians and to
others an account of why they so believe and so act. Discipleship
is the way of believing and acting in the daily struggle to be
a faithful witness of Jesus Christ who commissions His community
of disciples to proclaim, teach and live "all that I have
commanded you" (Mt 28:20).
II.2. Within the koinonia the disciple of Christ is not alone
in the process of discerning how to incarnate in one's life the
ethical message of the Gospel. Faithful discipleship arises out
of private prayer and public worship, of fellowship in sharing
each other's joys and bearing each other's burdens. It is nourished
by the examples of the saints, the wisdom of teachers, the prophetic
vision of the inspired, and the guidance of ministerial leaders.
In real but imperfect communion with one another, each church
expects itself and other churches to provide a moral environment
through formation and deliberation.
II.3. Formation and deliberation describes the shaping of human
character and conduct, the kinds of Christian persons we are and
become, and the kinds of actions we decide to do. The scope of
Christian morality comprises both our "being" and our
Useful for showing the inseparable dimensions of moral life are
the distinctions between moral vision, virtue, value, and obligation.
Moral vision is a person's, a community's, or a society's
"basic script" of the moral realm, the vision of what
belongs to the good, the right, and the fitting. A moral vision
encompasses, informs, and organizes virtues, values, and obligations.
In the Christian moral life various summaries of teaching and
different images express the Gospel vision itself: the commandments
of love of God and of neighbor; the prophetic teachings on justice
and mercy; the Beatitudes; the fruits of the Spirit; ascetic ascent
and pilgrimage; costly discipleship and the imitation of Christ;
stewarding a good land. These and other biblical images suggest
pathways which bring definition and coherence to the moral land-
Moral virtues are desirable traits of a persons moral character,
such as integrity, humility and patience, compassion and forgiveness;
or prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. In an analogous
way one can predicate these virtues to communities and societies.
Moral values are not so much these internalized qualities
of character but those moral goods which individuals and society
prize, such as respect for the dignity of the human person, freedom
and responsibility, friendship, equality and solidarity, and social
Moral obligations are those duties which persons owe one
another in mutual responsibility, in order to live together in
harmony and integrity, such as telling the truth and keeping one's
word; or those imperatives of a biblical moral vision, such as
loving and forgiving the neighbor, including enemies.
II.4. This way of describing the scope of morality (vision, virtue,
value, obligation) can provide inter-related criteria for the
Church's moral task: to be ever the witness to "our great
God and Savior Jesus Christ who sacrificed himself for us in order
to set us free from all wickedness and to purify a people so that
it could be his very own and would have no ambition except to
do good" (Tit 2:13-14). A Christian ethic is reductionistic
and deficient if it addresses only one or another of these four
elements; all of them interact and modify one another. Even when
it does address all four, different configurations may characterize
II.5. The task of moral formation and deliberation is one which
the churches share. All churches seek to enhance the moral responsibility
of their members for living a righteous life and to influence
positively the moral standards and well-being of the societies
in which they live.
This identifies an ecumenical objective: the quality of the moral
environment that churches create together in and through worship,
education and nurture, and social witness. Reverence for the dignity
of each person created "in the image of God" (Gn 1:27),
the affirmation of the fundamental equality of women and men,
the pursuit of creative non-violent strategies for resolving conflict
in human relationships, and the responsible stewardship of creation
these are positive contributions of churches through the
moral environment they foster. On the other hand, churches can
also distort character and mal-form conscience. They have at times
undergirded national chauvinism and ethnocentrism, and actively
discriminated against persons on the basis of race or nationality,
class or gender.
III. Common Sources and Different Pathways of Moral Deliberation
For those pathways of moral reflection and deliberation which
churches use in coming to ethical decisions, the churches share
the Scriptures and have at their disposal such resources as liturgy
and moral traditions, catechisms and sermons, sustained pastoral
practices, the wisdom distilled from past and present experiences,
and the arts of reflection and spiritual discernment. Yet church
traditions configure these common resources in different ways.
III. 1. The biblical vision by itself does not provide Christians
with all the clear moral principles and practical norms they need.
Nor do the Scriptures resolve every ethical case. Narratives join
many instructions about proper conduct general commandments
and prohibitions, prophetic exhortations and accusations, counsels
of wisdom, legal and ritual prescriptions, and so forth. What
moral theology names universal moral principles or norms are in
the biblical texts mixed with specific but ever valid commandments
and particular provisional prescriptions. The Scriptures' use
of imagery in provocative, often paradoxical ways further makes
interpretations of biblical moral teaching difficult.
Nevertheless, there is general consensus that by prayerfully studying
the Scriptures and the developing traditions of biblical interpretations,
by reflecting on human experiences, and by sharing insights within
a community, Christians can reach reasonable judgements and decisions
in many cases of ethical conduct.
III.2. Within the history of the Church, Christians have developed
ways of reflecting systematically on the moral life by the ordering
of biblical concepts and images and by rational argument. Such
methods intend to introduce clarity and consistency where divergences
of discernment threaten to foster confusion and chaos.
For example, one tradition suggests different levels of moral
insight and distinguishes between first- order (and unchanging)
principles and second-order (and possibly changing) rules. Or
more recently, the language of "hierarchy of values"
distinguishes between those core values at the heart of Christian
discipleship and those other values which are less central yet
integral to Christian morality. By emphasizing the "first-order
principles" or the "core values", Christians can
discover how much they already share, without reducing moral truth
or searching for a least common denominator.
III.3. Christian traditions, however, have different estimates
of human nature and of the capacity of human reason. Some believe
that sin has so corrupted human nature that reason cannot arrive
at moral truths. Others maintain that sin has only wounded human
nature, and that with divine grace and human discipline, reason
can still reach many universally applicable truths about moral
For example, by appealing to Scripture and Tradition, to reason
and experience, the Roman Catholic Church has developed its understanding
of human person and human dignity, of human acts and their goals,
and of human rights and responsibilities. In its tradition of
moral reflection and teaching, the supreme norm of human life
is that universal divine law by which God, in wisdom and love,
orders, directs and governs the whole world and all ways of the
human community. By nature and through grace, God enables every
person intelligently to grasp this divine law, so that all men
and women can come to perceive unchangeable truth more fully.
Thus the revealed law of God and what one calls "natural
law" together express that undivided will of God which obliges
human beings to seek and to know it as best they can, and to live
as conscience dictates.
III.4. The tracing of the different pathways which link vision
with judgement and decision may help Christians to locate and
evaluate some of their differences. For example, Christians who
adopt the language of human rights have an effective way of high-lighting
concern for the powerless, the poor and the marginalized. While
different parties may agree on certain fundamental rights, they
can reach different, even contradictory applications; for example,
rights to religious freedom. Moreover, formulations and extensions
of rights have become the subject of much dispute, especially
in addressing such ethical issues as human reproduction and abortion.
One Christian vision of the integrity of sexual life links sexual
relationship with procreation by an interpretation of natural
law and of the biblical accounts of creation. Some churches, such
as the Roman Catholic Church, hold this position. Other churches
judge it most difficult, even impossible to affirm such a link.
Those which find the appeal to natural law inconclusive accept
the possible separation of the good of procreation from the good
of sexual relationship, and use this argument to approve contraceptive
means in marriage.
III.5. The Christian stance towards war is another example of
different pathways which lead to different conclusions. Every
tradition accepts the biblical vision of peace between neighbors;
and, more specifically, the New Testament witness to nonviolent
attitudes and acts. A major division has arisen, however, from
different judgements concerning the Church's collaboration with
civic powers as a means of influencing human history. Those churches
which have opted for collaboration accept some versions of the
"just war" theory; they tolerate, even encourage, the
active participation of patriotic Christians in some wars between
nations and in armed revolutions within a country. But groups
within these same churches agree with those other churches which
choose to witness within the political order as non-compromising
opponents to all use of military force, because it is contrary
to the non-violent, peace-making way of Christ. These Christians
abstain from bearing arms, even if that be civil disobedience.
Here one can identify the precise point of difference in major
theological options which have fundamental consequences for the
policy of a church towards war and the conduct of its members.
IV. Different Authoritative Means Of Moral Discernment
Different understandings and exercise of church polities and
structures of authority mean that moral formation and concrete
ethical positions are themselves developed in different ways,
even when similar attitudes and out- comes often emerge.
IV. 1. The formation of conscience and the development of connected
positions on specific ethical issues follow various pathways among
different traditions, such as the Orthodox or Roman Catholic,
Reformed or Lutheran, Baptist or Friends (Quaker). Every church
believes that its members have the task of rightly applying their
faith more fully to daily life. All traditions have their own
ways of beginning, moving through and concluding their moral deliberations,
and of acting upon them. There are different ways of discussing,
consulting and arriving at decisions and of transmitting and receiving
Influencing this process are the different ways in which they
understand the action of the Holy Spirit and the exercise of the
specific role of ministerial leadership in moral discemment and
In the Roman Catholic Church, bishops, according to the gift received
from the Holy Spirit, and under His guidance, in their ministry
of oversight (episkope), are the authoritative guardians and interpreters
of the whole moral law, that is, both the law of the Gospel and
the natural law. Bishops have the pastoral responsibility and
duty of offering moral guidance, even sometimes definitive judgement
that a specific action is right or wrong. Moral theologians provide
ethical discemment within the community. Confessors, pastoral
counsellors and spiritual directors seek to take account of the
unique needs of the individual person.
In the Orthodox Church decisions on ethical issues rest with the
hierarchy, whether a Synod of bishops or an individual bishop,
who are inspired by the Scriptures and the long tradition of the
Church's pastoral care and moral guidance. The main concern is
the spiritual welfare of the person in his or her relationship
to God and to fellow human beings. The prudential application
of church law and general norms (oikonomia) sometimes temper strictness,
sometimes increase severity. It is a principal means for both
spiritual growth and moral guidance. Orthodox tradition cherishes
also the role of experienced spiritual fathers and mothers, and
in the process of moral reflection, it stresses prayer among both
laity and ordained.
Other churches do not ascribe to ministerial leadership this competency
in interpretation or such authority of judgement. They arrive
at certain ethical judgements by different polities of consulting
and decision-making which involve clergy and laity. The Reformed
traditions, for example, hold that the living Word of the sovereign
God is always reforming the church in faith and life. Doctrinal
and ethical judgements should be based on the Holy Scripture and
informed by the whole tradition of the Church catholic and ecumenical.
But no church body has the final authority in defining of Word
of God. Redeemed and fallible human beings within the church faithfully
rely on the process, inspired by the holy Spirit, whereby they
select their ordained and lay leaders and reach authoritative
but reformable expressions of faith and positions on personal
and social ethics.
IV.2. Thus, ecumenical dialogue on moral issues should include
the nature, mission and structures of the Church, the role of
ministerial authority and its use of resources in offering moral
guidance, and the response to the exercise of such authority within
the Church. These subjects will in turn help to locate ecumenical
gifts and opportunities for common witness, as well as tensions
First, the tensions and conflicts. Is there anxiety and unease
because many fear the erosion of the foundational sources of Scripture
and Tradition, and of church authority which they believe to be
most reliable in guiding Christian conscience and conduct? Or
are the ways in which particular church traditions understand,
accept and use the sources and authorities themselves the source
of tension and divisiveness? Does deliberation of ethical issues
generate anxiety and anger because some persons negatively experience
these sources and their use? For example, the inter-pretation
of Scripture and Tradition in such ways that they present the
oppressive face of social and theological patriarchy?
One often best understands persistent unchanging stands on a specific
issue not by focusing narrowly on it, but by considering what
people sense is at stake for life together in society if certain
sources, structures, and authorities are ignored or even ridiculed.
For example, in some settings questions about the beginning and
ending of life abortion and euthanasia carry such
Furthermore, some churches stress more than others the structures
of authority and formal detailed statements on belief and morality.
This can create an imbalance and lack of realism in the dialogue
if one easily compares the official teachings of some churches
with the more diffuse estimates of the general belief and practice
Thus, awareness of the moral volatility which surround the sources
and authorities used which they are, by whom and how they
are interpreted, and with what kinds of concerns they are associated
is critical for understanding why some moral issues are
difficult and potentially divisive among Christians.
IV.3. Second, gift and opportunities. Discerning the gifts in
church traditions that may lie unnoticed as treasures for the
moral life poses another set of questions for the ecumenical dialogue:
What do inherited understandings and forms of koinonia (communion
or fellowship), diakonia (service), and martyria (witness) mean
for moral formation today?
Which visions, virtues, values, and obligations are nurtured by
the lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi (the rule of praying,
of believing, of living) as particular traditions and structures
Which practices in the varied traditions contribute to the legitimate
difference and authentic diversity of the moral life of the one
Church? How can both common and distinctive practices contribute
to the moral richness of the koinonia?
In dialogue Christians thus need both to recognized the rich resources
they share for moral formation and to ask critically how these
in fact function in a variety of contexts, cultures and peoples.
V. Ecumenical Challenges To Moral Formation And Deliberation
Churches which share real but imperfect koinonia face new challenges
as communities of moral formation and deliberation: the pluralism
of moral positions; the crisis of moral authority, changing moral
judgements on tradi-tional issues, and positions on new ones.
V.1. Christians agree that there is a moral universe which is
grounded in the wisdom and will of God, but they may have different
interpretations of God's wisdom, of the nature of that universe,
and of the degree to which human beings are called to fashion
it as co-creators with God.
We cannot deny three facts:
First, Christians do share a long history of extensive
unity in moral teaching and practice, flowing in part from a shared
reflection on common sources, such as Ten Commandments and the
Second, divided Christian communities eventually did acquire
some differences in ways of determining moral principles and acting
Third, these differences have led today to such a pluralism
of moral frameworks and positions within and between the ecclesial
traditions that some positions appear to be in sharp tension,
even in contradiction. The same constellation of basic moral principles
may admit of a diversity of rules which intends to express a faithful
response to biblical vision and to these principles. Even the
explicit divine commandment "Thou shalt not kill", receives
conflicting applications; for example, yes or no to the death
penalty as such or for certain crimes.
V.2. The crisis of moral authority within the churches further
complicates effective moral formation and deliberation. Even where
a church has an established moral tradition, some members strongly
propose alternative positions. In fact, church members are becoming
more vocal and persistent in sharp criticism of authoritative
moral teaching and practice, and they use the same sources as
the basis for differing ethical positions. The fashioning of effective
moral formation and deliberation in these settings is an urgent
V.3. The process of the formulation and reception of ethical decisions
also poses a major challenge of participation: who forms and formulates
the churches' moral decisions, using which powers of influence
and action, and which instruments of consultation? How do church
members and the society at large assess, appropriate and respond
to official church pronouncements? What are the channels of such
a response, and what kinds of response are encouraged or discouraged?
V.4. Are not the conditions and structures of dialogue themselves
prime ethical issues for churches? They are potentially either
divisive or reconciling. They can either enhance or undermine
koinonia in faith, life and witness. One starting point is simply
to acknowledge that the way in which a church (or churches together)
orders and structures its decision- making and then publicly communicates
its decisions already embodies a social ethic, and influences
moral teaching and practice. Structures, offices, and roles express
moral values or disvalues. Ways of exercising power, governance,
and access have moral dimensions. To ignore this is to fail to
understand why moral issues and the ways in which they are addressed
can be so divisive, even within the same church.
V.5. The extent to which moral judgments can change needs candid
dialogue. For example, until the middle of the eighteenth century,
historical churches, even in their official statements, acquiesced
in the practice of slavery; some leaders even proposed biblical
and theological arguments to sanction it. Today all churches judge
slavery to be an intrinsic evil, everywhere and always wrong.
What does this kind of change of a former established teaching
of the churches mean for understanding that degree of unity in
faithful moral teaching which full communion requires?
Christians in dialogue should not ignore or hide evidence of change
in moral teaching or practice. Churches do not always welcome
such openness, despite their emphasis on human finitude and sin
in the historical development of teachings and practices. Moreover,
the interpretation of change in moral teaching is itself a source
of disagreement and tension. While some may interpret the change
as positive growth in faithful moral understanding, others may
judge it as easy compromise or rank failure.
Apartheid is a particular example, where after long deliberation,
some families of churches went beyond the rejection of apartheid
as inconsistent with the Gospel to judge that those who maintained
apartheid to be Christian as placing themselves outside the fellowship
of the Church.
Hence, an ecumenical approach to morality requires the awareness
of different evaluations of changing moral traditions.
V.6. Several new ethical issues especially challenge ecumenical
collaboration when the churches have no clear and detailed precedents,
much less experience and consensus. Only to begin a long list
of examples; economic policies in a world of "haves"
and have-"nots"; immigration and refugee regulations
within and between nations; industrialization and the environment;
women's rights in society and in the churches; in vitro fertilization,
genetic engi- neering and other biomedical developments. Christians
and others experience the urgency of these unavoidable, complex
ethical issues. They expect the churches to offer moral guidance
Even the experts in the empirical sciences may offer conflicting
data or disagree on the implications of scientific findings. The
ways in which the churches together seek out, gather and order
the facts with the best knowledge available from the empirical
scientists. is already an ecumenical challenge. In the light of
this, Christians can responsibly address the moral implications
of issues, and offer guidance.
VI. Christian Moral Witness in a Pluralistic Society
Christians are called to witness in the public forum to their
common moral convictions with humility and with respect for others
and their convictions. They should seek dialogue and collaboration
with those of other faith-communities, indeed with all persons
of good will who are committed to the well-being of humanity.
VI.1. In the political process of legislation and judicial decision,
churches may rightly raise their prophetic voice in support or
in protest. In common witness they can take a firm stand when
they believe that public decisions or laws affirm or contradict
God's purposes for the dignity of persons or the integrity of
One can highlight the example of common witness of Christians
in the struggle against apartheid and "ethnic cleansing".
In fact, such moral issues of human rights and equality have been
community- building experiences of koinonia in faith and witness,
which some perceive as profound experiences of "Church".
VI.2. Sometimes churches and Christian advocacy groups may agree
on the basic values which they should promote, yet they disagree
about the means that should be used, especially in the political
arena. In such situations, they should seek collaboration as much
as their agreement allows, and at the same time articulate the
reasons for their disagreement. Disagreement over some particular
points or means to an end should not rule out all collaboration.
In these cases, however, it is all the more important to be open
and explicit about the areas of disagreement, so as to avoid confusion
in common witness.
VI.3. In the public arena, the churches are one family of moral
community among others, whether religious or secular. Moral discernment
is not the exclusive preserve of Christians. Christian moral understandings
and approaches to ethical issues should be open to evaluate carefully
the moral insights and judgements of others. Often moral traditions
overlap, even when the approaches and idioms of language may be
In any case, the manner and the methods by which the churches'
publicly commend their own moral convictions must respect the
integrity of others and their civic rights and liberties. For
the authority of the churches in the public moral debate of pluralistic
societies is the authority of their moral wisdom, insights and
judgements as these commend themselves to the intelligence and
conscience of others.
Guidelines for the Ecumenical Dialogue on Moral Issues
The acceptance and practice of these suggested guidelines for
dialogue can promote the goal of the ecumenical movement: the
visible unity of Christians in one faith and one Eucharistic fellowship,
expressed in worship, common life and service, in order that the
world may believe.
We assume that churches are seeking to be faithful to God in Christ,
to be led by the Holy Spirit, and to be a moral environment which
helps all members in the formation of Christian conscience and
practice. We affirm the responsibility of every church to provide
moral guidance for its members and for society at large.
God who through the Spirit leads Christians to manifest the unity
of the Church, calls the churches, while still divided, to common
witness; that is, together in Christian discipleship they are
to manifest whatever divine gifts of truth and life they already
share and experience.
A lack of ecumenical dialogue on personal and social moral issues
and a weak will to overcome whatever divisiveness they may prompt,
place yet another stumbling block in the proclamation of the one
gospel of Jesus Christ, who is "the Way the Truth and the
Life" (Jn 14:6).
1. In fostering the koinonia or communion between the churches,
we should as much as possible consult and exchange information
with one another, in a spirit of mutual understanding and respect,
always "speaking the truth in charity" (Eph 4:15).
2. In dialogue we should try first to understand the moral positions
and practices of others as they understand them, so that each
one recognizes oneself in the descriptions. Only then can we evaluate
them out of our own tradition and experience.
3. In comparing the good qualities and moral ideals or the weaknesses
and practices of various Christian communities, one should compare
ideals with ideals and practice with practice. We should understand
what others want to be and to do in order to be faithful disciples
of Christ, even though those others as we ourselves
are burdened with weakness and sin.
4. We recognize that Christians enjoy a history of substantial
unity in moral teaching and practice. By placing ethical issues
within this inheritance of moral unity, we can more carefully
understand the origin and nature of any present disagreement or
5. We trust that Christians can discover the bases for their moral
vision, values and conduct in the Scriptures and in other resources:
moral traditions (including specific church and interchurch statements),
liturgies, preaching and catechetics, pastoral practices, common
human experiences, and methods of reflection.
6. We should seek from the empirical sciences the best available
knowledge on specific issues, and if possible agree on the data
and their ethical implications before offering moral guidance.
7. We should acknowledge that various church traditions in fact
sometimes agree, sometimes differ in the ways they:
use Scriptures and other common resources, as well as the
data of empirical sciences;
relate moral vision, ethical norms and prudential judgements;
identify a specific moral issue and formulate the problems;
communicate within a church those values and disciplines
which help to develop its own moral environment in the shaping
of Christian character;
understand and exercise ministerial leadership and oversight
in moral guidance.
8. We should be ever alert to affirm whatever is shared in common,
and to admit where there are serious divergent, even contrary
stances. We should never demand that fellow Christians with whom
we disagree compromise their integrity and convictions.
9. In the public arena of pluralistic societies, we should be
in dialogue also with others, whether religious or secular. We
try to understand and evaluate their moral insights and judgements,
and to find a common language to express our agreements and differences.
10. When the dialogue continues to reveal sincere but apparently
irreconcilable moral positions, we affirm in faith that the fact
of our belonging together in Christ is more fundamental than the
fact of our moral differences. The deep desire to find an honest
and faithful resolution of our disagreements is itself evidence
that God continues to grace the koinonia among disciples of Christ.
Service 91 (1996/I-II) 83-90]
in this consultation were: Prof. Anna Marie Aagaard, University
of Aarhus; Rev. Prof. Peter Baelz, United Kingdom; Rev. Brian
V. Johnstone, C.SS.R., Academia Alfonsiana, Rome; Rev. Msgr
John A. Radano, PCPCU; Dr Teodora Rossi, Rome; Prof. Alexander
Stavropoulos, Athens University; Rev. Thomas Stransky, CSP,
Tantur Ecumenical Institute, Jerusalem; Rev. Dr Elizabeth
S. Tapia, Union Theological Seminary.
in this consultation were: Prof. Anna Marie Aagaard, University
of Aarhus; Rev. Prof. Peter Baelz, United Kingdom; Rev. Bénézet
Bujo, Moraltheologisches Institut, Universität Fribourg;
Rev. Brian V. Johnstone, C.SS.R., Academia Alfonsiana, Rome;
Rev. William Henn, OFM Cap., Collegio S. Lorenzo, Rome; Dr Donna
Orsuto, Gregoriana University/The Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas,
Rome; Rev. Msgr John A. Radano, PCPCU; Prof. Larry Rasmussen,
Union Theological Seminary, New York; Dr Martin Robra, WCC/Unit
III ECOS, Theology of Life Programed; Prof. Alexander Stavropoulos;
Athens University; Rev. Thomas Stransky, CSP, Tantur Ecumenical
Institute, Jerusalem; Rev. Dr Elizabeth S. Tapia, Union Theological
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