As mentioned above, the Joint Working Group has singled out
three possible ways:
(a) the evolution of coordinated structures for increasing
(b) the formation of a new fellowship differently constituted;
(c) membership of the Roman Catholic Church in the World
Council of Churches.
These three possibilities will now be considered one
after the other.
The Evolution of Coordinated Structures for Increasing Collaboration
Theory and practice show the possibility of cooperation
between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches.
The marked increase in this cooperation has already been indicated
earlier and certain structures have begun to evolve for deepening
and extending it.
In the field of theological studies joint commissions,
such as that on Catholicity and Apostolicity' have done useful
work. Furthermore, individual Roman Catholics, with the approval
of the authorities of that Church, are members of the Faith and
Order Commission and participate in its studies. They are also involved
in the programme of the Ecumenical Institute Bossey.
Experience has shown that the communion already existing
can be made visible. This is particularly true in the areas of social
service, relief, justice and peace. Joint commissions have made
it possible to give some needed structure to this type of cooperation.
An outstanding example of this is the joint commission
for Society, Development and Peace (Sodepax). Under the joint chairmanship
of the Cardinal President of the Pontifical Commission for Justice
and Peace and the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches,
Sodepax was established on an experimental basis with an equal number
of members from both sides with a staff consisting of Roman Catholics
and persons belonging to the World Council.
It is one possible course of action to develop other
commissions of this type: Joint commissions for the study of theological
problems, for common witness to the Gospel, for coordinating relief
work, for promoting Christian education and the work of the laity,
Another way of closer cooperation could be the participation
of Roman Catholics in various organs of the World Council of Churches.
Roman Catholics would thus take part in the operations of the Division
of World Mission and Evangelism, of the Department of Education,
of the Division of Ecumenical Action, the Commission of the Churches
on International Affairs, the Division on Inter-Church Aid, Refugee
and World Service, etc. Without participating in the policy making
bodies of the World Council of Churches (Central Committee, Executive
Committee) the Roman Catholic Church would be actively involved
in the work of these organs.
This increased coordination of common activities may
have the advantage of not committing the Roman Catholic Church as
such but it would suffer from several disadvantages.
(a) The Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches
would continue to confront one another as partners, whereas in fact
they are not comparable entities.
The fact that the Roman Catholic Church would be involved in increasingly
coordinated activities with the World Council of Churches while
not being a member of the Council would intensify the tendency of
the latter to regard itself as a fellowship of non-Roman churches.
But by its very nature the World Council of Churches is meant to
include all churches which confess Jesus as God and Saviour. For
the World Council of Churches, the non-membership of the Roman Catholic
Church involves a limitation in its fellowship.
Secular institutions and the general public would continue to regard
the World Council of Churches as an instrument of non-Roman Catholics
on a world wide level; the impression would thereby be reinforced
that Christianity is divided into two major groupings.
The continuance of the present patterns of cooperation or of similar
ones would require the constant formation of new commissions and
projects and would frequently involve duplication, in a new ecumenical
context, of work already being done. Yet precisely in these days
there is a serious questioning within the Roman Catholic Church
about the proliferation of organizations in it. The World Council
of Churches has been forming new organizations to meet the needs
of its expanding activities, a tendency which has had some strong
criticism within the Council. To these would be added a whole series
of joint commissions. The question could be legitimately asked whether
this would develop cooperation properly according to future possibilities
in men and resources and whether the juxtaposition of new structures
alongside of old ones without effecting an organic relationship
between them would not often increase problems rather than solve
Participation by Roman Catholics in organs of the World Council
of Churches creates an anomalous situation for Roman Catholic participants.
They find themselves as communicant members of a nonmember church
actively influencing the policy and the operations of an organization
without assuming or being able to assume the real responsibilities
flowing from membership.
Joint cooperation is serving a very useful purpose and will
continue to do so for some time. However, it seems that joint cooperation
between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches
will soon reach the point where it will become apparent that increased
learning about each other and the experience of the working of Christ
in each other will be furthered only if some new and more organic
form of working together can be found.
B. A New Form of Christian Fellowship Differently Constituted?
The disparity between the Roman Catholic Church
as a world-wide church and the World Council of Churches as well
as the questions and problems raised at the end of Chapter I have
given rise to the suggestion in the Roman Catholic Church that
the ecumenical movement would best be served by setting up a completely
new form of Christian fellowship differently constituted. To some
extent the question is an abstract one. The formation of a new
association presupposes the willingness on the part of the World
Council of Churches' member churches to dissolve the World Council
of Churches. The Fourth Assembly of the World Council of Churches,
though explicitly encouraging the study of Roman Catholic membership
in the World Council of Churches, declared that at this stage
it regarded the existing fellowship as essential to the ecumenical
This and later similar statements by the Central Committee need
to be kept in mind. Nevertheless it seems useful to consider the
possibilities of such new forms of fellowship within the framework
of a hypothesis arising within the ecumenical movement.
A Fellowship Based on Confessional Families
An ecumenical fellowship could be formed with the
World Confessional Families as the constituent entities. This option
was considered at the time of the formation of the World Council
of Churches but it was rejected after careful discussion. Is it
nevertheless a viable idea?
There are some advantages to considering it new fellowship based
on this formula:
(a) The member units of this fellowship would be more easily
comparable partners. All the Confessional Families are organized
at the world level and thus correspond more clearly to the Roman
Catholic Church as a universal communion. The partners could deal
with one another at the same level.
The question has sometimes been raised whether the present fellowship
of the World Council of Churches was able to give enough attention
to the confessional aspects of the ecumenical movement. A fellowship
based on World Confessional Families may be able to deal more directly
with the confessional differences. It would be a constant reminder
that unity can be achieved only when these differences are solved
and full reconciliation has taken place. It would oblige the churches
to act in full accord with the sister churches of the same tradition.
(c) Such a fellowship would keep before the eyes of Christians
the transnational, universal concept of the Church. The concept
of the Church as a territorial entity seems to be secular in nature.
The more traditional Concept Of the Church is based on theological
and doctrinal lines which transcend geographical boundaries.
At least some of the Confessional Families have at their disposal
service organizations which correspond in their scope and activity
more closely to similar organizations in the Roman Catholic Church.
For other reasons, however, a new fellowship based on confessional
families does not seem to be a workable alternative:
(a) Not all confessional traditions are organized as confessional
families at the world level. Some churches though regarding themselves
as belonging to one and the same eucharistic communion have no permanent
organization to act for them. New spontaneous movements have hardly
any expression at the world level. In many countries there has been
the emergence of united churches which do not correspond to any
confessional family and there is no intention on the part of these
united churches to form a world-wide fellowship of their own.
Where confessional families exist they differ widely in nature,
organization and activities. Most of the world bodies have no authority
over their constituent bodies. They cannot represent their churches
at the international level. It is also unlikely that all world families
could be developed to be representative bodies. If they were to
represent their churches in an ecumenical fellowship at the world
level, many churches would feel that their ecclesiological convictions
were being violated; they could agree only if this ecumenical body
would be an entirely ineffective forum. Furthermore, the various
world families are differently organized; while some have relatively
large resources at their disposal, others have hardly any organizational
World confessional families do not necessarily include all churches
belonging to the same tradition. There would be no place in an association
of world families for churches having no affiliation with the organizational
structure of their family.
Local representation would not be direct but indirect. This would
tend to neglect geographical and local variety.
Such a new association would tend to freeze confessional stances
and take a purely confessional approach to problems in a way which
does not correspond to present day realities.
Problems such as primacy, papal authority, the understanding which
the Roman Catholic Church has of itself and her mission, would finally
not receive any easier solution through such a fellowship.
The importance of World Confessional Families must certainly
not be minimized. They can contribute through their activities to
the clarification of the issues which keep the churches apart. It
is to be noted that the World Council of Churches at its Fourth
Assembly (1968) explicitly recognized the positive role they may
play through their commitment to the ecumenical cause and stated
its readiness to establish closer contacts with them.
A Fellowship Based on Christian Councils
In many regions or countries churches have established
Christian Councils. It is conceivable that a new world wide fellowship
might be formed on the basis of these councils. Of course, this
solution would presuppose that the Roman Catholic Church in the
various countries was in membership with the councils.
Christian Councils are an attempt to bring together
in an ecumenical fellowship the Christian churches and movements
of a given area. They are an expression of the need of all in each
place to live and witness together. An association at the world
level based on Christian Councils could possibly make fuller use
of the ecumenical achievements in the various countries. It would
put the emphasis rather on the Christian community of certain areas
than on the churches and their confessional background. It would
give visible recognition to the fact that unity must be primarily
achieved between people living and working together.
The experience of the World Council of Churches shows
the many positive values of contacts with Christian Councils. The
World Council of Churches keeps close contact with them in carrying
out its own work. The Commission of World Mission and Evangelism
of the World Council of Churches, which developed out of the International
Missionary Council, continues to be in close contact with the Christian
On the other hand Christian Councils differ very much
from country to country. In some countries they do not exist. Usually
they have no authority over their member churches. Some have no
authority to discuss Faith and Order issues but are restricted to
cooperation on non-theological matters. In some areas, member churches
are approximately equal in size. In others, one church would be
overwhelmingly predominant (Greece, Italy, Scandinavia).
An international fellowship based on Christian Councils'
would provide no clear place for confessional expression or for
the identity of the churches as such, nor would such a fellowship
relate to the churches themselves. It would be extremely difficult
to discuss the question of Christian unity which in its basic analysis
involves the churches directly. Delegations to the international
fellowship would represent Christians in a country, not their own
It would seem difficult therefore for such a fellowship
to move on to the deeper commitment in achieving that unity which
should be the aim of the ecumenical movement.
A Fellowship Based on Christian Movements
In the Christian world there are many movements of
individuals and groups. These have taken the forms, for example,
of Evangelical Alliance, YMCA, Pax Romana, Student Christian Movement,
Young Catholic Workers. Many of these existed before the World Council
of Churches. In fact, the movements of Faith and Order and Life
and Work were at the basis of the formation of the World Council
Many of these movements receive support from the churches
without the churches as such being involved. They form a useful
and often necessary function in the life of the churches and there
will always be need for such associations, even on an international
Yet an international fellowship based on these movements
is not really an alternative to more organic relations between the
churches. If it is to serve the ecumenical movement, there is need
for some ecclesial structure in which the churches are directly
involved. An international fellowship of non-ecclesiastical persons
can inspire the churches and provoke them to assume their ecumenical
task. But it could never be a substitute for the churches who have
the duty of carrying out this task.
of Policy Reference Committee I," §8 in N. GOODALL,
ed., The Uppsala Report 1968..., op. cit., 179.