The question of Roman Catholic membership in the World Council
of Churches has been raised by the Fourth General Assembly at Uppsala
(1968) and by Pope Paul VI in Geneva (1969). It has been the subject
of discussion at various ecumenical gatherings and in published articles.
As was mentioned in the introduction, with all of its recognized imperfections
and inadequacies, within its fellowship churches and individuals have
grown to know each other, to understand each other, to pray together,
to work together. Various possible forms of relationships between
the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian churches and communities
have been indicated. It is logical that particular attention now be
given to the question of membership in the existing fellowship of
the World Council of Churches.
Practical Questions Connected with Roman Catholic Membership
1. The Mode of Roman Catholic Membership
The Roman Catholic Church is a world-wide church.
The membership of the World Council of Churches, on the other hand,
is composed mainly, though not exclusively, of churches which are
confined to particular geographical areas. If the Roman Catholic
Church joins the World Council of Churches, should it do so as a
single church? Or should it join through those units which are comparable
with the great majority of the present member churches?
The following points are important in deciding this
(a) The Rules of the World Council of Churches have this
to say about criteria for membership:
3. The following criteria, among others, shall be applied, in addition
to the primary requirement of the Constitution that churches eligible
for consideration for membership shall be those which express
their agreement with the Basis upon which the Council is formed'.
Autonomy. A church which is to be admitted must give evidence
of autonomy. An autonomous church is one which, while recognizing
the essential interdependence of the churches, particularly those
of the same confession, is responsible to no other church for
the conduct of its own life, including the training, ordination
and maintenance of its ministry, the enlisting, development and
activity of the lay forces, the propagation of the Christian message,
the determination of relationship with other churches and the
use of funds at its disposal from whatever source.
(b) Stability. A church should not be admitted unless it has given
sufficient evidence of stability in life and organization to become
recognized as a church by its sister churches, and should have
an established programme of Christian nurture and evangelism.
(c) Size. The question of size must also be taken into consideration.
(d) Relationship with other churches. Regard must also be given
to the relationship of the church to other churches.
Since the World Council of Churches does not require from the churches
any particular self-understanding, neither does it decide the level
at which the individual church becomes a member of the World Council,
each church must join in accordance with its own understanding of
itself. On practical grounds, of course, it is desirable for the
work of the World Council of Churches that as far as possible its
member churches should be comparable entities. But if a church is
so constituted that it can only join as a world-wide fellowship,
there is no fundamental objection to this on the part of the World
Council of Churches.
It is hoped that each individual member church will participate
in its entirety in the World Council of Churches. It is important,
therefore, that the variety present in any church should find expression
in the work of the World Council of Churches. This would apply equally
to the Roman Catholic Church if it were to become a member. Recent
developments have emphasized the rich geographical, cultural, theological
and spiritual variety found in the Roman Catholic Church. This variety
must be enabled to contribute to the life of the World Council of
The local and territorial churches within the Roman Catholic Church
must be in a position to regard the World Council of Churches as
a fellowship of which they are a part. Unity must ultimately be
achieved in concrete situations. It is important that it should
be possible in the ecumenical movement to take as direct an account
as possible of experience gained in concrete situations.
The practical developments of the principle of collegiality have
led to increasing responsibilities being attributed to the patriarchal
synods and episcopal conferences within the Roman Catholic Church.
At the same time as encouragement is being given to the local and
national churches to develop their liturgical, theological and spiritual
life in accordance with their own special genius and the particular
pastoral needs of the area, great stress is laid upon the interdependence
of the local churches and their responsibility for the universal
Church. As has been mentioned before, the question of the relationships
between the patriarchal synods and the episcopal conferences with
the Roman See, and also between the conferences themselves, was
considered at the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in 1969 and it
was recognized that further study of both its theological and practical
aspects is required.
It is clear, however, that the Roman Catholic Church's understanding
of itself as one universal fellowship is so fundamental that its
central authority would have to be represented in the fellowship
of the World Council of Churches, otherwise its representation in
the World Council would not do justice to its character as a church.
At the same time, the Roman Catholic Church must also be in a position
to give expression to the great variety characteristic of it. Its
membership in the World Council would need to be in a form which
would match this two-fold requirement.
Various forms of membership have been suggested,
The individual patriarchal synods and episcopal conferences would
apply for membership, in which case membership in the World Council
of Churches would rise from around 240 to around 330. Roman Catholic
membership would thus be more comparable with that of the great
majority of the present member churches. Such a form, however, would
not take into account sufficiently the understanding the Roman Catholic
Church has of itself as one universal fellowship nor of the relationships
existing between the local churches and the Holy See or with each
other, as described above.
The Roman Catholic Church would apply for membership as one member
church and would express this membership exclusively through the
Holy See. This would emphasize the universal character of the Roman
Catholic Church and the unity it enjoys. However, it may not be
sufficient to represent the great variety which is also characteristic
The Roman Catholic Church would apply for membership as one member
church and express her membership by actively engaging the patriarchal
synods and episcopal conferences in its exercise. They might be
expressly named as participants in the membership. Similar solutions
have already been adopted for certain World Council of Churches
member churches. In the case of the Roman Catholic Church it would
need to be stated in a note attached to the document of admission
what precisely the participation of the episcopal conferences would
mean in practice. This form of membership seems to harmonize best
with the twofold requirement mentioned above. In working out the
manner by which this form of membership might be concretely realized,
the following points might be taken into consideration (subject
to the regulations affecting the relationship of the conferences
with the Holy See and each other):
1) the episcopal conferences could be asked to propose to the Holy
See the names of delegates to the Assembly and to other organs of
the World Council of Churches;
2) communications from the World Council of Churches could be
sent to the episcopal conferences as well as to the Holy See;
3) the episcopal conferences could be regarded as the appropriate
partners of the World Council of Churches in matters affecting
the area which is within their competence according to the rules
of the Roman Catholic Church.
Size of Representation
The Roman Catholic Church is larger than any of the
member churches. On what principles would the size of Roman Catholic
representation in the World Council of Churches be determined? The
following considerations may offer some guidance here:
The Roman Catholic Church's representation would need to be such
as to give full weight to its geographical and cultural diversity
within the World Council of Churches.
Its representation should not be so large that other churches would
no longer be genuine partners in dialogue and fellowship. This consideration
already plays an important part in the World Council of Churches.
Large churches are not represented in exact proportion to their
size; small churches have a larger representation than their numerical
strength would warrant. The Roman Catholic Church has also recognized
this principle in its ecumenical activities.
It would be desirable that delegations from the Roman Catholic Church
should include persons representative of both the Holy See and the
patriarchal synods and episcopal conferences. In this connection
the criteria used for choosing representatives to the ordinary Synod
of Bishops would be instructive.
The World Council of Churches stresses that not only the clergy
but also the laity, women and youth representatives especially,
should share in its work. This is in accord with trends in the Roman
Catholic Church. There is, however, no question of limiting the
churches' freedom to determine the composition of their delegations.
Binding rules here would, indeed, make Roman Catholic membership
and cooperation more difficult.
Roman Catholic Representation in the Various Organs of the World
Council of Churches
(a) Voting procedures. Each official delegate at an Assembly
and each member of the Central Committee has one vote. There is
one exception to this rule. If the Assembly votes on the admission
of new member churches, one vote is accorded to each delegation.
Assembly. The Roman Catholic delegation should not be less than
one fifth and not more than one third of the total number of delegates.
In the event of the Roman Catholic Church becoming a member of the
World Council of Churches, the Assembly would need to be so constituted
as not to deprive any of the small churches of their representation.
Central and Executive Committees. Representation on these committees
would need to be in roughly the same proportion as that in the Assembly.
The Central Committee should probably be increased in membership
(e.g. from 120 to 150). There would have to be a comparable increase
in the size of the Executive Committee. If the Executive Committee's
serviceability is not to be impaired this increase would have to
be small (e.g. 30 members in all).
Praesidium. The six presidents of the World Council of Churches
are not normally elected in virtue of their leading position in
the church. They are mostly chosen from among those who have rendered
distinguished service to the ecumenical movement. Care has always
been taken, of course, to ensure that the various confessional traditions
are represented among the group of presidents. The Roman Catholic
Church would have to be represented in this group.
Officers. The group of officers consists of the chairman and vice
chairmen of the Central Committee together with the General Secretary.
It would be desirable for the Roman Catholic Church to be represented
in this group. Perhaps the number of vice-chairmen would have to
Staff. The staff of the World Council of Churches is normally recruited
from the member churches. The main criterion for selection is ability
in the particular field of work involved. Care is taken, of course,
to ensure that the different confessions are represented. The ecumenical
centre in Geneva ought itself to be an ecumenical fellowship. If
the Roman Catholic Church were to join the World Council, Roman
Catholics would be increasingly appointed to the staff. It would
be important to ensure that some Roman Catholic members of the staff
held senior positions.
Members of the Central Committee. These are chosen by the Assembly.
The Executive Committee is chosen by the Central Committee. The
presidents are appointed directly by the Assembly. The officers
are chosen by the Central Committee. The staff is appointed by the
Central Committee or by the Executive Committee. Normally the World
Council of Churches takes the initiative in appointments although
names are often suggested by the member churches. No nomination
is normally brought before the Central or Executive Committee without
the approval of the member church having first been obtained.
Relations between Organizations of the World Council of Churches
and the Roman Catholic Church in the Event of Membership of the
Each section of the World Council of Churches has
its own special way of conducting its affairs. It is in touch with
other groups in the member churches within its particular field
of interest. The World Council does not restrict its contacts to
the level of official representatives of the administration of a
member church but, with the consent of the church, maintains links
with particular organizations and groups concerned with special
tasks. For example:
the work of the Division of World Mission and Evangelism is carried
out in close liaison with the national Christian Councils or with
other organizations concerned with the mission task;
the Division of Inter-Church Aid, Refugee and World Service (DICARWS)
has links on the one hand with church relief and service organizations
and on the other hand with the national Christian Councils;
certain special tasks are performed by organizations which are in
some measure independent. These include the Christian Literature
Fund (CLF), the Theological Education Fund (TEF) and the Christian
Medical Commission (CMC).
Within the Roman Catholic Church there are the various congregations
and secretariats of the Roman Curia as well as pontifical commissions
charged with particular responsibilities. There are international
organizations which maintain a great deal of autonomy for their
work but have certain ties with the Holy See. In addition, the Holy
See maintains delegates or representatives to other international
organizations (e.g., specialized agencies of the United Nations
such as UNESCO, etc.). On the regional level, many organizations
exist either as separate bodies for handling particular affairs
of the region or as regional counterparts to international groups
(national commissions for relief service, for missionary activity,
for education, etc.).
The complexity of the internal organization of these
groups, of their inter-relations with other groups, of their diverse
relations with church authorities on different levels, do not permit
an exhaustive presentation of the means by which their activities
might find expression within the fellowship of the World Council
of Churches, should the Roman Catholic Church become a member. Certain
points should be kept in mind:
Every effort should be made to avoid duplication of effort, where
this is possible. Full participation rather than joint commissions
should be envisaged.
Where bodies of similar size and scope exist, coordinated activity
is highly recommended and, according to the nature of the bodies,
efforts should be made towards greater integration.
One body may already exist, where there is no counterpart on the
other side. For example, the Roman Catholic Church is served by
a great many international organizations that have no corresponding
bodies among other churches; similarly there is no equivalent in
the Roman Catholic Church for the Christian Medical Commission (CMC).
In cases of this sort efforts should be made to use existing bodies
insofar as their potentialities allow this.
Where the creation of new bodies is judged useful, serious attention
should be given to the suppression or transformation of existing
groups which are no longer adequate in the face of new demands of
the one ecumenical movement.
The possibility of cooperation between religious orders within the
Roman Catholic Church and various agencies of the World Council
of Churches should be explored, keeping in mind the particular nature
of these orders and their relations to church authorities.
In attempting to implement the above suggestion, careful attention,
must be given to respect and safeguard the right of an organization
to work with sufficient autonomy so as to contribute to its proper
work within its own church and to the Christian witness its church
is expected to give. This principle applies especially to central
organs of administration of the Roman Catholic Church, and to the
Bishops' Conferences and their official agencies, although it is
not restricted to them.
In the event of Roman Catholic membership in the World Council of
Churches, the role of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity
would remain a substantial one according to the norms determined
by the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. It would continue
its work of promoting the ecumenical movement within the Roman Catholic
Church. While the particular relations of the World Council of Churches
with the various organs of the Roman Catholic Church, would have
to be worked out in mutual consultation, the Secretariat would be
the ordinary organ of contact with the General Secretariat of the
World Council of Churches. Furthermore, it would remain the competent
body for bilateral relations between the Roman Catholic Church and
other churches and confessional families as well as for promoting
and guiding the other ecumenical activities which develop parallel
to the structured fellowship of the World Council of Churches.
Conferences and Consultations
A distinction needs to be made between conferences
engaging the World Council of Churches to some extent and consultations
which are held under the auspices of the World Council of Churches.
Participants in larger conferences which tend to engage the World
Council of Churches (e.g. World Conferences on Faith and Order)
are chosen by the churches. There is more flexibility with regard
Consultations are arranged in order to promote ecumenical
discussion and to open up new dimensions previously undiscovered
by the churches. Because the World Council of Churches is an instrument
for promoting the unity of all Christians and offering help to the
churches for renewal, consultations are vital to its work.
There is a great variety of consultations, and the
different departments of the World Council of Churches as well as
the Ecumenical Institute themselves invite the necessary people
to participate. For instance, there are conferences in the area
of Faith and Order which it is evident that specialist theologians
from all the churches, including non-members, are invited to attend.
To conferences organized by the Department of World Mission and
Evangelism are invited missionaries, missiologists and lay specialists
in the area of mission and evangelism.
In addition to these there are also consultations
organized in order to maintain the dialogue with nominal Christians,
agnostic scientists and political ideologists, and it goes without
saying that, in such cases, the department responsible for the organization
of the particular consultation recruits participants from outside
the churches. The same holds true for other departments, particularly
Church and Society and Inter-Church Aid when they organize consultations
on the complex problem of development, to which it is becoming increasingly
necessary to invite as participants sociologists, economists and
specialists of international organizations to help the churches
in this field. It should also be noted that the World Council of
Churches tries to maintain relationships with minority groups and
young Christians who contest some aspects of the institutional organization
of the churches today.
The World Council of Churches' departments responsible
for the organization of consultations preserve a flexibility with
regard to ways and means of recruitment while at the same time taking
care not to cause any kind of embarrassment to any of the member
churches on account of the composition of these consultations. Texts
produced by consultations in the first instance commit only the
consultations themselves although they can influence the life of
the churches through their treatment of the subject and the conclusions
they draw. Thus, although not officially representing the churches,
they can open up fields of study and action and lay the groundwork
for more official action on the part of individual churches or the
World Council of Churches. Texts produced by consultations can become
representative of the World Council of Churches only by being approved
by an Assembly or Central Committee and by winning the endorsement
of the member churches.
The Roman Catholic Church has organized consultations
and conferences of a similar nature. In the event of membership
in the World Council it would remain free to convene such meetings
as it deems necessary. Care should be exercised however to avoid
Multilateral and Bilateral Contacts
As has been noted earlier, world confessional families
play a significant role in the ecumenical movement. Several world
families have engaged in bilateral conversation with a view to clarifying
the issues which divide their traditions. The Roman Catholic Church
has initiated several conversations at this level.
It is important that these bilateral contacts continue.
They can serve to bring churches of particular traditions closer
together and at the same time offer positive contributions to the
wider ecumenical movement. While the entry of the Roman Catholic
Church into the World Council of Churches would not necessitate
a change in the fundamental structure of the Council, the Roman
Catholic Church will certainly welcome the fact that greater account
is being taken by the World Council of Churches of the practical
importance of the various confessional families and of the need
to maintain regular contacts with them. The interdependence of multilateral
and bilateral conversations between the various churches and confessional
families on the life of the World Council of Churches and the mutual
relations of its member churches needs careful attention.
Christian Councils are not members of the World Council
of Churches, but many of them are affiliated to it. The World Council
keeps close contacts with them. They are an indispensable instrument
for the work of the World Council of Churches, since there is an
interrelation of the ecumenical movement at the international and
the regional, national and local levels which needs to be recognized.
It is possible that an increasing number of episcopal conferences
and dioceses will join the Christian Councils. If the Roman Catholic
Church joins the World Council of Churches, the relationship of
the Council with the Christian Councils will gain fresh importance.
Thus far, the World Council of Churches has had as
official languages English, French and German (Rules XIV, 5, m).
It usually works in those languages while others are added if translation
is provided by those concerned. If the Roman Catholic Church were
to join the World Council of Churches, the question of whether this
number should not be increased would need to be considered.
There are considerable difficulties in fixing the
amount of financial contributions. Every member church is expected
to contribute to the funds of the World Council of Churches in accordance
with its capacity. The factors determining the amount of the contribution
are the church's size, the strength of its permitted representation
in the World Council of Churches, its financial resources. These
criteria are not easy to apply. Statistics concerning the number
of members are based on different assumptions in different churches.
Financial resources vary considerably from church to church. Account
has to be taken of special circumstances.
In the last resort the amount of its contribution
rests with the individual member church itself.
The contribution of the member churches cover only
the basic expenses. A large part of the work of the World Council
of Churches is financed from additional sources. In part these are
made available by member churches over and above their ordinary
contributions. Special projects are in part paid for by church organizations
with special resources at their disposal.
If the episcopal conferences were to share in Roman
Catholic membership of the World Council of Churches in the manner
described above, it would be desirable for them to provide some
part of the financial contributions expected.
Some Specific Questions Connected with Roman Catholic Membership
in the World Council of Churches
As was mentioned in Chapter 1, it has sometimes been
suggested that participation by the Roman Catholic Church in the
World Council of Churches would require that church to abandon certain
doctrines or modify its understanding of itself. A careful study
of what has been presented in Chapter I concerning the World Council
of Churches may help to resolve this question. Particular attention
is called to the sections on the nature of the World Council, its
ecclesiological significance and the authority of Council statements
What follows is an attempt to discuss some particular
points which need further consideration.
Ecclesiology of the Roman Catholic Church
Since the statement issued by the Central Committee
of the World Council of Churches at Toronto in 1950, it has been
clear that membership in that body would not require the Catholic
Church to renounce its own ecclesiology. This appears most clearly
in the fourth and fifth assumptions' which, according to the
Toronto Declaration, underlie the World Council:
"4. The member churches of the World Council consider the
relationship of other churches to the Holy Catholic Church which
the Creeds profess as a subject for mutual consideration. Nevertheless,
membership does not imply that each church must regard the other
member churches as churches in the full sense of the word.
5. The member churches of the World Council recognize in other
churches elements of the true Church. They consider that this
mutual recognition obliges them to enter into serious conversation
with each other in the hope that these elements of truth will
lead to the recognition of the full truth and to unity based
on the full truth."
In Chapter 1, A, 7, the authority of the World Council
of Churches as expressed in the Constitution and the Rules, was
described. In accordance with these authoritative texts, it is clear
that if the Roman Catholic Church were to become a member of the
World Council of Churches its full freedom to exercise its authoritative
magisterium would not be impeded. Its participation in the speaking
and acting of the World Council of Churches would be on another
level than the speaking and acting on its own behalf; in the World
Council of Churches it would be taking an active part in a manner
of speaking and acting which seeks to reflect the convictions and
concerns of all churches. The authority of these statements for
the Roman Catholic Church can be determined by that church itself.
The Roman Catholic Church speaks and acts authoritatively
at the universal level. Other churches have been much less evident
at this level; the member churches of the World Council of Churches
tend to regard it as the organization which enables them to fulfil
certain tasks at the world level. The question arises what would
be the relation of Roman Catholic speaking and acting to the activities
of the World Council of Churches. On the one hand it must be said
that the two modes of speech and action can be positively related
to one another; it may more and more come to be seen as an advantage
that two different modes are available at the world level. While
the authoritative speech or action of the Roman Catholic Church
may be desirable in one situation, the common voice of the World
Council of Churches member churches might be in another.
It must be honestly recognized, however, that certain
difficulties may arise. It may be that a statement of the Roman
Catholic Church may differ from a statement arising out of an ecumenical
discussion. The following considerations are important in this respect:
There have been occasions when member churches express criticism
of World Council of Churches decisions and adopt a different line.
Such divergence does not necessarily disrupt the fellowship, at
least as long as the churches concerned are ready to remain in conversation
and to seek mutual agreement. It is precisely the raison d' etre
of the World Council of Churches that the divided churches should
have the opportunity to face any differences which obscure their
common allegiance to the same Lord.
Without suggesting that the Roman Catholic Church or any member
church is obliged to share all information, or that the World Council
is obliged to prior consultation on all matters, it is highly desirable
that, in order to avoid unnecessary conflict and misunderstanding,
a system of mutual information and previous consultation be devised.
The possibility of conflict and misrepresentation could be further
reduced if, in the actual way the World Council works, the authority
and weight to be attached to the various types of statements according
to the Constitution and Rules were made clearer. Clarification also
is needed as to whether a church is assumed to be in agreement with
World Council policies and programmes unless there is a public statement
to the contrary.
The proper explanation of the authority of the World Council
of Churches as distinct from the authority of a particular member
church is a pastoral problem which must receive attention. Final
authority rests with the churches.
The Papal Primacy and the World Council of Churches
The Roman Catholic doctrine and the universal jurisdiction
of the Pope require special mention. It must be said again, however,
that they do not constitute a barrier to Roman Catholic membership
in the World Council of Churches. Since each member church is free
to teach and to practice its convictions, these doctrines can in
principle find their place within the fellowship of the World Council
of Churches. In the context of membership, however, certain practical
difficulties may arise. The questions which must be asked are the
following: would Roman Catholic membership create the impression
among the Roman Catholic faithful (and perhaps among others) that
the Pope has abandoned something of his authority? As he would speak
and act not only alone but the Roman Catholic Church would also
be involved in common speaking and acting, would it be implicitly
forced to relativize its doctrines of the primacy and the universal
jurisdiction? On the other hand, would the exercise of the papal
ministry in the fellowship of the World Council of Churches create
the impression that the Pope was speaking and acting on behalf of
the World Council of Churches and its member churches?
The following considerations need to be taken into
(a) Membership in the World Council of Churches would not
alter the international structure of the Roman Catholic Church and
the role the Pope fulfils on the basis of Roman Catholic ecclesiological
convictions. It would however provide the Roman Catholic Church
with an additional way of speaking and acting.
Membership will in fact present less difficulties for the exercise
of the papal ministry than non-membership. Today when a declaration
by the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches is
to be made it is necessary for the Pope or a spokesman authorized
by him to make the statement jointly with representatives of the
World Council of Churches. If the Roman Catholic Church were to
become a member of the World Council of Churches there would no
longer be need for such joint declarations involving the personal
authority of the Pope directly. The statement would be made by the
organs of the World Council of Churches according to the proper
procedures and with that authority it possesses according to the
The difference between the authoritative speaking of the Pope and
the speaking resulting from the common life in the World Council
of Churches must be kept in mind. Though the Pope strives to speak
representatively of Christian convictions, it would be understood
that unless requested to do so he would not be speaking and acting
on behalf of the World Council of Churches.
Difference in structure rests ultimately on different understandings
of ecclesiology. But one of the tasks of the World Council of Churches
is to bring about a confrontation between divergent traditions.
The problems arising in this field will have to be a subject of
Juridical Status of the Holy See
The Roman Catholic Church also differs from all the
other churches in that the Holy See is recognized as a juridical
person in international law. It can conclude political treaties.
It maintains diplomatic relations with many governments. The Lateran
Treaty of 1929 accorded it a territory of its own, the Vatican State,
thereby reinforcing the legal standing of the Holy See.
If the Roman Catholic Church is a member, difficulties
could arise, especially where the churches' witness in the political
realm is concerned, from the diplomatic status of papal nuncios
or the difference of representation in the United Nations and related
agencies. But, in principle, the legal standing of the Holy See
represents no fundamental obstacle to membership. No agreed understanding
of the churches' action in international affairs is required for
membership. It is
certainly desirable, however, that this theme should later be made
a matter for ecumenical discussion.
A study of the possible patterns of relationships
between the Roman Catholic Church and tile World Council of Churches
is a complex affair. Yet closer relations between the two are required
by the exigencies of the ecumenical movement. This preliminary study
has not exhausted all the aspects of this question. Wider discussion
within the churches may bring out elements which need further explanations
and clarification. But a preliminary study of the various alternatives
points to Roman Catholic membership in the World Council of Churches
as the most realistic approach. Increased collaboration does not
seem to be finally an alternative to membership but rather a contributing
factor on the way to it. The disadvantages attendant upon the creation
of a new form of Christian fellowship differently constituted seem
to outweigh very much the possible advantages.
Membership in the World Council of Churches does not
mean curtailing relationships between churches and confessional
families. There is wide room for development of national Christian
Councils according to the nature of the communities forming them
and the needs of particular areas.
As was mentioned earlier, in considering Roman Catholic
membership in the World Council of Churches, it is essential to
bear in mind the historical reality of the two entities. Neither
the ultimate decision nor the process of study preceding it takes
place in an historical vacuum. The pressures of change evident in
the world are felt as well both in the Roman Catholic Church and
in the World Council of Churches. The Roman Catholic Church is accommodating
itself to new structures (e.g. the episcopal conferences, the synod
of bishops) which are still in the stage of development. The World
Council of Churches is meanwhile in a stage of development which
could yield significant changes; in its present study of its structure
it is not indifferent to the implications of possible Roman Catholic
membership. What is said in this report, therefore, may need modification
in the light of subsequent developments within both the Roman Catholic
Church and the World Council of Churches.
The Joint Working Group recommends the present document
to its parent bodies for their careful study. For membership to
be a responsible step, the decision must be carefully prepared,
and this involves a great deal of pastoral enlightenment both as
to what membership means and what it does not mean. The entry into
membership would have to commit the Roman Catholic Church as a whole
and the member churches of the World Council of Churches would for
their part have to be prepared to make this extension of its fellowship
a living reality not only in theory but also in practice.
An application for membership of the World Council
of Churches has to be approved by the Assembly or the Central Committee.
The relevant rule of the Constitution is as follows:
Election to membership shall be by a two-thirds vote
of the member churches represented at the Assembly, each member
church having one vote. Any application for membership between meetings
of the Assembly may be considered by the Central Committee; if the
application is supported by a two-thirds majority of the members
of the Committee present and voting, this action shall be communicated
to the churches that are members of the World Council of Churches,
and unless objection is received from more than one-third of the
member churches within six months the applicant shall be declared
The matter must have reached sufficient maturity for
the decision on it to be assured in advance.
While the special nature of the relationship of the World Council
of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church has pointed to the desirability
of a preliminary joint study of this question, and while this study
should be shared as widely as possible within the Roman Catholic
Church and the member churches of the World Council of Churches,
it remains true that the decision to apply or not to apply for membership
rests with the Roman Catholic Church. Particular study of the question
must be made by that church in accordance with the procedures it
Ecumenical Review 24, 3 (1972) 247-288]