SECOND OFFICIAL REPORT OF THE
JOINT WORKING GROUP BETWEEN THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH
AND THE WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES
The Joint Working Group between the Roman Catholic Church and
the World Council of Churches has not yet finished its task. It
was set up at the beginning of 1965 by mutual agreement between
the authorities of both bodies in order "to work out the
principles which should be observed in further collaboration and
the methods which should be used" (Mandate of the Working
Group, see The Ecumenical Review, 1965, No.3, pp. 171-173, and
the L'Osservatore Romano - February 20, 1966, p. 7).
The group has studied the nature of the ecumenical movement, especially
the relations between the World Council of Churches and the Roman
Catholic Church. We give here some of its conclusions. The field
is so wide that it is hardly necessary for the Joint Working Group
to explain why it has not completed its task in such a short time.
Experience alone will make it possible to say where the real possibilities
lie, which the study has glimpsed. Moreover, the relations between
Churches are in a state of rapid change. New theological problems
are coming to the fore and unforeseen situations are arising.
The relations between the World Council of Churches and the Roman
Catholic Church, and the problems involved can be seriously considered
only if they are understood as being within the whole ecumenical
movement, which is an entirely new phenomenon characteristic of
our time. Although the ecumenical movement is something new, the
deep realities on which it is based are very old. Christians and
the. Churches to which they belong are linked together through
their faith in Christ, the Savior of the World, and through their
desire to glorify God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
They all share important elements of faith, of sacramental life
and of ministry. Above all, they have a common point of reference,
the Word of God, witnessed to by the Holy Scripture, which for
them is not only an object of study and meditation but a norm
without ignoring or minimizing the essential differences between
them, Christians are re-discovering in other Churches these values
which are part of the unique Christian heritage. They are discovering
that a partial communion already exists between them, and they
want to extend that communion to its fulness. The whole ecumenical
movement is searching for that fulness, that unity of all Christians,
in order to bear testimony to Christ in the world today. It expresses
itself in a whole series of initiatives in which Christians cooperate:
intercession, study, collaboration, experiments in joint witness...
But within this multiplicity the ecumenical movement is unique.
All those Churches which are concerned to strengthen the links
between Christians are participating in one single movement.
There is a host of those who contribute to the ecumenical movement;
it is not our task to draw up a complete list of them. We wish
simply to draw attention to the special function of the World
Council of Churches and of the Roman Catholic Church in the service
of the ecumenical movement, and to grasp as clearly as possible
what the relationship between them should be.
The World Council of Churches is a unique instrument of the ecumenical
movement. How can Churches which are still separated live and
bear witness regularly together without abandoning their convictions?
The World Council of Churches was formed in order to give a concrete
answer to this question. It is a fellowship of over 200 Churches,
for which it has increasingly become a place and a center for
common witness, collaboration, mutual aid and a common search
for unity. It has thus enabled its members to deepen and extend
their common Christian experience.
The Roman Catholic Church is also making a notable contribution
to the ecumenical movement, especially since the Second Vatican
Council. The labors, spread over more than thirty years, of some
of the best Roman Catholic theologians prepared the way for official
entry into the ecumenical movement under the pontificate of John
XXIII through the creation of a special Secretariat for Christian
Unity. During the Vatican Council, in its Decree en Ecumenism,
the Catholic Church explained the principles which inspire its
action in this field and instructed all the Bishops to promote
The World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church are
being drawn closer together by their common service in promoting
the one ecumenical movement. This very fact is forcing both institutions
to define their mutual relationships, while taking due account
of their disparity. The World Council of Churches is a fellowship
of Churches, whereas the Roman Catholic Church is one Church.
Joint study and the needs of the situations that arise will make
it possible gradually to define the exact relation between these
It is important for us to clarify the criterion which fixed these
relations in the past, and according to which they must become
increasingly close in future. This criterion must be sought in
the service of the one and only ecumenical movement. The essential
question, which must constantly be asked afresh, is the following:
what form should be given to the relations between the World Council
of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church in order to witness
to Christ and to serve better the unity which He desires for His
should one reply to this question today? Their common service
- of the ecumenical movement forces both these institutions to
envisage their future relations as a prolongation and an accentuation
of the relations established between them during the past two
years. Without entering into other considerations, the members
of the Joint Working Group think that, for the moment, the common
cause of Christian Unity would not be furthered if the Roman Catholic
Church were to join the World Council of Churches. But this does
not mean that they consider the present form of relationship as
permanent. They realized the need for re-formulating in the near
future the mandate of the Joint Working Group and modifying its
composition. Within this modified setting they must continue and
deepen their study of the bases of the ecumenical movement, its
unity and its concrete achievements. This search will enable them
to take another step forward.
aim of the present document is to set out briefly the concrete
results of the exchanges that have already taken place, and to
indicate a vision of the future in which the Joint Working Group
foresees the need for constantly more dynamic relations between
the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches.