Indice > Dialoghi Interconfessionali > JWG > Fourth Official Rep. | CONT. > Part II

     PREFACE - select
   PART I - select
Part II
   PART III - select
   PART IV - select
       (JOINT PROGRAMS) - select
       (CONCLUSION) - select


    Since the Joint Working Group was formed in 1965, cooperation and collaboration between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches have developed progressively. There have been the jointly sponsored studies on "Common Witness and Proselytism" and "Catholicity and Apostolicity." Roman Catholic membership in the Faith and Order Commission has come about, and the Roman Catholic Church has set up consultative relations with the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism and the Christian Medical Commission. The preparation of material for use in the annual Prayer for Christian Unity is done jointly. The concern for development and peace was taken up in partnership by the formation of the joint Committee on Society, Development and Peace (SODEPAX).

    It was this growth of collaboration that created the atmosphere in which the Joint Working Group was led to consider the possibility of membership by the Roman Catholic Church in the World Council of Churches.

    At its meeting in Gwatt (Switzerland), in 1969, the Joint Working Group decided that the "advantages of... a closer and more permanent association of the Roman Catholic Church with the World Council of Churches" should be studied. Thus a study got under way and the consideration given to this question occupied on both sides a great amount of time and energy. The results of the study were published in 1972
1 but by this time it had been made clear that an application by the Roman Catholic Church for World Council membership would not be made in the near future.

    Why did it not prove possible to give this form of visible expression to the relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches? There is no doubt that the Roman Catholic Church could accept the Basis of the World Council of Churches, but there are factors, some theologically based, which at present militate against membership as the visible expression of the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches. To a much greater degree than other churches the Roman Catholic Church sees its constitution as a universal fellowship with a universal mission and structure as an essential element of its identity. Membership could present real pastoral problems to many Roman Catholics because the decision to belong to a world-wide fellowship of churches could easily be misunderstood. Then there is the way in which authority is considered in the Roman Catholic Church and the processes through which it is exercised. There are also practical differences in the mode of operation, including the style and impact of public statements.

    The decision at present not to apply for membership was not intended to weaken or downgrade the need for close collaboration. Cardinal Willebrands and Dr. Eugene C. Blake, in their preface to the report on possible Roman Catholic membership, stated this quite clearly: "Cooperation... must not only continue, it must be intensified"
2. The same conviction was reiterated and confirmed in the message sent by Pope Paul VI to the Central Committee on the occasion of the silver jubilee celebrations of the World Council of Churches, on August 26, 1973, when he said : "It is our sincere desire that this collaboration may be pursued and intensified in accordance with the spirit of the Second Vatican Council"3. The decision also does not mean that the question of membership has been closed. At its meeting at Windsor, in 1973, the Joint Working Group explicitly stated that it could be "re-opened at a later date." But for the immediate future another question has to be asked: how can the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches, without forming one structured fellowship, intensify their joint activities and thereby strengthen the unity, the common witness and the renewal of the churches?

    At Windsor, the Joint Working Group had an extensive discussion on this question and came to the conclusion that for the planning of the future collaboration a careful analysis of the actual ecumenical experience in different national and local situations was required. It was recognized that the progress of the ecumenical movement largely depends on the commitment of Christians in their actual life situations and thus interaction of ecumenism at the local level and the international level is of fundamental importance. Joint activities at the international level must therefore be intimately related to the experience of the churches and seek to serve their needs. For this reason, the Joint Working Group decided to undertake a survey on the present state of the ecumenical movement. What are the problems the churches face as they carry out their mission? What are their consequences for the ecumenical movement? This survey formed the basis of discussion at the following meeting of the Joint Working Group in Venice, 1974, as it sought to discern appropriate programs and patterns of collaboration for the future

    The debate resulted in the recommendations which follow.



  1. Ecumenical Review 21, 3 (1972) 247-288.

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  2. Ibid., 249.

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  3. Cf. Minutes and Reports of 26th Meeting of the World Council of Churches Central Committee, 1972 (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1972) 77.

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  4. One in Christ 11, 1 (1975) 30-87; Il Regno - Documenti 20, 1 (1975)8-16; Unité des chrétiens 17 (1975) 19-22; Dialogo Ecumenico 9, 35/36 (1974) 591-616; Una Sancta 30, 3 (1975) 156-169.

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