The Joint Working Group for relationships between
the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches has
just become twenty-five years old - an opportunity for it to take
stock of what it has achieved.
The Joint Working Group came into existence immediately
after Vatican II and the opportunity the latter opened up and
endorsed for the Roman Catholic Church. The Group was entrusted
with studying the conditions for cooperation between the WCC and
the Roman Catholic Church and even - in the first few years -
with considering the possibility of the latter's becoming a member
of the WCC. When that prospect proved premature, the JWG turned
its attention to furthering relations and practical cooperation
between the two partners as far as possible.
In submitting the sixth report of JWG, we wish first
of all to say how grateful we have been for the experience we
have had since it was given its present membership, following
the 1983 Assembly of the World Council of Churches at Vancouver:
Fraternal cooperation among its members has indeed
been gradually consolidated till il has become a real fellowship
characterized by mutual trust and respect. We have learned to
talk to each other and listen to each other with real openness.
And our awareness of the common mission of our churches in the
world has deepened to the point where that mission is seen as
the urgent priority.
Reading this sixth report will in itself show the
extent to which the productive relations between the WCC and the
Roman Catholic Church have multiplied and developed. Setting aside
the places in which they have found institutional expression,
especially in the Commission on Faith and Order; most of the sub-units
of the WCC and their Roman Catholic partners have worked out a
process of mutual consultation and sometimes common action which
must be taken fully into account. The JWG has constantly applied
itself to following this process through and expanding it. It
has nevertheless not confined itself to this but has also sought
to contribute its own bricks to the common structure. The JWG
decided to publish as an appendix to this report two documents
- on "The Church: Local and Universal" and on the "Hierarchy
of Truths" - which it had ordered and officially received
and which demonstrate this. We hope they will make a useful contribution
to opening up new stages of fruitful reflection on the journey
towards Christian unity.
It is true that we have also had to face certain
difficulties - especially, as the report shows, in the field of
social thinking and action. And in the last few years Roman Catholic
participation in the World Convocation on Justice, Peace and the
Integrity of Creation was subject to a variety of ups and downs
on which there is no occasion to go into in detail here. We would
mention only that this enabled its to realize that as Cardinal
Willebrands put it "the difference in nature between the
WCC and the Roman Catholic Church" represents a continuing
obstacle to the full development of their relations. This obstacle
must be analyzed more thoroughly. That must be one of the priority
tasks of life next JWG.
Above all, however, we wish, in submitting this
report, to state jointly our firm conviction that whatever mar
be the hazards of the day-to-day history of ecumenism, the search
for unity must never cease. We have to be completely and constantly
obedient to our Lord's command: "that they may all be one."
We cannot play fast and loose with that prayer and take up our
stance in some status quo. On the contrary, we must gratefully
appraise the whole way along which the Lord has already brought
us over the last fifty, years and go forward yet more boldly and
hopefully out the path lie himself has opened tip and in which
lie constantly walks ahead of us and awaits its!
Presidents of the Joint Working Group