FIRST OFFICIAL REPORT OF THE JOINT WORKING GROUP
THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH AND THE WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES
of Joint Working Group
Bossey (Geneva), May 22nd-24th, 1965
Ariccia (Rome), Nov. 17th-20th, 1965
1. The Mandate of the Joint Working Group
After several preliminary meetings between representatives
of the Vatican Secretariat for Christian Unity and of the World
Council of Churches, the mandate for the Joint Working Group was
presented to and adopted by the Central Committee at its meeting
in Nigeria in January 1965. It was thereafter also officially accepted
by the authorities of the Roman Catholic Church.
In working out this project, the Roman Catholic side was
guided by the Decree on Ecumenism promulgated at the end of the
third session of the Vatican Council; while the representatives
of the World Council of Churches based their approach on the main
lines of several WCC documents that describe the nature and function
of the World Council and on various statements made by the World
Council on the contemporary ecumenical situation.
Its task, both spiritual and pastoral, is to be undertaken
in a spirit of prayer, and in the conviction that God is guiding
His people. The Group is not limited to settling the technical and
administrative aspects of collaboration; it is called on to discern
the will of God in the contemporary ecumenical situation.
The Nature of Ecumenism
The Working Group concerned itself in the first place with
Ecumenism as the concept is understood by each side. It took account
of the Catholic positions stated in the various documents of the
Vatican Council. It also examined the various texts that express
the position held by the WCC. Nor did it lose sight of the actual
operation of the WCC. It is certainly difficult to draw a comparison
between the Roman Catholic Church and the WCC. On the one hand we
have a Church, on the other a fellowship of Churches. In reality
the concept of Ecumenism which is presented in the Vatican Council's
Decree can be compared only with concepts to be found in similar
documents emanating from other individual Churches. Nevertheless,
the meeting of the RCC and the WCC has raised particular problems
which require joint study. The task of Ecumenism is not regarded
by the two sides in a wholly similar manner. It is therefore of
importance that dialogue on this subject should be continued and
deepened, so that a common understanding of it may be reached. In
spite of differing views however, joint action can already be undertaken
in various fields. The continued fostering and deepening of contacts
can only help to clarify what still remains obscure.
Furthermore, even if there exist in the various churches
different ecclesiological principles that govern ecumenical action,
we are convinced that the Ecumenical Movement is one and common
The Group also started a study on the nature of ecumenical
dialogue. It has not yet been completed. On the request of the Joint
Working Group a special sub-group prepared a document which will
be discussed and approved at a later meeting. In the course of the
discussions both sides stressed that ecumenical method requires
that all encounters should take place on an equal footing. Attention
was drawn to this essential characteristic of ecumenical dialogue
both by the WCC Executive Committee at Odessa, and by the Vatican
Decree on Ecumenism ("par cum pari").
The existence of the joint Working Group does not prevent
direct conversations being held between the Roman Catholic and other
Churches. Questions concerning the relations of two Churches in
the realm of faith and action fall within the sphere of bilateral
conversations. This fact was expressly recognized when the mandate
was defined. We believe, however, that multilateral and bilateral
conversations are closely linked. It is for this reason that mutual
exchange of information is of the very greatest importance.
Observers and Consultants
The multiplication of ecumenical contacts makes it necessary
to clarify the status enjoyed by those taking part in those contacts,
with a proper regard for varying situations.
a) This cannot be done without some attempt at definitions: An
Observer attends a meeting with a view to acquiring information
for himself, and to giving information to his Church. In order
to underline that an Observer does not assume his function on
his own initiative, but that he is appointed to be his Church,
the qualification "officially appointed" may be added
to his title. It will be remembered that the Vatican Council understood
the expression observer delegatus in this sense.
A Consultant collaborates actively in the meetings
which he attends. He may be called upon to speak, or to prepare
material for study, etc.
The functions of Observer and of Consultant may be
combined. In that case we propose the use of the term Consultant-Observer.
However, no matter how important the role of a Consultant-Observer
may become, it must be borne in mind that his status (which is consultative),
does not entitle him to speak or to vote.
b) In the present stage of relations between the Roman Catholic
Church and the World Council of Churches, the interchange of observers
and consultants appears to provide the best means of establishing
and maintaining contacts.
c) If a meeting is organised by the Roman Catholic Church in conjunction
with another Church or Council of Churches, all the partners involved
bear equal responsibility for the meeting and for its conclusions.
d) The Joint Working Group is not called upon to concern itself
directly with national and local councils. It is evident in any
case that a great variety of situations exist in this field. However,
the Group feels that it should prove possible in many cases to
give to Roman Catholics who are asked to concern themselves with
the activities of national or local Councils, the status of Observer,
or even that of permanent Consultant-Observer. This does not prevent
the adoption of other solutions now or further developments in