FUTURE JOINT ACTIVITIES OF
THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH AND WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES
the Joint Working Group of the Roman Catholic Church and the World
Council of Churches 1973
For eight years the Joint Working Group has been engaged
in promoting collaboration and in studying the appropriate patterns
of relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and the World
Council of Churches. In 1969, it decided to examine the possibilities
of Roman Catholic membership in the World Council of Churches.
In summer 1972, the results were made available to the public.
The preface of the report, signed by Cardinal Willebrands and
Dr. E. C. Blake, made clear that the Roman Catholic Church would
not seek membership in the near future. This conclusion does not
mean that the question of membership has been closed since it
could be re-opened at a later date. The Joint Working Group is
convinced that the present decision not to apply for membership
ought not to prevent the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council
of Churches from collaborating in as many areas as possible. Rather
collaboration should continue and intensify and adequate patterns
for the relationship need to be worked out.
As we in the Joint Working Group try to prepare
for our future work together, we are aware of the deepening fellowship
between our churches during the years since Vatican II. This has
been manifested through the developments of dialogue, exchange
and collaboration at many levels. This fellowship certainly has
a profound spiritual significance. As yet we experience difficulty
in expressing its nature and meaning in ecclesiological terms
but we are convinced that it represents in some sense an ecclesial
reality. It is this reality which sustains our efforts towards
a fuller expression of unity.
Nonetheless our work has come up against difficulties
in the course of its development. There have been differences
of style, of structure, of method; there has been a shortage of
resources, etc. Sometimes we have suffered from misunderstanding.
We have known discouragement, even an undue fear. There have been
times when unity seemed beyond attainment. So the Lord purifies
his people by trial and tribulation. But the reality of our love
and the mission which is ours should fill us with joy rather than
fear. We can rejoice in the progress of the ecumenical movement
over the last 25 years. The will of God is to be discerned both
in the ambiguities and in the rich growth that has marked this
field. Here the Joint Working Group has to act as a pioneer.
There is even less justification for discouragement
if we realize that 1974 with the Roman Synod of Bishops and 1975
with the celebration of the Holy Year and of the WCC Assembly
at Djakarta ought to be seen as the "right time", a
Kairos. The theme of salvation, evangelization and reconciliation
are at the heart of these events. They are linked with the great
responsibilities of Justice and Peace. They are centered on the
basic Christian realitiesjustification and the divine life
in Jesus Christ.
The present pattern of the Joint Working Group calls
for adjustments. The Joint Working Group proposes to study this
question further in the coming year. Clearly, this study cannot
be dealt with simply on the basis of organizational considerations,
but has to be seen in the wider context. Where have the churches
been led by the ecumenical movement? What are the real priorities
for the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches
as they try to advance towards a fuller unity of the churches
and common witness? The Joint Working Group wants to undertake
a careful analysis of the problems facing the churches as they
carry out their mission, and to examine the consequences of these
problems for the ecumenical situation. The developments and movements
for renewal are a challenge to the churches to read the signs
of the times, they can provide impetus for new theological and
pastoral understanding. The Joint Working Group ought to listen
to and interpret what this is saying for the collaboration among
This study will also include an analysis of the
various types of ecumenical cooperation which have come into being
in the course of recent years. It would not be an attempt to do
a general survey but rather to choose specific varied examples
to show the scope of ecumenical cooperation. It would cover the
formation of this cooperation, the problems and difficulties which
the cooperation is now facing, and the future of the cooperation
as viewed by those involved. This would include the developing
relations in councils of churches, joint working groups, SODEPAX
groups and other ecumenical initiatives.
The Joint Working Group believes that appropriate
patterns of collaboration can be better evolved on the basis of
such a study. It hopes to conclude this reflection in the course
of the next year and to present proposals in summer 1974.
we have worked together in the Joint Working Group we have found
that the further extension of our collaboration will demand determined
efforts. Progress is possible only if we attempt to overcome the
obstacles which stand in the way of fuller unity. It may be useful
to mention here some of the issues which ought to receive attention
in our future work. As we have engaged in collaboration, the following
issues have emerged again and again:
The role of authority in the Church.
How is the teaching and pastoral responsibility conceived?
How can these responsibilities be of service to mankind and
relate to the needs and experiences of human beings today?
It is in this context that the evangelical and pastoral significance
of new developments and decisive happenings must be viewed.
2. What is the place of the sensus fidelium in the community
of the Church?
The role of the Church in socio-political questions especially
in the field of human rights. Account will need to be taken
of the different pastoral approaches and methods as they
shape the understanding of human rights as a constitutive
part of the Gospel.
* * *
Collaboration can and must continue while
this study is in process and as we deal with these fundamental
question. We now outline on the following pages where collaboration
should be continued or realized without delay.
AREAS OF COLLABORATION FOR THE PERIOD 1973-1976
It is hoped that the respective authorities
will find it possible to give general approval to the
following areas of cooperation:
Faith and Order
Since 1968, Roman Catholic theologians
are full members of the Faith and Order Commission. At
the moment, they represent approximately 10% of its membership.
Roman Catholic theologians participate in all the studies.
present, the Commission is engaged in three major studies:
a) "Giving Account of the Hope
that is in Us": It is an attempt to articulate the
reasons for Christian hope in contemporary terms. The
Faith and Order Commission has issued an invitation to
the WCC member churches to participate in this study.
In response to this invitation, many local groups have
been formed--some of one confessional tradition, others
ecumenical in composition. Roman Catholics participate
in several of the local groups. The Secretariat for Christian
Unity has transmitted this invitation to the ecumenical
commissions of episcopal conferences, thus providing the
opportunity to participate in the study process.
b) "Concepts of Unity and Models
of Union": The developments of the last years have
added new elements to the ecumenical debate on the nature
of the unity we seek. There is need to clarify the implications
of these elements and, if possible, to arrive at a common
vision of the unity we seek as the goal of the ecumenical
movement. As the World Council of Churches prepares for
the next Assembly, a fresh effort in this field is required
and it is vital that the Roman Catholic Church will be
closely involved in the preparatory process.
c) "The Ministry": The
subject of the ministry is being discussed in many countries.
Therefore, the Faith and Order Commission has initiated
a study bringing together representatives from various
countries. The results so far reached independently are
to be brought together in a coherent way. Roman Catholic
participation is essential if a theological agreement
on this issue is to be reached.
a) The existing relationship and cooperation
between the Roman Catholic Church and the WCC Commission
on World Mission and Evangelism has been given new impetus
by the preparatory study and the conference on "Salvation
Today" at Bangkok in which eleven Roman Catholic
observer-consultants took part.
The Secretariat for Promoting Christian
Unity plans to hold a meeting in Rome later this year
to study further certain aspects of the problems dealt
with at Bangkok. The meeting will include a number of
the observer-consultants who met at Bangkok, theologians
and missiologists, representatives from some curial offices
and some WCC people.
b) During the CWME Assembly, 9-13
January 1973, a constitutional change was adopted which
offers the possibility for groups to maintain a consultative
relationship with the Conference without becoming affiliated.
This would allow Roman Catholic missionary groups also
to have such a relationship. The Secretariat for Promoting
Christian Unity is giving consideration to this possibility
with a view to bringing it to the attention of the appropriate
authorities and missionary groups.
programmes are under way and in preparation. Of particular
a) the East Asia Research Project,
concerned with trade and economic justice in Asia;
b) catalytic work in Ireland, with
an international ecumenical campaign of prayer for peace
and reconciliation, and a projected meeting between some
Irish and Continental Christians to discuss mutual problems
c) a projected survey, analysis and
evaluation of local, national and regional ecumenical
collaboration in some specific issues of society, development
The Joint Working Group encourages
the continuation of SODEPAX programmes until the conclusion
of the mandate at the end of 1974. Discussion about the
renewal of the mandate should be initiated by the Cabinet
in the course of 1973 so that the Joint Working Group
can offer recommendations at its meeting in 1974.
Staff consultations between Unit
III and the Laity Council are a regular feature of their
relationship and the Joint Working Group encourages
That the Laity Council and Unit
III move ahead with the preparations for the joint consultation
on "New Trends in Laity Formation" planned
It was noted that mutual consultations
held between the staff of the Education sub-unit of
the World Council of Churches and representatives of
corresponding bodies in Rome led to a decision not to
hold the world consultation originally planned for 1974
but suggested instead a series of specific initiatives
a) Regular informal staff meetings;
b) Joint evaluative study of common syllabi for religious
instruction on the basis of case studies;
c) A survey on the use and value of "Ecumenism in
Higher Education" (Ecumenical Directory, part 2).
The Synod of Bishops 1974
The Synod of Bishops of the Roman
Catholic Church will meet in Rome in 1974. The Joint
Working Group considers this a significant event which
ought to bring an ecumenical dimension. The theme of
the synod will be "Evangelization of Today's World",
which is closely linked with that of the Commission
on World Mission and Evangelism at Bangkok.
Cardinal Willebrands will investigate
the possibility of making an ecumenical contribution
to the preparatory studies.
WCC Assembly 1975
The fifth Assembly of the World
Council of Churches will be held in Djakarta in 1975.
The Joint Working Group considers this Assembly as a
significant event and as such should seek the Participation
of the Roman Catholic Church in the Preparatory process
and in the event itself. The preparation could also
serve to stimulate local ecumenism efforts no least
in Indonesia. In the Assembly, it is expected that the
Roman Catholic presence will be secured by the appointment
of delegated observers.
That the 1974 meeting of the Joint
Working Group prepare a report of the RCC/WCC relationships
for presentation to the Assembly.
If offers challenges and opportunities.
It is important that information about these be kept
up to date for purposes of communication of stimulation.
It is hoped that the 1974 Joint Working Group study
will give fresh direction to the continuing interaction
between local groups and the Joint Working Group.
II. ONGOING COLLABORATION
A. Christian Medical Work
Roman Catholic collaboration at the
central administrative level has been expressed by the
participation of four observer-consultants at the June
1972 annual meeting of the Christian Medical Commission
and by the appointment on the Roman Catholic side of a
staff consultant for a further period of eighteen months.
In the immediate future the presence
of Roman Catholic observer-consultants at the annual meeting
will be continued and it is hoped these may be named for
a two or three-year term.
On the Roman Catholic side plans
are being made for the convocation of a meeting to look
at the possibility of a Roman Catholic association which
would coordinate efforts in the medical and health fields.
It is hoped this might foster a more systematic collaboration
with the Christian Medical Commission in its regional
initiatives, many of which involve the local Roman Catholics.
Roman Catholic participation in
the Graduate School and other programmes of Bossey continues
apace and is complemented by the presence of a Roman
Catholic as a member of the board of the Ecumenical
The Ecumenical Institute for Advanced
Theological Studies at Tantur near Jerusalem has agreed
to collaborate with some Faith and Order work especially
the study "Giving account of the hope that is in
Church and Society
Three or four consultants continue
to take part in the annual meeting of the ongoing studies
and the working committee. In addition, several Roman
Catholics have contributed to the studies in the capacity
of technical experts.
Prayer for Unity
The Joint WCC/RCC group responsible
for organizing the annual observance continues to meet.
However, in light of the decision at the 1972 Joint
Working Group meeting its task will be carried out henceforth
in collaboration with local committee. A particular
country will be made responsible in given year, and
will prepare materials appropriate to their situation.
The WCC/RCC group will then take from this the elements
suitable for wide use made them available. This new
pattern will come into operation for the Week of Prayer
Regular staff consultations are held
in several areas other than those mentioned above, e.g.
Youth, Women, Family Life.
AREAS WHERE THE POSSIBILITY OF FURTHER COLLABORATION
IS BEING EXPLORED
Service and Relief
The Pontifical Commission is in
charge of coordinating the service and relief activities
of the Roman Catholic Church. It is specifically its
responsibility, in connection with the Secretariat for
Promoting Christian Unity, to take all appropriate steps
favoring a more fraternal collaboration in the Christian
world between Roman Catholics and non-Catholics, within
the field of service and relief. Considering the very
particular importance of such a collaboration to increase
the witness of our enterprises in service and relief
and to improve their efficiency, the Joint Working Group
expresses the strong hope that Cor Unum be soon able
to proceed with the Commission on Interchurch Aid, Refugee
and World Service and the Commission on Church Participation
on Development to make arrangements regarding the regularity
and aspects of their mutual relationships.
Development, Justice and Peace
In addition to the joint responsibility
for SODEPAX, the Pontifical Commission Justice and Peace
and the Churches Commission for Participation in Development
of the World Council of Churches keep in contact through
informal staff consultations with a view to assessing
existing collaboration and seeking out further areas
Dialogue with People of other Faiths
The Joint Working Group notes the
ecumenical importance of this concern and desires that
there be further cooperation between the Secretariat
for non-Christians and Dialogue between People of Living
Faiths and Ideologies.
As 1975 is to be observed by the
Roman Catholic Church as a Holy Year for spiritual renewal
and reconciliation, it could be an occasion for ecumenical
dialogue and efforts on local and regional level.
[The Ecumenical Review 24, 3 (1972) 247-288]