RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN THE WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES
AND THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH
adopted by the Central Committee at Enugu
its meeting in Rochester in 1963 the Central Committee of the
WCC adopted a statement on relations with the Roman Catholic Church
which spoke of the beginning of a genuinely ecumenical dialogue
between the Roman Catholic and other churches, resting upon the
one foundation of God's revelation of himself in Jesus Christ,
aiming at deeper understanding, mutual enrichment and the renewal
of the life of the churches in which the profound dogmatic differences
can be faced in a spirit of love and humility. It was urged that
every opportunity be seized for the development of this dialogue
at every level of the life of the churches. A number of specific
issues were mentioned which must be faced if true dialogue is
to be possible.
World Council itself is preparing for this dialogue in several
ways through the sending of observers to the sessions of the second
Vatican Council; through a number of consultations on specific
topics such as the work among the laity, missionary problems,
or social questions, and more generally through the contacts which
have been established with the Secretariat for the Promotion of
Unity in Rome.
adoption and promulgation of the Decree de oecumenismo by the
Roman Catholic Church has created a new situation. The fact that
the Roman Catholic Church expresses so definitely its desire to
enter into conversation with the other churches and expresses
its convictions on the subject is an important new fact in the
development of the ecumenical movement. For the Roman Catholic
Church thus adopts a number of principles and policies which have
guided the churches in the ecumenical movement in the past decades.
There are points in which the conception of ecumenical relations
is the same as that developed in the World Council of Churches
and in its member churches. There are other points in which there
are considerable differences. The World Council of Churches which
has always sought "to draw Churches out of isolation into
conference" must surely use this opportunity to do whatever
it can do, in the light of its mandate, to encourage these new
contacts and should itself enter into a conversation with the
Roman Catholic Church about common concerns and unsolved problems
The very fact that there are differences in our conceptions of
ecumenical relations obliges us for the sake of a healthy development
of the ecumenical movement to do our utmost to clarify our positions
and, if possible, to arrive at mutual understanding.
conversations have taken place between representatives of the
WCC and of the Secretariat for the Promotion of Unity. The WCC's
Executive Committee has given serious consideration to the matter
and a number of church leaders have been consulted.
These discussions have led to the conclusion that the time has
come to elaborate a common understanding between the WCC and
the Roman Catholic Church concerning the principles on which
the relationships should be based and the manner in which they
should be developed.
World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church are not
comparable entities. The World Council of Churches is a fellowship
of many churches with different confessional background. The Roman
Catholic Church is a single church. Their cooperation creates
therefore special problems. These problems can however best be
solved by frank discussion.
is very important to note that the competence of the WCC in this
field has its strict limitations. It cannot act for the member
churches, unless it is specifically authorized to do so. The principle
laid down in the Toronto Declaration must be faithfully observed:
purpose of the World Council of Churches is not to negotiate
unions between churches, which can only be done by the churches
themselves acting on their own initiative, but to bring the
churches into living contact with each other and to promote
the study and discussion of the issues of church unity."
This means that the WCC does not interfere in discussions which
its member churches may have with the Roman Catholic Church.
The World Council does however desire to be informed about such
discussions and stands ready to give any assistance that it
may be asked to give.
clear distinction must also be made between the subjects which
can properly be discussed between the WCC and the Roman Catholic
Church and those which can and must be discussed in bilateral
conversations between the individual member churches (or confessional
bodies) and the Roman Catholic Church.
Among these subjects which belong to the first category we would
mention especially: a) practical collaboration in the fields
of philanthropy, social and international affairs; b) theological
study programs which have a specific bearing on ecumenical relations
(Faith and Order); c) problems which cause tension between the
churches (e.g. mixed marriages, religious liberty, proselytism);
d) common concerns with regard to the life and mission of the
Church (laity, missions, etc.).
It is recognized that these subjects have certain aspects which
can best be discussed at the international level, and other
aspects which can best be discussed at the national level.
the light of the above considerations it is proposed that a working
group be established composed of 8 representatives of the WCC
and of 6 representatives of the Roman Catholic Church. The task
of this group would be to work out the principles which should
be observed in further collaboration and the methods which should
be used. When discussing specific fields of work the group could
invite persons specially concerned with these fields to sit with
them as consultants. The working group would not be able to take
any decisions, but elaborate proposals which would be submitted
to the bodies they represent, and communicated to the member churches.
relationships between the WCC staff and the Secretariat for the
Promotion of Unity can best be maintained by the regular exchange
will be important for the WCC to keep in these matters in close
touch with the families of churches and confessional bodies, several
of which will develop their own contacts with the Roman Catholic
Church. This can be done by developing as much consultation and
mutual representation as proves to be possible.
It may also be that some national councils of churches may desire
the help of the WCC in their conversations with the Roman Catholic
Church at the national level.
should be underlined that the WCC desires to develop its relationships
with all churches which are not members of the WCC but which would
maintain contacts with it.
Ecumenical Review 17, 2 (1965) 171-173]