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      A. THE NATURE OF THE CHURCH - select
  CONCLUSION - select


Report of the International Dialogue
between the Catholic Church
and Mennonite World Conference


1. In the spirit of friendship and reconciliation, a dialogue between Catholics and Mennonites took place over a five-year period, from 1998-2003. The dialogue partners met five times in plenary session, a week at a time. At the first four sessions, at least two papers were presented by each delegation as the joint commission explored their respective understandings of key theological themes and of significant aspects of the history of the church. At the fifth session the partners worked together on a common report.

2. This was a new process of reconciliation. The two dialogue partners had had no official dialogue previous to this, and therefore started afresh. Our purpose was to assist Mennonites and Catholics to overcome the consequences of almost five centuries of mutual isolation and hostility. We wanted to explore whether it is now possible to create a new atmosphere in which to meet each other. After all, despite all that may still divide us, the ultimate identity of both is rooted in Jesus Christ.

3. This report is a synthesis of the five-year Catholic-Mennonite dialogue. The Introduction describes the origins of the dialogue within the contemporary inter-church framework, including other bilateral dialogues in which Catholics and Mennonites have participated in recent decades. It identifies specific factors that led up to this particular dialogue. The Introduction then states the purpose and scope of the dialogue, names the participants, and conveys something of the spirit in which the dialogue was conducted. It concludes by naming the locations at which each of the annual dialogue sessions took place, and states the themes that were discussed at each session.

4. Three chapters follow the Introduction. The first of these, "Considering History Together", summarizes the results of our common study of three crucial eras (and related events) of history that have shaped our respective traditions and have yielded distinctive interpretations. These are 1) the rupture of the sixteenth century, 2) the Constantinian era, and 3) the Middle Ages as such. The aim of our study was to re-read history together for the purpose of comparing and refining our interpretations. Chapter I reports on our agreed-upon evaluations as well as some differing perspectives on the historical eras and events that were selected and examined.

5. In the second chapter, "Considering Theology Together", we report on our common and differing understandings of the Church, of Baptism, of the Eucharist or the Lord's Supper, and of peace. In each case, we state the historic theological perspectives of the Catholic Church and of the Mennonite Churches.1 This is followed by a summary of our discussion on major convergences and divergences on each theme. Of particular significance is our theological study and comparison of our respective peace teachings. The Mennonites are one of the "Historic Peace Churches"2, which means that the commitment to peace is essential to their self-definition. The Catholic Church takes the promotion of unity -- and accordingly peace -- as "belonging to the innermost nature of the Church".3 Is it possible, therefore, that these two communities can give witness together to the Gospel which calls us to be peacemakers in today's often violent world?

6. Chapter III is entitled "Toward a Healing of Memories". In a sense, every interchurch dialogue in which the partners are seeking to overcome centuries of hostility or isolation is aimed at healing bitter memories that have made reconciliation between them difficult. The third chapter identifies four components that, we hope, can help to foster a healing of memories between Mennonites and Catholics.

7. The members of this dialogue offer this report, the results of our work, to the sponsoring bodies in the hope that it can be used by Mennonites and Catholics not only within their respective communities but also as they meet together, to promote reconciliation between them for the sake of the Gospel.



8. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, separated Christian communions have come into closer contact, seeking reconciliation with each other. Despite ongoing divisions, they have started to cooperate with one another to their mutual benefit and often to the benefit of the societies in which they give witness to the Gospel. They have engaged in theological dialogue, exploring the reasons for their original divisions. In doing so, they have often discovered that, despite centuries of mutual isolation, they continue to share much of the Christian heritage which is rooted in the Gospel. They have also been able to clarify serious differences that exist between and among them in regard to various aspects of the Christian faith. In short, in modern times we have witnessed the emergence of a movement of reconciliation among separated Christians, bringing with it new openness to one another and, on the part of many, a commitment to strive for the unity of the followers of Jesus Christ.

9. Many factors have contributed to this contemporary movement. Among them are conditions and changes in the modern world. For example, the destructive power of modern weapons in a nuclear age has challenged Christians everywhere to reflect on the question of peace in a totally new way -- and even to do so together. But the basic inspiration for dialogue between separated Christians has been the realization that conflict between them impedes the preaching of the Gospel and damages their credibility. Indeed, conflict between Christians is a major obstacle to the mission given by Jesus Christ to his disciples. It is difficult to announce the good news of salvation "so that the world may believe" (Jn 17:21) if those bearing the good news have basic disagreements among themselves.

10. Since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the Catholic Church has been engaged in a wide variety of ecumenical activities, including a number of international bilateral dialogues. There has been dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Malankara Orthodox Churches, the Assyrian Church of the East, the Anglican Communion, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the World Methodist Council, the Baptist World Alliance, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Pentecostals, and the Evangelicals. There have been consultations with the World Evangelical Alliance and Seventh Day Adventists. Also, since 1968 Catholic theologians have participated as full voting members of the multilateral Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches.

11. Mennonite World Conference (MWC) has previously held international bilateral dialogues with the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and with the Baptist World Alliance. Also, together with the Lutheran World Federation and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, MWC sponsors the multilateral dialogue on the "First, Second and Radical Reformations", also known as the "Prague Consultations". MWC and the Lutheran World Federation have agreed to international conversation beginning in 2004. Mennonite World Conference member churches in France, in Germany, and in the United States have held bilateral dialogues with Lutheran churches in those countries.

12. Though Mennonites and Catholics have lived in isolation or in tension for centuries, they too have had increasing contact with each other in recent times. On the international level, they have met each other consistently in a number of interchurch organizations. For example, representatives of the Mennonite World Conference (MWC) and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) meet annually at the meeting of the Conference of Secretaries of Christian World Communions (CS/CWC), a forum which has for more than forty years brought together the general secretaries of world communions for informal contacts and discussion. There have been numerous other contacts on national and local levels.

13. More recently some Catholics and Mennonites have begun to invite one another to meetings or events each has sponsored. On the international level, Pope John Paul II invited Christian World Communions, including the Mennonite World Conference, to participate in the Assisi Day of Prayer for Peace, held in October 1986. The MWC Executive Secretary, Paul Kraybill, attended that meeting. The MWC invited the PCPCU to send an observer to its world assembly in Calcutta in January of 1997. Msgr. John Mutiso Mbinda attended on behalf of the PCPCU and brought a message from its President, Edward Idris Cardinal Cassidy, in which the Cardinal expressed the "sincere hope that there will be other contacts between the Mennonite World Conference and the Catholic Church". After the international Mennonite-Catholic Dialogue began in 1998, MWC was among those Pope John Paul II invited to send representatives to events in Rome related to the Jubilee Year 2000. The Mennonite co-chairman of this dialogue, Dr. Helmut Harder, attended a jubilee event at the Vatican in 1999 on the subject of inter-religious dialogue. More recently, accepting the invitation of Pope John Paul II to leaders of Christian World Communions, Dr. Mesach Krisetya, president of the MWC, participated in the Assisi Day of Prayer for Peace, January 24, 2002. Moreover, to name one example from a national context, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the USA,4 in the course of writing its pastoral statement on peace in 1993, sought the expertise of persons from outside the Catholic Church, including that of Mennonite theologian John H. Yoder.

14. The possibility and desirability of an international Catholic-Mennonite dialogue came into view in the context of informal contacts during meetings of the CS/CWC. The question was first raised in the early 1990s in a conversation between Dr. Larry Miller, Executive Secretary of the MWC, Bishop Pierre Duprey, Secretary of the PCPCU, and Msgr. John A. Radano, also of the PCPCU. During ensuing annual CS/CWC meetings, Msgr. Radano and Dr. Miller continued to informally discuss the possibility of an international dialogue. Two particularly compelling reasons for dialogue were the awareness that contemporary historical studies point to medieval sources of spirituality which Catholics and Mennonites share, and the conviction that both believe peace to be at the heart of the Gospel. There was also a sense that, as in other relationships between separated Christians, there is need for a healing of memories between Mennonites and Catholics. In 1997 the leaders of both communions responded positively to a proposal that a Mennonite-Catholic dialogue should take place on the international level. The dialogue, envisioned initially for a five-year period, began the following year, organized on the Catholic side by the PCPCU and on the Mennonite side by the MWC.


15. The general purpose of the dialogue was to learn to know one another better, to promote better understanding of the positions on Christian faith held by Catholics and Mennonites, and to contribute to the overcoming of prejudices that have long existed between them.

16. In light of this purpose, two tracks were followed during each of the annual meetings. A contemporary component explored the positions of each side on a selected key theological issue. A historical track examined the interpretation of each dialogue partner with reference to a particular historical event or historical development that caused or represented separation from one another in the course of the history of the Church.

17. In order to implement the study of these two tracks, MWC and PCPCU called on papers from participants who brought historical or theological expertise and understanding to the events, the themes, and the issues that effect relationships between Catholics and Mennonites.

18. Mennonite delegation members were Dr. Helmut Harder (co-chairman, Canada), systematic theologian and co-editor of "A Confession of Faith in Mennonite Perspective"; Dr. Neal Blough (USA/ France), specialist in Anabaptist history and theology; Rev. Mario Higueros (Guatemala), head of the Central American Mennonite seminary with advanced theological studies at the Salamanca Pontifical University in Spain and numerous contacts with Catholics in Latin America; Rev. Andrea Lange (Germany), Mennonite pastor and teacher, especially on themes related to peace church theology and practice; Dr. Howard J. Loewen (USA), Mennonite Brethren theologian and expert in the confessional history of Anabaptist/Mennonites; Dr. Nzash Lumeya (D.R. Congo/USA), missiologist and Old Testament specialist; and Dr. Larry Miller (co-secretary, USA/France), New Testament scholar and Mennonite World Conference Executive Secretary. Dr. Alan Kreider (USA), historian of the early church, joined the group for the annual session of the dialogue in the year 2000.

19. On the Catholic side, participants included the Most Reverend Joseph Martino, (co-chairman, USA), a church historian and Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia, located in an area which includes many communities of the Anabaptist tradition; Rev. Dr. James Puglisi, SA (USA/Italy), Director of the Centro Pro Unione and specialist in liturgy and sacraments; Dr. Peter Nissen (The Netherlands), church historian and authority on relations between Catholics and Anabaptists in the sixteenth century; Msgr. John Mutiso Mbinda (Kenya/Vatican City), PCPCU staff member who participated in the 1997 MWC world assembly meeting in Calcutta and whose work brings him into regular contact with international Christian organizations where Mennonites participate at times; Dr. Joan Patricia Back (United Kingdom/Italy), on the staff of Centro Uno, ecumenical secretariat of the Focolare Movement, whose communities around the world have contacts with many Christian groups, including Mennonites; Rev. Dr. Andrew Christiansen, SJ (USA), an expert in social ethics whose work in matters of peace both on the academic and the practical levels have brought him into contact and conversation with Mennonite scholars; and Msgr. Dr. John A. Radano (co-secretary, USA/Vatican City), Head of the Western Section of the PCPCU who has participated in various international dialogues.

20. The atmosphere in the meetings was most cordial. Each side presented its views on the theological issues as clearly and forcefully as possible, seeking to foster an honest and fruitful dialogue. As the conversation partners heard the other's views clearly stated, it was possible to begin to see which parts of the Christian heritage are held in common by both Mennonites and Catholics, and where they have strong differences. In presenting their respective views on history, dialogue members did not refrain from allowing one another to see clearly the criticism each communion has traditionally raised against the other. At the same time, dialogue participants did this with the kind of self-criticism that is needed if an authentic search for truth is to take place. The constant hope was that clarifications in both areas of study, historical and theological, might contribute to a healing of memories between Catholics and Mennonites.

21. Prayer sustained and accompanied the dialogue. Every day of each meeting began and ended with prayer and worship, led by members of the delegations. On Sundays, dialogue participants attended services in a Mennonite or a Catholic congregation, depending on which side was hosting the meeting that year. During the week, the host side arranged a field trip to sites associated with its tradition. These services and trips contributed to the dialogue by helping each partner to know the other better.


22. The first meeting took place in Strasbourg, France, October 14-18, 1998. Each delegation made presentations in response to the question, "Who are we today?" A second set of papers helped to shed light on the reasons for reactions to each other in the sixteenth century. At the second meeting, held in Venice, Italy, October 12-18, 1999, the discussion in the theological sessions focussed on the way each communion understands the church today. The historical track explored the Anabaptist idea of the restitution of the early church, as well as the medieval roots of the Mennonite tradition of faith and spirituality. At the third meeting, November 24-30, 2000, held at the Thomashof, near Karlsruhe, Germany, the contemporary discussion turned to an area of possible cooperation between Mennonites and Catholics today, with the theme formulated as a question: "What is a Peace Church?" In the historical sessions, each presented an interpretation of the impact of the "Constantinian shift" on the church. In the fourth meeting, at Assisi, Italy, November 27 to December 3, 2001, each delegation presented its views on Baptism and the Eucharist or Lord's Supper. The historical part of that meeting focussed on the view of each on the relationship between church and state in the Middle Ages. At the fifth meeting, October 25-31, 2002, in Akron, Pennsylvania, members worked on the final report of the dialogue. Drafting meetings in March, May and June, 2003 provided occasions to refine the report in preparation for its submission.

Note: A list of the papers presented at the dialogue sessions, together with their authors, appears as an Appendix at the end of this report.


  1. The word "church" is used in this report to reflect the self-understandings of the participating churches, without intending to resolve all the ecclesiological issues related to this term. Mennonites and Catholics do not share a common understanding of the Church.

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  2. The term "Historic Peace Churches", in use since about 1935, refers to Mennonites, Quakers (Society of Friends), and Church of the Brethren. For an orientation to the Historic Peace Churches, see Donald Durnbaugh, ed., On Earth Peace: Discussions on War/Peace issues between Friends, Mennonites, Brethren and European Churches 1935-1975 (Elgin: The Brethren Press, 1978).

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  3. "Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World", Gaudium et spes, 42.

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  4. Now called the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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