“The question of ethical problems is a major challenge to the churches, both within churches and between churches.” said Prof. Dr Myriam Wijlens, who teaches Canon Law at the Faculty of Catholic Theology of the University of Erfurt (Germany), and moderated the discussion.
Prof. Dr Rachel Muers, a theologian with the University of Leeds (UK) and a member of the Friends World Committee for Consultations (Quakers), noted that this is a study document, which means people looking to find the “right answers” may be disappointed—but the text instead helps guide people in their thinking together about moral discernment processes.
A central notion in the document is the “conscience of the church.” H.E. Metropolitan Vasilios of Constantia and Ammochostos (Orthodox Church of Cyprus) explained that when communities are faced with new challenges they draw on the conscience of the church to find an answer. “Of course the conscience of the church is a very specific but inclusive definition,” he said.
Dr David Kirchhoffer, professor of Moral Theology at the Australian Catholic University and director of the Queensland Bioethics Centre (Roman Catholic) said: “We hope that understanding why churches disagree with one another and how they have resolved those disagreements over time will support church dialogue regarding moral disagreement and help resolve conflicts.”
In his response, Rev. Dr Glenroy Lalor, a Baptist theologian who teaches Systematic Theology at the United Theological College of the West Indies in Jamaica, called the document courageous, “because it takes on a very difficult issue and offers us a way of understanding a difficult subject: the way moral decisions are made within and by churches.”
Archbishop Linda Nicholls, the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said that the document helps churches move beyond the more emotional reasons behind moral decisions and “be able to look at oneself and one’s tradition, and the elements that might have brought people to different conclusions.” She underlined the great potential of the document, as “it will provide a way forward.”