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On behalf of the Joint Working Group between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches we are pleased to present its Seventh Report to its parent bodies and recommend its study.

The report results from seven years' work by a dedicated group drawn from the World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church.

The character of the document is intentionally educational. The group believed that it would in this way best serve the interest of all who wish to know not only the Joint Working Group's agenda but the growing relationship of the WCC and the RCC within the broader perspective of the one ecumenical movement which the group has witnessed and in some measure assisted.

In doing so we have gone beyond, both in our report and in our work, a narrow interpretation of our mandate. We believe however that this will be accepted as a measure of the group's deep commitment to the cause of Christian unity.

In thanking all our members for their generous contribution to our common work, we would like to mention in particular those who have accompanied our work and are no longer members of the JWG. We remember with affection Professor Todor Sabev, Dr Wesley Ariarajah, Sister Monica Cooney and Archbishop Ivan Marin.

We are conscious that this Report is published on the eve of the third millennium -- a time to turn to God and rejoice in hope. It contains several suggestions for future work intended to cement further the relationship of the WCC and the RCC in our common service of our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to whom be praise for evermore.

His Eminence Elias Audi, Metropolitan of Beirut
Most Rev. Mario Conti, Bishop of Aberdeen
Co-Moderators of the Joint Working Group

With gratitude this Joint Working Group (JWG) has accepted its mandated responsibilities to serve as an instrument which helps the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) and the World Council of Churches (WCC) to carry out the ecumenical vocation of the churches. The experience of the present members reaffirms our predecessors' conviction expressed in the Sixth Report (1990): "The ecumenical movement is more than ever necessary if the churches and Christian communities are to be a sign and seed of the unity, peace and hope which the human family needs."

The JWG joyfully looks forward to the celebration in 1998 of the fiftieth anniversary of the World Council of Churches. The theme of the WCC's eighth assembly (Harare, 3-14 December 1998) is "Turn to God -- Rejoice in Hope". As a new millennium dawns the pilgrim people of God turns again to the one Triune God with renewed faith and sustains the hope of a restoration of that unity among all Christians which Christ wills. This holy objective, which transcends human power and gifts, engages our renewed efforts towards reconciliation while at the same time opens us to the future inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Since 1966 the JWG has made six reports. In this Seventh Report, it offers to its parent bodies an account of its work since the WCC assembly at Canberra in 1991. This report also seeks to inform readers who may be unaware of the history of the JWG and of specific RCC and WCC structures of relationships. A short history of the JWG is offered as Appendix A.

1. The WCC and the RCC

In 1965 the WCC central committee and the Roman Catholic authorities committed the WCC and the RCC to future collaboration through the visible expression of the JWG. Both partners realized then their differences. As collaborative efforts increased, the JWG came increasingly to respect the ways in which the WCC and the RCC differ in their nature, main structure, exercise of authority and styles of operation.

1. The WCC is a "fellowship" constituted by member churches. Churches which agree with the WCC Basis -- that they "confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the Scriptures and therefore seek to fulfil together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit" -- may apply for membership and are accepted if at least two-thirds of the member churches approve.

While the WCC's constitutional documents do not define what is meant by "Church" (and the Toronto statement of the 1950 central committee indicates that the WCC "cannot and should not be based on any one particular conception of the Church"), its Rules do set forth certain criteria which member churches must satisfy. These include a "sustained independent life and organization", the practice of "constructive ecumenical relations" and a membership of at least 25,000 (10,000 for associate member churches). In fact, nearly all member churches are organized within a single country. The Rules also specify certain "responsibilities of membership", among them participating in the Council's governing bodies and activities, encouraging ecumenical commitment and making an annual financial contribution commensurate with their means.

The constitutional documents specify that the WCC has no legislative authority over its member churches. Organized to "offer counsel and provide opportunity for united action in matters of common interest" (Constitution, art. IV), it may act on behalf of a member church or churches only when that church or those churches request it to do so; and the authority of any public statements it makes consists "only in the weight which they carry by their own truth and wisdom" (Rules, X.2). General policies for the WCC are set by the assembly of official delegates elected by all member churches, which meets every seven years. Implementation of these policies in specific activities is supervised by the central committee of about 150 members elected by each assembly to serve until the next one.

2. The RCC is a communion of local churches or dioceses, each entrusted to a bishop. It is one church with a worldwide mission and structure of sanctifying, teaching and governance through the "college of bishops", with and under the Bishop of Rome, the pastor of the whole Catholic Church who must ensure the communion of all the churches (cf. Code of Canon Law, canons 331, 375). "The concern for restoring unity involves the whole Church, faithful and clergy alike" (Decree on Ecumenism, 5). But "it pertains especially to the entire College of Bishops and to the Apostolic See to foster and direct among Catholics the ecumenical movement..., which by the will of Christ the Church is bound to promote" (canon 755; Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 902). Conferences of bishops are juridical institutions of a nation or territory, with specific duties and responsibilities designated by canon laws and other decrees; for example, the national conference decides whether or not to be a full member of a national or regional council of churches. No diocese, no conference is autonomous. This "hierarchical communion with the head of the college and its members" (canon 375), which fosters unity in diversity, is an essential element of the RCC's self-identity and of its ecumenical commitment.

2. The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) and the WCC

The Pope "usually conducts the business of the universal Church by means of the Roman Curia... for the good and service of the [local or particular] churches" (canon 360). Within the Roman Curia is the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) which has "the competency and duty of promoting the unity of Christians". The PCPCU is entrusted with the correct interpretation and carrying out of the Catholic principles of ecumenism; and with initiating, promoting or coordinating ecumenical efforts at national, regional and worldwide levels. The PCPCU is responsible for relations with the WCC and for bilateral relations. The PCPCU facilitates WCC relations with other departments of the Roman Curia, such as those for the evangelization of peoples, interreligious dialogue, justice and peace, aid and development, the laity, and Catholic education.

The PCPCU members are from national conferences of bishops and departments of the Roman Curia: over 30 cardinals, archbishops and bishops, and 25 official consultors. They meet in plenary every 18-24 months. The PCPCU has a full-time staff of 23 persons.

3. Functions, operations and structure of the JWG

The JWG functions according to its original 1966 mandate as modified by the 1975 WCC assembly.

1. The JWG is a consultative forum. It has no authority in itself but reports to its parent bodies -- the WCC assembly and central committee, and the PCPCU -- which approve policies and programmes.

It undertakes its spiritual and pastoral tasks in a spirit of prayerful conviction that God through Christ in the Spirit is guiding the one ecumenical movement. The group tries to discern the will of God in contemporary situations, and to stimulate the search for visible unity and common witness, in particular through collaboration at world, regional, national and local levels between the RCC, the WCC, and the WCC member churches. This means giving attentive support and encouragement to whatever contributes to ecumenical progress.

The JWG initiates, evaluates and sustains forms of collaboration between the WCC and the RCC, especially between the various organs and programmes of the WCC and the RCC. Its styles and forms of collaboration are flexible, as it discerns similarities and differences which foster or hinder WCC/RCC relations. Concentrating on ad hoc initiatives, it keeps new structures to a minimum in proposing new steps and programmes, carefully setting priorities and using its limited resources of personnel, time and finances.

2. At present the JWG has 17 members, with two co-moderators. Its co-secretaries are a PCPCU staff member and the WCC's deputy general secretary responsible for relations with non-member churches. Most members are involved in pastoral and ecumenical ministries in different regions. Some are from departments of the Roman Curia and from the WCC units. The JWG also coopts consultants for its particular tasks. The co-moderators, co-secretaries and four others form the executive, which oversees the JWG between its plenaries and prepares the agenda and materials for them.

Between 1991 and 1997, the JWG has met in plenary six times: Wenningsen, Germany, 1992; Venice, 1993; Crete, 1994; Bose, Italy, 1995; Chambésy, Switzerland, 1996; Venice, 1997.

4. Relationships between the RCC and the WCC (1991-98)

Among the many contacts at various levels have been those between leaders or representatives of the WCC (in Geneva) and the RCC (in Rome) which illustrate their close partnership.

1. The visit to Rome of WCC general secretary Dr Emilio Castro (1991) helped to clear up misunderstandings that had arisen around the impression of some that the Canberra assembly was equating the ecumenical movement with the WCC, and around the discussions about the ecclesial nature of the WCC-RCC relationship. Pope John Paul II and Dr Castro exchanged views on the role of the churches in the crisis in Yugoslavia; on the 500th anniversary of the colonization and evangelization of Latin America; and on the re-evangelization of Europe. Discussions with the PCPCU staff focused on specific continuing collaboration with the WCC.

2. The RC meeting of representatives of the National Episcopal Commissions for Ecumenism (Rome, 1993), convened by the PCPCU, focused on ecumenical formation and the activities of these commissions. In addition to representatives of 78 episcopal conferences, participants included a WCC member of the JWG and delegates from nine churches and Christian world communions with which the RCC is a partner in bilateral dialogue.

3. The meeting in Geneva between the WCC officers and PCPCU officials (November 1993) raised key questions on the role of the JWG: its impact on local ecumenism, its specific contribution in bringing together the work of the national councils of churches (NCCs), and its role in the reception process of various dialogues. With realism on both sides, participants listened to each other's descriptions of the practical differences in the ways they operate. They stressed the important role of the Faith and Order commission in ecumenical dialogue.

4. A plenary session of the WCC central committee (Johannesburg, January 1994) discussed the relationship between the RCC and the WCC following presentations on the experiences of the PCPCU by its staff member, Msgr John Mutiso-Mbinda, and on the experiences of RCC membership in national and regional councils of churches such as the Council of Churches in Britain and Ireland and the Caribbean Conference of Churches. Each central committee member received a copy the PCPCU's recent Directory on Ecumenism (1993), with a recommendation to read its first chapter of those principles which commit the RCC to ecumenism. The discussion focused on three issues: the potential for local ecumenism, especially in the light of the Directory; the new challenges arising from the participation of the RCC in national and regional councils or conferences of churches; the double pattern of relationships, in which it is possible to agree on theological issues -- and sometimes on socio-political matters, such as churches' attitudes towards war -- and yet not be able to dialogue on some other moral questions (cf. Minutes of the WCC central committee, Johannesburg, 20-28 January 1995, pp.26-27).

5. The visit to Rome by general secretary Dr Konrad Raiser and WCC executive staff (April 1995) affirmed that the JWG is progressing in a trusting atmosphere as it facilitates relationships and cooperation between the two parent bodies. Questions arose: how better to cooperate in responding to problems which face both the WCC member churches and the RCC, for example, on civic religious freedom, Christian witness and proselytism; how better to use the existing links and the findings of many years of collaboration in local situations where most ecumenical expectations emerge; how the JWG can use its experience and instrumentality not only to provoke common thinking but also to prompt joint action in pressing situations related to the daily life and witness of the local churches? In the discussions between Pope John Paul II and Dr Raiser, the general secretary affirmed the WCC's deep commitment to a "culture of life" and to a witness for peace -- a major theme of the Pope's encyclical Evangelium Vitae (1995). The principle of mutual accountability and solidarity among churches on theological, social and ethical questions was underscored as crucial for ecumenical cooperation.

6. Joint meeting in Rome (December 1997). In consultation with each other and considering that structural changes in the WCC (cf. below, III.A.5, "Common Understanding and Vision of the WCC") would have consequences on the relationships between the RCC and the WCC, Dr Raiser and Cardinal Cassidy agreed to a meeting between the PCPCU and the WCC in order to share information, to express mutual concerns, and to seek ways to strengthen collaboration.

5. The PCPCU and Canberra assessments of the JWG's Sixth Report

1. In a letter to Dr Emilio Castro prior to the Canberra assembly, PCPCU president Cardinal Edward Cassidy approved the Sixth Report. He underlined the role of the JWG as an instrument for the cooperative relationship between the two parent bodies in the common quest for Christian unity. In stressing the Catholic Church's conviction of the critical importance of unity of faith for progress towards Christian unity, the Cardinal strongly supported the work of Faith and Order; but he also pointed to the necessity of theological foundations in the studies and activities of other WCC programmes and suggested that more development of this dimension could facilitate RCC cooperation in them. The letter recalled the desire of Pope John Paul II that common Christian witness be achieved wherever and as soon as possible. This was especially necessary in common reflection on those issues which tended to divide churches, for example, ethical concerns in which the churches should collaborate in exercising moral leadership.

2. The Canberra assembly received the Sixth Report with appreciation. The impressive survey of the joint activities between the RCC and the WCC since the 1983 Vancouver assembly did not hide unresolved difficulties and failures. The assembly cited the dissolution of the Joint Consultative Group on Social Thought and Action as an illustration of the particular difficulties facing collaboration in this urgent area. It recommended that the JWG be liberated from monitoring some of the ongoing staff work between Geneva and Rome in order to concentrate on a thorough review of the RCC-WCC relationship and how it might be given more substantial visible expression.

6. Mandated JWG priorities, 1991-98

Both the Canberra assembly and the PCPCU approved and encouraged the priorities which the Sixth Report had recommended to the next JWG:

  • the unity of the Church: goal, steps and ecclesiological implications;
  • ecumenical formation and education;
  • ethical issues as new sources of division;
  • common witness in missionary endeavours;
  • social thought and action.

The November 1993 meeting between WCC officers and PCPCU officials underlined that the JWG should now focus on its style of working and on identifying those programmatic areas where cooperation was necessary and possible. It acknowledged that in encouraging and facilitating reception of its work, the JWG experiences challenges similar to those faced by the bilateral dialogues.

This Seventh Report demonstrates that the JWG has offered concrete results in meeting its mandated priorities. The exception is "social thought and action", but even in this case progress has been made in better understanding past difficulties and in opening the way towards new perspectives and possible positive initiatives for future collaboration.

A. The unity of the Church -- the goal and the way

1. The unity of the church as Koinonia

1. The specific focus on the ecclesiology of koinonia (communion) and the unity we seek provides continuity to the central and ongoing JWG concern for "the unity of the Church -- the goal and the way". This same concern is basic to the mandate of the Faith and Order commission. This commission draws some of its members from churches which are not WCC members, and since 1968 RC theologians, approved by the PCPCU, have been full commission members. Through Faith and Order the RCC continues to have direct active participation in the WCC.

2. In the period between 1983 and 1990 the JWG itself commissioned and received the study "The Church: Local and Universal" (1990), which was published as an appendix to its Sixth Report. The document dealt with the fundamental aspects of the mystery of the Church as an icon of the Trinity, the ecclesiology of koinonia and the relationship of the Church local and universal. It explored the topic from Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant perspectives and indicated the ecclesial elements required for full communion within the visibly united Church.

3. Since 1990 this same focus has been developing in: (1) the Canberra assembly statement "The Unity of the Church as Koinonia: Gift and Calling"; (2) the JWG-commissioned study document, a series of reflections by Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestants: Ecumenical Perspectives on the 1991 Canberra Statement on Unity (Faith and Order paper no. 163); (3) the report of the 1993 fifth world conference on Faith and Order (Santiago de Compostela); (4) the various international bilateral dialogues; (5) the current Faith and Order study "Koinonia: The Nature and Purpose of the Church"; (6) Pope John Paul II's 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint, on the commitment to ecumenism; (7) the process of study and consultation "Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the WCC"; and (8) the PCPCU response (April 1997) to this draft (November 1996).

4. The 1991 Canberra statement developed the understanding of koinonia which is a central focus of the JWG's "The Church: Local and Universal". The nature and purpose of the Church, as a community which mirrors the reality of the Trinity, is "to unite people with Christ in the power of the Spirit, to manifest communion in prayer and action and thus to point to the fullness of communion with God, humanity and the whole creation in the glory of the kingdom" ("The Unity of the Church as Koinonia: Gift and Calling", Canberra assembly statement, 1.1). Despite the continuing divisions between the churches, they now "recognize a certain degree of communion already existing among them", and they desire to make this communion more visible by seeking consensus on the common confession of the apostolic faith, a common sacramental life, a common mission and moving towards a common ministry and structures of accountability. These elements develop the four classical visible properties or attributes of the Church -- one, holy, catholic and apostolic.

5. The work of the Faith and Order commission after Canberra has drawn on the impact of its 1982 document Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (BEM) and the responses of the churches to it, including the lengthy one from the RCC. An implicit ecclesiology in BEM requires further clarification: the nature of sacraments and the relation of necessary oversight to be exercised in the Church in an office which is personal, collegial and communal. The completed study project Confessing the One Faith" examines the common apostolic faith through the Nicene Creed, and invites the churches to recognize in their own lives the faith of the Church through the ages and to recognize that same faith in other Christian communities (Faith and Order Paper no. 153; cf. the 1996 study guide "Towards Sharing the One Faith, Faith and Order paper no. 173).

6. The 1993 fifth world conference on Faith and Order in Santiago de Compostela (Spain) drew participants from every continent and ecclesial tradition who are engaged in Faith and Order concerns in the churches and ecumenical organizations. The conference could rejoice in the results of ecumenical dialogue, particularly since the last world conference in 1963 (Montreal), which was held during the Second Vatican Council when the RCC was only beginning officially and actively to enter the ecumenical movement. The sizeable RC presence in Santiago included the PCPCU President Cardinal Cassidy and 23 delegates, as well as more than 40 others who were hosts, speakers, younger theologians, coopted staff and consultants.

7. Prior to Santiago the Faith and Order commission developed a study process involving a series of regional consultations (RCs took part in many of them), which resulted in the preparatory document "Towards Koinonia in Faith, Life and Witness". The report of the world conference itself explores the nature and meaning of koinonia. The Church, as communion rooted in the life of the Holy Trinity, is to be sign and instrument of God's intention for humankind. The report reflects the insights of the bilateral dialogues, including those in which the RCC is a partner; of united and uniting churches; of the Christian world communions (including the RCC); and of regional and national councils of churches (many of which have RCs as full members). It also explores steps towards the manifestation of koinonia, and identifies implications of the understanding of the Church as one, holy, catholic and apostolic which are still to be addressed.

8. Clearly in the 1990s, koinonia or ecclesial communion has become central to the discussions of the JWG, of the bilateral dialogues and of the Faith and Order commission. Pope John Paul II wrote in his message to the Santiago conference that "a deepened awareness of the profound mystery of ecclesial communion [koinonia] moves Christians to confess that God and not man is the source of the Church's unity; it leads them to repent of their sins against fraternal charity; and it encourages them, under the inspiring work of the Holy Spirit, to work through prayer, word and action to attain that fullness of unity which Jesus Christ desires".

Koinonia is also being used to describe different, and perhaps mutually exclusive, models for the unity of the Church, such as communion of communions, reconciled diversity, visible unity of local churches and conciliar fellowship. The implications of koinonia for models of unity require further examination.

2. Major Faith and Order studies

1. Future Faith and Order studies will continue to focus on ecclesiology. A convergence text on the nature and purpose of the Church, in a format and style similar to BEM, will draw on other Faith and Order studies -- on hermeneutics, worship and ethics -- to seek to move forward on the ministry of oversight, the nature of conciliarity and the nature of the Church as local and universal. Furthermore, an interdisciplinary process has been initiated on "Ethnic Identity, National Identity and the Search for the Unity of the Church".

2. Common prayer and worship anticipate, express and prepare experiences of Christian communion or koinonia that both reflect and extend beyond theological agreements and convergences. So We Believe, So We Pray (Faith and Order paper no. 171) explores a common ordering and scheduling of the primary elements of Christian worship, inculturation and the ways in which worship already actively fosters the search for unity of the Church. The baptism study focuses on the continuing pilgrimage of Christians as they seek to express their incorporation in Christ and their primary consecration as Christians through baptism into the ministry of Christ and the Church.

3. Three reports have come out of a collaborative process of reflection between Faith and Order and the WCC's Programme Unit on Justice, Peace and Creation (Unit III) on the relation between ecclesiology and ethics. The Ronde report Costly Unity (1993) explores koinonia in relation to the ethical nature and witness of the Church as a "moral community" and emphasizes the essential connection between the search for the visible unity of the Church and the calling of the churches to prophetic witness and service. The Tantur report Costly Commitment (1995) offers a fresh discussion of the relation of eucharist, covenant and ethical engagement. The Johannesburg report Costly Obedience (1997) takes up the ethical implications of Christian worship and the role of baptism/Christian initiation in shaping character, and asks: What are the ethical implications of the growing koinonia among the churches? What does the churches' common ethical reflection and action mean for the koinonia which already actively exists among them?

During this same period the JWG published in 1996 its own study, The Ecumenical Dialogue on Moral Issues: Potential Sources of Common Witness or of Divisions (cf. below, III, B,5; and Appendix B).

3. Bilateral and multilateral dialogues

1. The RCC cooperates with the WCC through its full membership of the Faith and Order commission; and many WCC member churches are engaged in bilateral dialogues with the RCC, like the Orthodox churches and the ancient Oriental churches. Others are involved in these dialogues either on the national level or internationally through their respective Christian world communions (CWCs), like the Lutherans, the Methodists, the Reformed, the Anglicans, the Baptists and the Disciples of Christ. These multilateral and bilateral dialogues have complementary purposes and thus offer possibilities for coherence in the service of the one ecumenical movement.

2. The conference of general secretaries of the CWCs, at which Bishop Pierre Duprey of the PCPCU represents the RCC, is an informal instrument of information, exchange, reflection and orientation, and organizes periodic forums on the bilateral conversations. The Faith and Order secretariat services these forums.

The fifth bilateral forum (1991) highlighted the common themes and approaches in reference to the Church emerging in and through the dialogues (cf. The Understanding of the Church Emerging in the Bilateral Dialogues -- Coherence or Divergence?, Faith and Order paper no. 156, 1991). The sixth forum (1994) explored the different processes by which churches seek to receive the results of the dialogues and suggested how they might appropriate these results of the dialogues by a process of recognition and reception. This process of recognition also requires attempts to overcome "non-doctrinal" issues which inhibit the movement towards communion, for example, the memory of historical events that have polarized communities, the relations between Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches, and the relation of majority to minority churches in many areas. The report of this forum also raised the issue of the relation between the local and universal Church -- in particular, the ability of the local church to take initiatives in furthering ecumenical relations (Faith and Order paper no. 168, 1994).

The seventh bilateral forum (1997) explored "The Emerging Visions of Unity" in the churches through their participation in bilateral dialogues and interfaith dialogues and their common witness on issues of justice and peace. These "emerging visions" were discussed in the light of the Canberra statement "The Unity of the Church as Koinonia: Gift and Calling". The report reaffirms the challenges posed by that statement to the churches, in the dynamic process towards "conciliar unity" (recognizing the ambiguity of the term "council"). Rooted in different cultural and geographical milieus, local churches are interdependent in legitimate diversity. And the strong trends of globalization today prompt fresh insights into the unity of the Church and human communities (Faith and Order paper no. 179, 1997).

4. The Ecumenical Directory and the papal encyclical Ut Unum Sint

During this period, two authoritative documents have articulated the theological foundations and pastoral directions for the internal ecumenical life and structures of the RCC and for its relations with other churches and ecumenical organizations: the PCPCU's Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms of Ecumenism (1993), and Pope John Paul II's encyclical "on the commitment to ecumenism", Ut Unum Sint (1995).

1. Approved by the Pope, the Ecumenical Directory (ED) "gives general norms of universal application to guide Catholic participation in ecumenical activity", so as to guarantee "accordance with the unity of faith and discipline that binds Catholics together". But ED "fully respects the competence of local and territorial church authorities" and recognizes that "many judgments can best be made at the local level".

ED comprehensively presents the RC theological foundations for ecumenical life and action (teaching, attitudes/motivations and spirituality); the ecumenical formation of all the faithful -- clergy and laity (studying the scriptures, preaching, catechesis, liturgy) in various settings (family, parish, schools, seminaries, theological faculties, Catholic universities, pastoral ministers' continuing education, hospitals, lay associations and institutes); "spiritual activities" (prayer in common; baptismal celebrations; sharing in sacramental life, especially the eucharist; marriages and mixed marriages; funerals); ecumenical cooperation and common witness (social and cultural life; peace, justice and the stewardship of creation; missionary activities; common Bible translation and distribution; catechetics; medical work; relief and development work; communications media); and church structures (college of bishops, bishops' conferences, patriarchal synods, dioceses and their ecumenical commissions; religious communities and lay organizations; the PCPCU).

2. The encyclical Ut Unum Sint emphasizes the RCC's "irrevocable commitment" to ecumenism as "an organic part of her life and work", necessary for credibility in evangelization.

The everyday ecumenical path is by way of repentance for wrongs mutually committed, prayer (especially in common), reciprocal visits, study of shared faith and remaining differences, and cooperation in mission and in service to human needs.

A key word in the encyclical is "dialogue", which is not simply "an exchange of ideas" (n.28) but also an exchange and development of gifts "for the utility and the advantage of all" (n.87). Presupposing loving respect between the partners and a desire for reconciliation, living dialogue includes an examination of conscience by each. The encyclical observes that "certain features of the Christian mystery have at times been more effectively emphasized" in communities other than the RCC (cf. n.14). In "the common quest for truth," sensitivity to different formulations can make possible "surprising discoveries" which enrich the apprehension of revealed truth.

The Pope foresees a "continuing and deepening dialogue" (nn.77-79) on the way to "that full communion in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church which will be expressed in the common celebration of the eucharist" (n.78). Reception of the interim results of dialogue requires a critical analysis and testing for consistency with the apostolic tradition.

The encyclical lists five areas for further work towards "a true consensus of faith": (1) "the relationship between sacred scriptures, as the highest authority in matters of faith, and sacred tradition, as indispensable to the interpretation of the word of God" (a formulation entirely in line with developments in Faith and Order); (2) "the eucharist, as the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, an offering of praise to the Father, the sacrificial memorial and real presence of Christ and the sanctifying outpouring of the Holy Spirit" (a vision consistent with the Eucharist section of BEM); (3) "ordination, as a sacrament, to the threefold ministry of the episcopate, presbyterate and diaconate"; (4) "the magisterium of the Church, entrusted to the Pope and the bishops in communion with him, understood as a responsibility and an authority exercised in the name of Christ for teaching and safeguarding the faith"; (5) "the Virgin Mary, as mother of God and ikon of the Church, the spiritual mother who intercedes for Christ's disciples and for all humanity" (cf. n.79).

Declaring the RCC's conviction that in the ministry of the Bishop of Rome the Church "has preserved the visible sign and guarantor of unity... in fidelity to the apostolic tradition and the faith of the fathers" (n.88), John Paul II acknowledges that "the ministry of unity of the Bishop of Rome... constitutes a difficulty for most other Christians" (ibid.). Thus he invites "church leaders and their theologians" to "a patient and fraternal dialogue" concerning the "exercise of this necessary ministry" (cf. n.96). A number of WCC member churches have expressed appreciation for this invitation. For ecclesiological and historical reasons, however, many churches have great difficulty in discussing the primacy of the Bishop of Rome and would prefer a wider dialogue on the need, nature and structure of a universal ministry of oversight.

The encyclical spells out the significance of Faith and Order a number of times. It refers in an affirmative way to "the steady work of the commission on Faith and Order" (n.78, note 129). Speaking of the renewal and conversion required in ecumenism, the Pope cites various documents which help foster these attitudes, including "the principle documents of the commission on Faith and Order" (n.17) and "in particular, the Lima document Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (January 1982); and Confessing the One Faith" (note 28). The contribution of the fifth world conference on Faith and Order is mentioned several times (n.78, note 129; n.45, note 77; n.89).

In 1998, the Faith and Order commission completed its response to Ut Unum Sint. The response acknowledges the fine place given to its work in these words: "We in the Faith and Order commission are grateful for the recognition given to our work throughout the encyclical letter. This recognition of Faith and Order work implies a relationship with all ecumenical communities engaged in the ecumenical task". It welcomed the spirit of humility of the encyclical evident in such phrases as "dialogue of consciences" and "dialogue of conversion". The commission highlighted the encyclical's decision on the relation between unity and diversity, and on the recognition of ministries. On the issue of primacy, where satisfaction was expressed for the manner in which this question is treated in the encyclical through emphasis on a ministry of unity -- not of power -- and of service, the commission affirmed its intention to study the issue in the context of the question of the need for "a universal primacy in the organizational dimension of the life of the Church of God on earth".

5. Common Understanding and Vision of the WCC

1. Within the World Council of Churches, the meaning of ecumenical commitment and the WCC's role in the ecumenical movement have been the subject of an extended process of study and consultation under the theme "Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the WCC" (CUV). Mandated by the WCC central committee in 1989, this study has focused on the formulation of a policy document to be presented to the eighth assembly of the WCC in 1998 -- on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the WCC's founding and at the dawn of a new century and a new millennium -- as a kind of "charter" for ecumenical commitment. The text as adopted by the WCC central committee in September 1997 reflected more than 150 responses to an earlier draft from WCC member churches and ecumenical partners.

The JWG has followed this process closely through briefings by WCC staff, sharing of materials and discussions, recognizing the direct bearing of its results on future working relations between the RCC and the WCC and its member churches.

In mandating the CUV process, the central committee in 1989 referred explicitly to the Council's relationship to churches which are not members. Accordingly, Roman Catholic perspectives were solicited from the beginning; and an observer from the PCPCU attended the December 1995 consultation which produced the original draft of the document. When a second version was shared with WCC member churches and ecumenical partners in November 1996, general secretary Konrad Raiser invited the PCPCU to respond; and an extended response was sent to Geneva in April 1997.

From the perspective of the WCC, the draft (and the text as adopted by the central committee in September 1997) states:

We give thanks to God that the Roman Catholic Church is, since the Second Vatican Council, an active participant in the ecumenical movement and a valued partner in numerous ways with the WCC (especially through the JWG and participation in the commission of Faith and Order). The member churches of the WCC and the RCC are inspired by the same vision of God's plan to unite all things in Christ. It is inconceivable to us that either the WCC or the RCC could pursue its ecumenical calling without the collaboration of the other, and we firmly hope that both will look for ways to deepen and expand this relationship in the years ahead, particularly since the RCC has in recent years become part of a growing number of local, national and regional ecumenical bodies of which many WCC member churches are also part. While membership in the WCC is by no means the only way for churches to work together on a worldwide level, some member churches of the WCC which already have bilateral relations with the RCC believe that the fellowship of the WCC is impoverished by its absence from this circle of churches.

2. The PCPCU response acknowledges a "developmental continuity" in the RCC's "reception" of "a new ecumenical tradition of reflective experience ... with other Christians and communions at the local, national and world levels, and as a result of the RCC's active participation in the WCC", which likewise has experienced "the developmental continuity of its ecumenical vocation during its fifty years of common life".

Especially in the light of Ut Unum Sint, the PCPCU response reflects on the common ground or basis of ecumenism and "the one ecumenical movement"; on a common vision seeking to hold together the interrelated dimensions of the churches' faith, life and witness; and on a common calling based on the reality, though imperfect, of the koinonia already existing between the churches.

The PCPCU response concludes that the "ecumenical understanding and commitment of the RCC is, in general, coherent with the present affirmations of the WCC member churches and of the WCC as they are expressed in the proposed Vision Statement".

The PCPCU also responded to proposals in the CUV draft for revisions of present WCC structures and possible new structures, in the light of the implications these would have for future RCC collaboration in the life and work of the WCC and solidarity with the WCC and its member churches.

B. Common witness

1. National and regional councils of churches

In February 1993 the WCC and the PCPCU co-sponsored the third international consultation of NCCs, held in Hong Kong. The theme was "The NCCs as Servants and Advocates of Unity". Out of the 88 NCCs around the world, 55 include the RCC as full members through its bishops' conferences. Also through the bishops' conferences the RCC is a full member of the regional councils of churches in the Caribbean, the Pacific and the Middle East. Within these national and regional councils the RCC has direct contact with many WCC member churches. Of the 120 participants in Hong Kong, 17 were Roman Catholics, six of them bishops representing their national episcopal conferences.

The consultation considered the NCCs as instruments of expressing communion (koinonia) between the churches and of giving common witness, noting that their work of reconciliation often makes NCCs national advocates in times of social-political crisis. At the same time, there was acknowledgment of the problems facing many NCCs: among them, finding competent resource persons for both the theological and the social ethical reflection; limited financial resources; fostering relations with regional councils of churches and the WCC. Many NCCs must act on a crowded ecumenical stage where more and more agencies with overlapping goals are competing for fewer and fewer resources of personnel and money. Yet the consultation acknowledged that a preoccupation with the sharing of financial resources and development projects too often overshadows the essential task of NCCs to search for Christian unity.

In a written message to the Hong Kong meeting, PCPCU president Cardinal Edward Cassidy observed that collaboration through full RC membership in an NCC causes difficulties if the ecclesiological implications of the fact that local Catholic churches are "within the framework of the communion of faith and discipline of the whole Catholic Church" are forgotten. Furthermore, since a NCC should be governed by the norms set down by the member churches and should have only the authority which these constituents give it, n NCC's constitution should "seek to foresee how a satisfactory exercise of common concern can leave room for member churches to dissent from such action when they cannot in conscience be part of the same".

NCCs often engage in joint action or issue statements on difficult ethical and moral questions. "It is important", Cardinal Cassidy noted, "that such issues be studied with due regard for the moral teaching of the member churches, and above all taking into account the objective content of their ethical positions." Regarding this last point, the JWG recommends that NCCs use its study document "The Ecumenical Dialogue on Moral Issues" (1996).

Nevertheless, as the preparatory document for the Hong Kong conference suggested, the insistence of churches on "greater ownership" of a NCC carries the risk that the council will lose "its ecumenical vocation of being a pioneer that can take on issues and explore new avenues when the churches as such are as yet reluctant to do so"; indeed, the churches may be even content to be "one step removed" from such engagement.

2. Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

The Week of Prayer is one of the oldest and most widespread expressions of that "spiritual ecumenism" which is the heart and wellspring of the ecumenical movement. The preparation of annual materials for the Week of Prayer has created a stable and enduring collaboration between the RCC (through the PCPCU) and the WCC (through the Faith and Order commission).

For many persons the Week of Prayer each year is their main, if not only, ecumenical experience. In the context of frequent talk about the present difficulties and delays in the ecumenical movement, the Week serves as a strong affirmation of the churches' continuing commitment to the search for visible unity and provides a local experience of the catholicity of the universal Church.

The annual text originates in the work of ecumenical groups in a single country or region -- in recent years, Germany, Belgium, Zaire, Ireland, England, Portugal, Sweden and France. The text they provide is then developed by the international preparatory group and offered to all the churches for responsible local adaptation. This task often inspires fruitful collaboration among the churches within NCCs and other ecumenical bodies. Recent themes reveal an awareness of preparations for the year 2000; but the wide variety of ecumenical and social contexts in which the Week of Prayer is celebrated requires sensitivity and discretion in relating it to the millennium year 2000.

The JWG notes several issues which continue to challenge the churches as they celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: how to inspire prayer and work for unity not only during one week, but throughout the whole year; how to encourage creative local adaptation of the material; and how to bring new Christian partners into the experience of common prayer for unity. Attention has been given to broader collaboration in observing the Week and to the fact that there are several widely-observed prayer events throughout the year. Thus the material for 1996, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock" (Rev. 3:14-22), was prepared with the participation of official representatives from the world bodies of the YWCA and YMCA.

The JWG affirms the Week of Prayer as one of the most enduring and widespread ecumenical experiences, and urges that all the churches participate actively in the local adaptation, distribution and use of the materials.

3. Cooperation between the PCPCU (Rome) and the WCC programme Unit on Churches in Mission: Health, Education and Witness (Unit II)

The PCPCU has continued to facilitate increasing RC collaboration with the work of the WCC's Programme Unit II [now the WCC teams on Mission & Evangelism and Education & Ecumenical Formation], through the availability of RC mission experts as consultants and, since 1984, of a full-time RC consultant based in Unit II of WCC staff in Geneva. This latter post has been occupied by a member of a RC missionary community of women; at present the consultant is Sister Elizabeth Moran of the Missionary Sisters of Saint Columban. The role includes liaison with the other appointed RC consultants, and with leaders of RC missionary congregations and RC missiologists in Roman universities and elsewhere. In addition, since 1989 four representatives from the International Unions of Superior Generals of Women and of Men have been full members of the WCC's Conference on World Mission and Evangelism.

These collaborative relationships with WCC staff have been enhanced by an exchange of visits. A delegation of eight persons from Roman Curia staff and missionary communities and a professor of missiology visited Geneva in 1995 to become acquainted with the work of the WCC, especially Unit II; in turn, WCC staff concerned with the church's role in education in pluralistic societies visited Rome in 1996 and 1997. The PCPCU and the Unit II stream on education jointly sponsored a 1996 consultation in Rome at which WCC staff met representatives of RC religious congregations of men and of women whose primary ministry is education in schools. Participants listened to one another's experiences in responding to those education challenges which face the churches in increasingly pluralistic societies.

The invited participation of ten official RC consultants to the 1996 conference on world mission and evangelism (Salvador, Brazil) continued this important development of WCC-RCC relationships. The conference theme "Called to One Hope -- the Gospel in Diverse Cultures" points to yet another area in which Christians could be seen working together in bringing much-needed hope to a complex, culturally diverse and broken world.

4. The year 2000

1. In its Sixth Report the JWG highlighted that the end of the millennium provides a natural occasion for all Christians to reflect on the state of their ecumenical relationships, and to recommit themselves to unity and strengthen their common witness. As the new millennium begins, the churches could offer to the world a Christian vision of unity and renewal, of social, economic and spiritual life which contributes to a stable and just world.

2. The JWG considered the celebration of the year 2000, especially in the light of the invitation in Pope John Paul's apostolic letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente (1995) to promote ecumenical initiatives of Christians "to turn together to Christ, the one Lord, and to strengthen their common witness; to celebrate the Spirit as the source of hope and unity; and to work together for a .&.civilization of love', founded on the universal values of peace, solidarity, justice and liberty, which find the full attainment in Christ".

A WCC representative was invited to participate in the RCC's central committee for the celebration of the jubilee year (February 1996). RC representatives were invited to informal meetings organized by the WCC (June 1996, May 1997) with secretaries of CWCs and ecumenical partners who are planning celebrations to mark the year 2000.

3. The JWG recommends that its parent bodies propose to the local churches ecumenical studies on the significance of common baptism, possibly leading to mutual recognition of baptism in each local place; and on common profession of faith as proposed in both Tertio Millennio Adveniente and the Faith and Order study "Confessing the One Faith" (1991). It also raises the question of whether there could not be common local events for reconciliation among Christian traditions in places where there have been tensions.

4. The JWG has also highlighted the ecumenical potential of a worldwide "common celebration" of the new millennium, noting that its preparation would require careful involvement on the part of all ecumenical partners. Such a celebration, the JWG proposes, could focus on the possibility for Christians to confess together the apostolic faith and could offer common social witness by affirming the principles of the jubilee such as reconciliation, rights to and responsibility for the land, forgiveness of debts and the like.

5. The Ecumenical Dialogue on Moral Issues

1. As noted above, the past 35 years have seen a consistent development of multilateral and bilateral dialogues on those doctrinal differences which helped to cause and perpetuate divisions among the churches. These dialogues, in many of which the RCC has been an active partner with WCC member churches, are revealing convergences and developing common affirmations on such classically divisive issues as scripture and tradition; baptism, eucharist and ministry; the local and universal Church; Christian unity and mission.

2. But during these same decades Christian responses to pressing personal and social moral issues were prompting discord, even threatening new divisions within and between the churches. Yet these same issues could become church-reconciling means of common witness. The challenge is urgent for three main reasons: (1) the fraying of the moral fabric of many societies as traditional moral values and positions are questioned and new and complex ethical issues arise, which press upon the consciousness and conscience of all human beings; (2) the genuine expectation, both in and beyond the churches, that they together can and should offer moral guidance to their members and to society at large; (3) the need for the churches, as a family of one moral community in a pluralistic society, to be in dialogue with others and to evaluate their moral insights and judgments -- since moral discernment is not the exclusive preserve of Christians.

3. During its present mandate the JWG has offered its own study document "The Ecumenical Dialogue on Moral Issues: Potential Sources of Common Witness or of Divisions" (1996). This document offers ten guidelines for ecumenical dialogue on moral issues.

4. The JWG study does not analyze specific controversial moral issues as such in an attempt to arrive at ethical norms, but rather suggests ways of conducting the dialogue. It outlines the common sources and the different pathways of moral reflection and deliberation, as well as the different authoritative means of moral discernment which churches use in arriving at ethical decisions and in communicating them to their members. While intended primarily for dialogues at local, national and regional levels in which RCs are partners, this document may also be useful for other bilateral and multilateral discussions.

6. Common witness, religious freedom and proselytism

1. Already during its first five-year mandate, the JWG recognized the urgency of a joint study on Christian witness, common witness, religious freedom and proselytism.

2. The 1970 JWG study document "Common Witness and Proselytism" clarified the meaning of some key terms in this discussion. These descriptions, although they addressed and reflected the concerns of that time, could be kept in mind in reading the two subsequent JWG study documents "Common Witness" (1982) and "The Challenge of Proselytism and the Calling to Common Witness" (1996):

  • By common witness is meant the witness that the churches, even while separated, bear together, especially by joint efforts, by manifesting before men and women whatever divine gifts of truth and life they already share and experience in common.


  • By civic religious freedom is meant that each person or community has the right to be free from any coercion on the part of social groups or human power of any kind; so that no individual or community may be forced to act against conscience or be prevented from expressing belief in teaching, worship or social action.


  • By proselytism is meant whatever violates the right of the human person, Christian or non-Christian, to be free from external coercion in religious matters, or whatever in the proclamation of the gospel does not conform to the ways God draws free men and women to respond to God's calls to serve in spirit and in truth.

3. The most recent study document has been produced because of the rise of new situations where people are vulnerable in a variety of ways. Allegations are being made about the practice of proselytism and antagonistic competition in missionary activity. For example, those involved in evangelistic activities appear to ignore the Christian reality of other churches, or their particular pastoral approaches. Missionary strategies may include re-evangelizing baptized members of other churches. In the new climate of civic religious freedom in some countries at the present time certain churches maintain that their members are being put under pressure to change their church allegiance.

4. The present study places the problems of civic religious freedom and proselytism in the context of Church unity and common witness. Such an approach makes it possible for the churches, in the dialogue of "speaking the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15), to deal with tensions over accusations of proselytism in specific situations with reciprocal trust. The study has in fact been one of the basic texts used by the WCC's Unit II for its own 1997 document "Towards Common Witness", a call to adopt responsible relationships in mission and to renounce proselytism.

5. The JWG recommends the use of its 1996 study document in ecumenical formation programmes, and in the education of missionaries and of those engaged in diaconal service. It may also serve as a basis for conversations with churches and missionary groups who are not in direct relations with the WCC or with national and local councils of churches.

C. Ecumenical formation

1. Ecumenical formation

1. Carrying out a mandate given to it in 1985, the JWG completed in 1993 "Ecumenical Formation: Ecumenical Reflections and Suggestions".

The perspectives underlying ecumenical formation centre on an understanding of the Church as a koinonia which embodies unity and diversity. Ecumenical formation is described in the JWG document as an ongoing process of learning within the various local churches and world communions aimed at informing and guiding people in the one movement which, inspired by the Holy Spirit, seeks the visible unity of Christians. In this process of formation, mutual sharing and mutual critique take place in the context of the participants' rootedness in Christ and in their own traditions. The document identifies the importance of both informal contacts in daily life and formal courses of study in institutes, focusing on the specific literature of the ecumenical movement, including its history.

2. The JWG's basic concerns are developed further in the 1993 Ecumenical Directory (ED). Exploring the nature and content of ecumenical formation with regard to the whole Christian community, ED emphasizes formation through preaching, catechesis, liturgy and the spiritual life. The PCPCU text also offers guidelines for the formation of those engaged in pastoral work. It emphasizes the ecumenical dimension of theological disciplines, and outlines a specific course in ecumenism for theological faculties, for RC universities and for specialized ecumenical institutes.

3. This section of ED was in turn developed in greater detail in a November 1997 document which the PCPCU addressed to each Bishop, to the synods of the Eastern Catholic churches and to the national bishops' conferences: "The Ecumenical Dimension in the Formation of Those Engaged in Pastoral Work".

4. Together, ED and "The Ecumenical Dimension..." constitute the fullest explication of ecumenical education and formation by any church or Christian world communion. The JWG encourages that wherever prudent and feasible, such RC training be conducted with Christians of other traditions, since this is one of the most fundamental learning experiences. The JWG also suggests that the Directory be discussed by religious educators on the local and national levels.

2. Ecumenical Institute, Bossey

1. Since 1946 the WCC's Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, outside Geneva, has provided opportunities of ecumenical formation for thousands of pastors and lay persons from many parts of the world. Its residential sessions create an atmosphere in which mutual understanding of and respect for diverse Christian traditions and a realistic understanding of the ecumenical movement are fostered by living, learning and praying together. The formative element when the students pray together the Lord's prayer or recite together the creed is evident.

The JWG welcomes the recent emphasis on shaping a core curriculum for Bossey which would include exposure to some of the major concerns arising in the ongoing bilateral and multilateral dialogues, among them reflection on the creeds and on baptism, eucharist and ministry.

2. WCC-RCC collaboration at Bossey continues. The faculty of the Ecumenical Institute includes a RC professor, Fr Serapio Kisirinya (Uganda); and a PCPCU staff person (Msgr John Mutiso-Mbinda) sits on the Bossey board as an observer. Since 1978, students of Bossey's annual graduate school of ecumenical studies have enjoyed, as part of the programme, a one-week visit to Rome, prepared by the PCPCU in consultation with the Bossey staff. The students learn more about the RCC through direct contact with persons in various offices of the Roman Curia, institutions of higher learning and worldwide religious communities of women and of men whose headquarters are in Rome. Students typically show particular interest in hearing about RC approaches to Christian unity, to issues of justice and peace and to questions related to family life. A private audience with the Pope is a high point of the week's experience.

3. Ecumenical Theological Education (ETE)

The WCC's programme on Ecumenical Theological Education (ETE) and its predecessors have worked with the RCC for many years, both directly and indirectly. The most recent visible example of this partnership was the RC participation in the preparatory study process which shaped the agenda of ETE's August 1996 global consultation on the viability of ecumenical theological education today (Oslo, Norway).

The pre-consultation process involved regional colloquia which explored ways of fostering viable ministerial formation and theological education from ecumenical perspectives. ETE's constituency is not only churches but also associations of theological schools in various regions. At every stage RCs in these associations have been visible. The Oslo consultation brought together church leaders, theological educators, students, representatives from funding agencies and from ministerial formation boards. The PCPCU sent a delegation of six persons.

1. Interreligious dialogue

1. The WCC's Office for Interreligious Relations (OIRR [now the WCC team on Interreligious Relations]) and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID) annually hold a joint meeting. Besides information-sharing, these meetings offer an opportunity to examine developments in interreligious relations, assess initiatives for dialogue and to reflect on future orientations and priorities. The PCID and OIRR invite each other to take part in their respective activities as well as in the meetings of their advisory bodies. Three joint projects during this period may be highlighted:

2. The OIRR and PCID study document "Reflections on Inter-religious Marriages", published in 1997, grew out of a study launched in 1994 by sending questionnaires to different churches and communities and to a number of Christian and non-Christian spouses. The responses to these form the basis of the first part of the document. The second part takes stock of pertinent materials already produced by churches and Christian communities. The third part presents reflections of a pastoral nature. While addressed primarily to pastors, the document may also be useful for other people concerned with interreligious marriages.

3. Interreligious prayer is a growing phenomenon and there is a need to provide pastoral help to the churches. Is it possible to pray with people of other faiths which have different symbol systems -- and if so what does this mean? The OIRR-PCID joint study project "Interreligious Prayer and Worship" had three phases: a worldwide survey on the phenomenon with the help of the local churches (completed in 1995); a small consultation of persons who are engaged in the practice of interreligious prayer; and the formulation of conclusions by a consultation of persons with theological expertise (1997). A small number of Christian theologians, including RCs, offered biblical perspectives on interreligious prayer, the different readings of prayer in the churches and in their tradition, and different assessments of interreligious prayer.

4. The Middle East remains a major conflict area in which Jews, Christians and Muslims urgently need together to seek reconciliation, peace and justice. In particular, the city of Jerusalem requires people of these three monotheistic faiths to respond to that common religious call first revealed to Abraham: "to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just" (Gen. 18:19). This is the background of a process initiated by the Lutheran World Federation and bringing together the OIRR, PCID and the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews to co-sponsor two colloquia on Jerusalem.

The first colloquium -- on the spiritual significance of Jerusalem for Jews, Christians and Muslims -- took place in Glion, Switzerland, in 1993, before the Oslo political agreement between Israel and the Palestinian National Authority. The Jewish, Christian and Muslim participants came mainly from Israel/West Bank-Gaza. By the time of the second colloquium, in Thessaloniki, Greece, in August 1996, the peace process was faltering and pessimism was in the air. The attempts of this colloquium to imagine the future of Jerusalem were unsuccessful. The final message recognizes Jerusalem as a "place of encounter between God and humanity and among human beings in their diversity". Jerusalem "is called to be the City of Peace, but at the moment, there is no peace. Although the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians has been initiated, there is still a long way to go before a just and lasting peace is achieved."

2. Diaconal service

1. Participating in each JWG plenary was the secretary of Cor Unum, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Charitable Works by Catholic Institutes, which finance projects for the needy and facilitate relations with other Christian diaconal and secular international organizations. He kept the JWG up to date on Cor Unum activities and suggested ways of building bridges between it and the WCC's Programme Unit on Sharing and Service (Unit IV [now the WCC team on Regional Relations & Ecumenical Sharing]).

In February 1997 the Unit IV director and a staff member went to Rome to introduce 1997 as the Ecumenical Year of Churches in Solidarity with Uprooted People in meetings with the Pontifical Councils Cor Unum, for Migration and for Promoting Christian Unity, as well as with Caritas Internationalis. Together they explored areas for dialogue and practical cooperation.

2. The JWG received an extensive report on the main orientations and activities of Unit IV and its understanding of diakonia as an integral part of the churches' witness. This report detailed the established working relationships, in particular with RC international agencies, to assist refugees, uprooted people and migrants; and it identified common concerns for developing cooperation at the regional and national levels within those ecumenical organizations which have local RC churches in their membership.

The JWG observed that although the order of priorities may differ and the language used may not always be the same, both partners deeply shared the fundamental concerns regarding poverty and its root causes. But there is an asymmetry in the visible collaboration between offices concerned with diakonia in Unit IV of the WCC and in the Holy See (as is also the case between Unit III of the WCC and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace).

For the JWG two questions remain: (1) How can the dimension of diakonia best be included in encouraging common witness, without disregarding the potential for divisiveness over what is authentic diaconal witness and what is proselytism? (2) How can the JWG take this into account in fulfilling its duty to encourage and facilitate local ecumenism (national and regional councils of churches)?

3. Social thought and action

1. Cooperation between the RCC and WCC member churches in social thought and action is very intense on many levels and in different ways, especially where the RCC is a member of national councils of churches. Events such as the two European Ecumenical Assemblies (Basel 1989; Graz 1997) show the possibilities of major collaboration and common witness on a regional level.

2. A number of difficulties mark the history of direct collaboration between the offices in Geneva and in Rome. From 1968 to 1980 the co-responsible agency between the Holy See and the WCC was the Joint Committee on Society, Development and Peace (SODEPAX). It was replaced, in 1982, by a weaker instrument, the Joint Consultative Group for Social Thought and Action, which became defunct in 1989. Specific tensions arose around efforts at collaboration in the WCC's 1990 world convocation on justice, peace and the integrity of creation (Seoul, Korea), growing out of differences between the WCC and the RCC in their approach to ideological tensions in the world, as well as their differing understandings of and structures for playing a role in international affairs. Also to be taken into account are the many legitimate differences of viewpoint on social and political questions existing within each church.

3. The JWG noted the recent efforts of Unit III [now the WCC team on Justice, Peace & Creation] of the WCC and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (PCJP) to reinforce their working contacts as the principal central instruments of collaboration in social thought and action. After an interruption of several years, the annual exchange of visits between the two institutions has been revived. These visits are finding new methods for common identification of priorities to be explored together while acknowledging one or the other body might be in a better position to approach a specific subject on its own, with the encouragement and support of the other. In this way it may be possible to test moral principles concerning social questions, using different methodologies while maintaining fellowship.

Among the issues in which future collaboration might be intensified are poverty, economic justice including the international debt, the environment, human rights, and conflict prevention, resolution and reconciliation. Common work, such as a jointly sponsored course of studies on Christian social thought today, could be carried out. The jubilee year 2000 could offer special occasions for collaboration.

Unit III and the PCJP have also decided to intensify their exchange of information and to encourage participation in each other's meetings as observers. A PCJP representative already participates in the Unit III commission meetings.

Both sides exchanged texts and documentation on religious freedom. The WCC drew attention to some aspects of the legal position of the Protestant churches in Latin America, where the majority church is Roman Catholic.

4. The PCJP encouraged RC episcopal conferences to take part in the WCC petition campaign on climate change. The PCJP was represented in the WCC consultation on climate change (November 1996); and WCC representatives joined the RCC consultation on social thought and action for the English- and Portuguese-speaking African countries (August 1996) and the European conference on the social teaching of the Church (July 1997).

5. The WCC and the PCPCU have also cooperated in projects involving other partners. An example was the March 1993 peace delegation to Guatemala and El Salvador, organized by the Lutheran World Federation and also including representatives from the WCC, the PCPCU, the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, and the Latin American Council of Churches. The delegation met with leaders of the RCC and Protestant churches in Guatemala; and a special ecumenical prayer service was organized in the Catholic cathedral in Guatemala City. The group also met with the president of Guatemala and other government officials, with the ombudsman for human rights, with widows, refugees and war victims, with the chairman of the reconciliation committee facilitating the negotiations between the government and opposition leaders, and with representatives of the civil sectors.

In December 1996, after 36 years of war, the government of Guatemala and the opposition forces signed a peace treaty. The ecumenical concern which the peace delegation had expressed three years earlier was also a significant gesture which showed the Guatemalans, especially in the churches, the support they were receiving from fellow Christians in other parts of the world.

4. Decade of churches in solidarity with women.

1. The WCC inaugurated the Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women (1988-98) with the goals of encouraging and facilitating responses to women in their efforts to affirm their full, creative empowerment in the life of their churches, through shared leadership and decision-making, theology and spirituality; of giving visibility to women's perspectives and actions in the struggles for justice, peace and the integrity of creation; of denouncing violence against women in its various forms; of considering the effects on women of the global economic crisis and the worldwide upsurge of racism and of xenophobia; and of enabling the churches to free themselves from racism, sexism and classism and from all teachings and practices that discriminate against women.

2. The Decade has given an opportunity for shared reflection and conscientization regarding the realities of the experiences of women as they participate in the life of the churches and in various cultural and political settings. Although the Decade was adopted as a programme for WCC member churches, the RCC has been involved, most noticeably in meeting and acting together at local levels. Participation of RCs in local associations and councils of churches has allowed for joint planning, meetings and celebrations as the Decade progressed. Some RC church leaders were active in inaugurating and promoting the work of the Decade. For example, the RC Bishop of Khartoum launched the Decade in the Sudan; and the National Board of Catholic Women acted in a consultative role on the Decade concerns for the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales.

3. At its midpoint (1994-96), the Decade was "given back to the churches themselves", highlighted in a programme which sent some 75 ecumenical teams to visit nearly every member church of the WCC. RC members of national and local ecumenical groups joined in welcoming and hosting many of these WCC-initiated visits and took an active part in the mid-Decade celebrations and events. For example, in Surinam, RC church workers participated in a series of discussions on the leadership of women in the churches. Awareness of shared concerns among churches was heightened in this way.

During this period some papal documents mirrored concerns regarding women which are closely allied to WCC's goals for the Decade.

4. A summary report Living Letters was published by the WCC in 1997 on the basis of the findings from the team visits. Among the insights emerging from the Decade's worldwide activities, the report notes that although the Decade was addressed to the churches, it has in fact been limited mostly to women; the churches have not owned the Decade, nor have they provided the support necessary for it to become a transforming promise to the churches together. Nevertheless, for some the Decade has offered the opportunity to recognize that issues relating to gender and to community are not simply "women's issues" but belong to the Christian community of women and men -- that is, to the whole Church.

1. Over the seven-year period of its mandate, the JWG has tried to meet its given priorities. But its overloaded agenda, the sensitivity of many of the issues it dealt with, its short annual meetings and the limited financial resources at its disposal did not allow the JWG adequately to assess the ecumenical situation and specific developments at regional, national and local levels, or to cover the whole pattern of relationships between the RCC and the WCC and its member churches.

In the face of its limited resources of time and staff, the JWG had to limit the scope of its agenda and carefully ration the time spent together.

2. The JWG strongly recommends that two general priorities should be continued in the next period.

  1. Both the WCC and the RCC are committed to a common, integrated vision of the one ecumenical movement which tries, in its diversity of expressions, emphases and activities, to hold together the interrelated dimensions of the churches' faith and life, mission, witness and service. But, in the words of the PCPCU response to the WCC's draft statement on CUV, "the oneness of the movement is both blessed with authentic diversity and often challenged and burdened with contradictions, even conflicts, and with competing criteria of judgments concerning what are ecumenical successes, standstills and setbacks".


  2. The JWG should be alert to those tensions which may threaten the coherence of the movement in its diversity. Addressing the social, economic and political concerns which profoundly affect the quality of life for all human communities is an essential ecumenical task. But attention to these should not come at the expense of attention to the theological divisions and unresolved issues of Christian faith which remain stumbling blocks to achieving the visible unity which is the goal of the ecumenical movement. These are stumbling blocks as well for the churches in carrying out their essential missionary task and in maintaining their dialogue in community with people of other world faiths and secular ideologies.

In this context, the JWG should continue to focus on those fundamental issues which are obstacles to achieving full koinonia of the RCC and the WCC member churches, and on those common concerns which, when addressed by the WCC and the RCC together, manifest common witness to the reconciling love of God.

3. The JWG recommends these specific priorities for the next period of its mandate:

  1. Issues affectin Koinonia
    The ecclesial consequences of common baptism. The implications of recognizing the common baptism of Christians on ecclesial communion and liturgical practice.

    The ecumenical role of interchurch marriages. The ecclesiological implications of the sacrament of marriage between Christians of different churches and their family life.

    Local, national and regional councils of churches which have RC churches as full members. The practical and ecclesiological implications of membership of councils of churches, and their instrumental role in the growth of koinonia.

    Church and church law. The impact of ecumenical agreements and dialogues on actual church legislation and on relations between ecclesiology and canon law/church law/church discipline.


  2. common concerns facing the WCC and RCC
    The stances of Conservative Evangelicals and Charismatic/Pentecostals towards the ecumenical movement and its present structures. The establishing of dialogue.

    Christian fundamentalists: an ecumenical challenge? The impact of fundamentalisms on the ecumenical commitment of churches, and of dialogue with the major issues which Christian fundamentalists address.

    The place of women in the churches. The further recognition and integration of the gifts of women in church life and society, and the appropriation of the findings of the Ecumenical Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women on the life, structures and witness of the churches.

    Ecumenical education. The development of appropriate ecumenical education for church members, students and clergy on the fundamentals of the Christian life in the search for the manifestation of the unity of the Church within a pluralist society.

The initial visible expression of collaboration between the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) and the World Council of Churches (WCC) was the exchange of officially delegated observers. In 1961 the Vatican Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity (SPCU), which Pope John XXIII had established in June 1960, delegated five observers to the WCC's third assembly in New Delhi. Then the WCC sent two observers, Dr Nikos Nissiotis and Dr Lukas Vischer, to the four autumn sessions of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

During the Vatican II years, the SPCU arranged for the New Testament scholar Fr Raymond Brown to give a major address on the unity of the Church to the 1963 world conference of Faith and Order in Montreal. That same year, two SPCU observers, Frs Jorge Mejia and Thomas Stransky, participated in the first world conference of the WCC's Division of World Mission and Evangelism (DWME) in Mexico City. In 1965 the SPCU co-sponsored meetings with DWME and the WCC Church and Society department to discuss the Vatican II drafts on the missionary activity of the Church and on the Church in the modern world.

In November 1964, the 2,200 bishops and Pope Paul VI promulgated the Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism. It was the official charter of the RCC's active participation in the one ecumenical movement, described as being "fostered by the grace of the Holy Spirit" for "the restoration of unity among all Christians" who "invoke the Triune God and confess Jesus as Lord and Saviour" -- an allusion to the WCC Basis.

Anticipating this Decree, SPCU and WCC representatives began in April 1964 to consider future RCC-WCC collaboration. They proposed a joint working group (JWG) with a five-year experimental mandate. In January 1965 the WCC central committee, meeting in Enugu, Nigeria, adopted the proposal, as did the RC authorities in February, through SPCU president Cardinal Augustin Bea, during his visit to the WCC centre in Geneva.

The main points of the original mandate of the JWG still function:

  1. The JWG has no authority in itself, but is a consultative forum. It initiates, evaluates and sustains collaboration between the WCC and the RCC, and reports to the competent authorities: the WCC assembly and central committee, and the Pontifical Council (prior to 1988 the Secretariat) for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU). The parent bodies may empower the JWG to develop and administer its proposed programmes.


  2. The JWG seeks to be flexible in the styles of collaboration. It keeps new structures to a minimum, while concentrating on ad hoc initiatives in proposing new steps and programmes, and carefully setting priorities and using its limited resources in personnel and finances.


  3. The JWG does not limit its work to the administrative aspects of collaboration. It tries also to discern the will of God in the contemporary ecumenical situation, and to offer its own reflections in studies.

With eight WCC and six RC members, the JWG had its first meeting in May 1965, at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, near Geneva. The two co-chairpersons were the WCC general secretary, Dr W.A. Visser 't Hooft, and the SPCU secretary, Bishop Johannes Willebrands. By late 1967 the JWG had published its first two official reports (February 1966 and August 1967).

These first two reports offered a wide-ranging agenda for RCC-WCC collaboration in study and activities which could serve the one ecumenical movement: the nature of ecumenism and methods of ecumenical dialogue; common prayer at ecumenical gatherings; joint preparation of materials for the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity; a common date for Easter; the RCC's direct bilateral dialogues with other churches; collaboration in missionary activities in the context of religious freedom, witness and proselytism; the place of the Church in society; Christian responsibility in international affairs, especially in the promotion of peace and justice among peoples and nations; collaboration in social service, in emergency and development aid and in medical work; cooperation of men and women in church, family and society; laity and clergy training; mixed marriages between Christians.

At the WCC fourth assembly (Uppsala 1968), two Catholics addressed plenary sessions. The Jesuit Roberto Tucci put the agenda of the JWG in the light of the RCC's self-understanding in the modern world, as expressed in the sixteen documents of Vatican II, and in view of developments in the WCC and its member churches since the first assembly in Amsterdam in 1948. And Lady Ward Jackson pressed for the common witness of all the churches in response to the crises in world hunger and development, justice and peace.

The Uppsala assembly and the SPCU ratified the work of the JWG and its proposals for future RCC-WCC collaboration, and approved the admission of twelve RCs as full members of the Faith and Order commission.

The Uppsala assembly already occasioned the question of the eventual membership of the RCC as such in the WCC.

A year after the Uppsala assembly, the WCC general secretary, Dr Eugene Carson Blake, invited Pope Paul VI to visit the WCC headquarters in Geneva. On 10 June 1969 the pope did so. In the chapel before a common prayer service, he expressed "without hesitation" his "profound appreciation" for the work of the JWG in the development of the "relations between the World Council and the Catholic Church, two bodies indeed different in nature, but whose collaboration has proved to be faithful". The pope judged the question of RCC membership in the WCC to be "still an hypothesis. It contains serious theological and pastoral implications. It thus requires profound study."

During its second five-year mandate, the JWG began to study the membership question. It became aware that, despite a shared commitment to common witness within the one ecumenical movement, the disparity between the two parent bodies affects the extent, style and content of collaboration.

The WCC is a fellowship of independent churches, most of them nationally organized; and its members do not take direct juridical responsibility for WCC studies, actions and statements. The RCC is one church with a universal mission and structure of teaching and governance as an essential element of its identity. The RCC understands itself as a family of local churches with and under the bishop of Rome, and its structures of decision-making on the world and national (through the bishops' conferences) levels differ from those of the WCC's member churches. Furthermore, representation of member churches on WCC governing bodies must give "due regard" to size. Given that there are almost twice as many RC members as adherents of all the WCC member churches combined, the consequences for achieving such balanced representation were the RCC to become a member would be enormous unless the WCC structures would radically change.

Although not insuperable obstacles, these were the main reasons why the RCC, in evaluating the JWG study of the advantages and disadvantages of membership, decided in 1972 not to ask for WCC membership "in the immediate future". But in that reserved response was the conviction that through the JWG "collaboration between the RCC and the WCC must not only continue, but be intensified". The JWG's time and energy shifted from the membership issue to improved collaboration.

As the JWG's Third Report (1970) stipulated, the cooperation within the JWG is "only a limited section of the whole field of ecumenical collaboration, and one which cannot be isolated from the ecumenical movement as a whole". Since Vatican II, an array of collaborative activities between Catholics and WCC member churches had appeared on parish, local and national levels; and full RC membership in national councils of churches was beginning to take place. This would be documented in the 1975 survey published by the SPCU, Ecumenical Collaboration at the Regional, National and Local Levels.

While the presence of RC members on the Faith and Order commission meant that the JWG could now leave certain important theological and liturgical questions to that commission, it did continue its own studies; for example, "Common Witness, Religious Freedom and Proselytism" (1970). WCC staff contacts with the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples led to the appointment of consultants from SEDOS, a working partnership of Catholic missionary orders of men and of women, to the WCC Division of World Mission and Evangelism.

The theme of the October 1974 RC bishops' synod was "Evangelization in the Modern World". A year earlier the preparatory draft for the synod had been sent not only to the episcopal conferences but also to the WCC for comments and suggestions. The synod invited the WCC general secretary, Dr Philip Potter, to address one of its plenary sessions. He noted that the major problems and challenges of evangelization on the synod's agenda were the same as those on the agenda of the WCC: "Evangelization is essentially an ecumenical enterprise."

Experts, appointed by the Vatican Secretariat for Non-Christians (since 1983, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue), joined in WCC consultations with Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Muslim scholars (Lebanon 1970), and with other Christians on the theological implications of the dialogue between people of living faiths (Zurich 1970).

The JWG facilitated forms of RCC-WCC collaboration with the Christian Medical Commission (WCC), the Laity Council (RCC) and international women's groups.

In 1968 the WCC and the new Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace (1967) sponsored a large interdisciplinary conference on development (Beirut). It brought together theologians and church leaders from "developed and developing" countries, representatives from international secular organizations and leading experts in world politics and economics. The successful conference gave impetus to the JWG proposal for a joint committee on society, development and peace (SODEPAX). Headquartered in Geneva, with generous independent funding, SODEPAX quickly responded to the widespread local and national initiatives by helping them to set up their own SODEPAX groups, and by offering them the results of its own practical and theological studies on social communication, education for development, mobilization for peace and working with peoples of other world faiths.

The JWG also facilitated the initial consultations between RC relief organizations and the WCC Division of Inter-church Aid, Refugees and World Service. These quickly led to steady and normal ways of exchanging information, reciprocal consultation, and to joint planning and coordination of material relief, especially in cases of sudden physical disasters and wars that result in massive movements of refugees.

In 1975, prior to the WCC's fifth assembly (Nairobi), the JWG's Fourth Report looked back on RCC-WCC dialogue and collaboration during the ten years since the promulgation of the Decree on Ecumenism: "Where have we been led during these ten years? What has been achieved? What should and can be our goal in the years to come? How should the RCC and the WCC relate to one another, in order to serve and further the ecumenical movement?"

The Fourth Report offered three perspectives on "the common ground" for relations between the RCC, the member churches and the WCC itself:

  1. The Triune God "gathers together the people of the New Covenant as a communion of unity in faith, hope and love". This communion continues to exist, but because of Christian divisions, it is a "real but imperfect" communion. The ecumenical movement -- "the restoration of the unity of all Christians" -- is "the common rediscovery of that existing reality and equally the common efforts to overcome the obstacles standing in the way of perfect ecclesial communion". This vision of "real and full communion" is "far from being fulfilled, and even its concrete shape cannot yet be fully described, but it has already become part of the life of the churches". In fact, "work for the unity of the Church is... an inescapable reality. It is not a luxury which can be left aside, nor a task which can be handed to specialists but rather a constitutive dimension of the life of the Church at all levels and of the life of Christians themselves".


  2. The gift of communion calls for the response of common witness to Christ in the world, "wherever the partial communion in faith and life, as it exists among the churches, makes it possible... Mission without unity lacks the perspective of the Body of Christ, and unity without mission is not a living reality."


  3. This real but imperfect communion in today's world calls for a shared commitment to the renewal of Christians and of the churches, as they together engage "to discern and interpret the signs of the times" and "to struggle for justice, freedom and community" and for a more human society.

This "common ground" shapes the vision of the JWG and continues to orient its activities. On the one hand, the JWG realizes it is only one structure in the manifold and diverse ecumenical movement -- official and unofficial -- at every level of the churches' life. On the other hand, as a joint instrument the JWG is more specifically influenced by developments and changes within its parent bodies.

Collaboration with the WCC Ecumenical Institute at Bossey has continued. A RC professor was appointed to the faculty, and each year its Graduate School students and staff journey to Rome for meetings with various departments of the Roman Curia, with professors at the universities, with members of the Unions of Superiors General (male and female religious communities) and with leaders of international and local lay movements. In 1984 a Catholic Maryknoll sister became a full-time consultant to the Geneva staff of the Commission for World Mission and Evangelism.

But a withdrawal of structural collaboration occurred with SODEPAX. Caught in the dilemma of being regarded as a "third entity" by the WCC offices in Geneva and the Vatican authorities or of becoming an overstructured instrument for liaison between separate activities of its parent bodies, SODEPAX reduced its operations, and in 1980 its experimental mandate was terminated. In fact, the JWG has yet to find the proper structured ways of collaboration in social thought and action.

In June 1984, Pope John Paul II visited the WCC in Geneva. The pope asked the JWG to be "imaginative in finding the ways which here and now allow us to join in the great mission of revealing Christ to the world. In doing his truth together we shall manifest his light." Besides the formal addresses and the common prayer service, John Paul II and WCC senior staff had a open-ended, off-the-record discussion on ecclesiological issues and social-political challenges.

In April 1986, the WCC general secretary, Dr Emilio Castro, led a delegation to Rome, where they met with the pope and with senior Vatican staff and others.

The JWG's Fifth Report, prepared for the sixth WCC assembly (Vancouver 1983), reflected on the changes transforming the cultural, social and political relations between nations and peoples. "The human family becomes more aware that it faces either a common future or a common fate", and more people everywhere are becoming "conscious of their solidarity and of standing together in defence of justice and human dignity, their own and that of others". For many, "religion, with its claim to be a source of hope, is questioned and labelled as a way of easy escape from the world's predicament". For others, "the gospel is shared by human hearts, hands are joined in confident prayer". These Christians experience that "more than ever before, the divisions among Christians appear as a scandal", and that Christians are being drawn together as "agents of reconciliation".

The Fifth Report noted "a new .&.tradition' of ecumenical understanding, shared concerns and common witness at all levels of the churches' life". During the almost twenty years since Vatican II, renewed awareness in the RCC of the interrelation of the local church in bonds of communion with the other local churches and with the See of Rome "has opened up new possibilities for understanding the place of unity and diversity within the Church and the nature of ecclesial communion. But the practical implications of this and of the collegiality it implies are still being worked out in new initiatives and new pastoral structures such as episcopal conferences and other regional and local bodies, and it is these which have the primary responsibility for overseeing ecumenical activities."

In communicating the RC authorities' approval of the Fifth Report to the WCC general secretary, Dr Philip Potter, the SPCU president Cardinal Willebrands suggested that rather than designating the relationship of the RCC to the WCC as "collaboration", one might use Pope Paul VI's term "fraternal solidarity". This is a better description, for it connotes "not only collaboration but also common reflection and prayer, inspired by the words of Christ that all may be one'", and it expresses "our common calling to full communion in faith and love".

The Vancouver response to the Fifth Report observed that the experiences which are drawing the churches together reveal that "diversity in witness which responds to different pastoral situations and contemporary challenges" is not a "sign of dividedness in faith but of enrichment of the common faith of the Church". The response continues: "The churches assign different degrees of significance to formulated doctrine and authoritative teaching as criteria for unity within and among the churches. The experiences of common witness can help them to discover afresh the source of their faith beyond the differences of inherited doctrinal formulations." But two major questions remain on the ecumenical agenda: How much diversity in doctrine, moral teaching and witness is compatible with the confession of the one apostolic faith in the one Church? And behind this: what is the authority of and in the Church?

The Sixth Report, in preparation for the WCC's seventh assembly (Canberra 1991), refers to the RCC's lengthy response (1987) to the 1982 Lima document on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (BEM) -- the first time the RCC had given an official response to an ecumenical document from the WCC. Critically important was the broad discussion process which led to the RC response. It introduced the WCC, in particular its Faith and Order commission, to a wide variety of RC bodies which submitted their own BEM study reports to the PCPCU for synthesis and analysis: bishops' conferences, theological faculties and other bodies. In addition, BEM was discussed on national and local levels by ecumenical groups, seminars, commissions, seminaries, university faculties of theology, ecumenical institutes, popular magazines and journals.

By 1990 the RCC was a full member of over 35 NCCs and of regional ecumenical organizations in the Caribbean, Middle East and Pacific; and it had close working relationships with other national and regional councils or conferences. A world consultation of these councils of churches (Geneva 1986) discussed the implications of these direct forms of RC participation, in the context of their ecclesiological significance in the ecumenical movement, and specific varied aspects of mission and dialogue, finance and resource-sharing, and social and political challenges. This increasing development in the 1990s helped to decentralize the work of the JWG and allowed the group to focus more on international issues and new challenges on the horizon.

On the theological level, the JWG commissioned the study "The Church: Local and Universal". Published in 1990, it dealt with the mystery of the Church in its local and universal expressions, with the interpretation of "ecclesial communion" by the RCC, the WCC assemblies and the various Christian communions, and with the ways these communions use canonical structures to express and safeguard communion within their churches. Another JWG study document was "The Hierarchy of Truths" (1990). The nature of faith is organic. Revealed truths organize around and point to the centre or foundation -- the person and mystery of Jesus Christ. By better understanding the ways in which other Christians hold, express and live the faith, each confessional tradition can also be led to a better understanding of itself and see its own formulations of doctrine in a broader ecumenical perspective -- the foundational content of what, in common witness, should be proclaimed in word and life in a way that speaks to the religious needs of the human spirit. This study thus complements the 1980 JWG study "Common Witness and Proselytism" (1980).

The JWG also noted the proliferation of joint Bible translation, publication and distribution; common Bible studies; collaboration in the press, television and other means of communication; use of the Ecumenical Prayer Cycle; the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and other expressions of common prayer.

The RCC appointed twenty experts as advisors to the 1990 world convocation on justice, peace and the integrity of creation (Seoul, Korea); in addition, a number of RCs were full participants in the convocation as members of delegations of NCCs or regional ecumenical bodies of which the RCC is a member. Participation of this type is now customary in WCC assemblies and other world meetings and consultations. WCC- and RC-related organizations co-sponsored a meeting in Brussels in 1988 on the European Community and the debt crisis of African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.

This short history of the JWG, which can only suggest a few highlights of RCC-WCC collaboration and "fraternal solidarity", continues in the Seventh Report, 1991-98. By comparing the seven JWG reports from 1966 to 1997, one sees that by the time of the Sixth and Seventh Reports, nearly all programmatic activities of the WCC have RC representation. But as WCC general secretary Konrad Raiser observed in 1995, "What remains an open question is how all these experiences are shared at the local level and serve local ecumenical cooperation. The JWG has not yet found an effective way to respond to this aspect of the task."

Rome, 10 February 1998

The JWG expresses its gratitude for this short history, written on its request by one of its members, Father Thomas Stransky CSP, rector of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute, Jerusalem.

Potential Sources of Common Witness or of Divisions


Already in 1987, the Joint Working Group between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches (JWG) began to discuss new potential and actual sources of divisions within and between the churches, and it gradually focused on personal and social ethical issues and positions as potential sources of discord or of common witness.

The JWG summarized its reflections in its 1990 Sixth Report. The report noted that "in fact there is not enough serious, mature and sustained ecumenical discussion on many ethical issues and positions, personal and social; for example, nuclear armaments and deterrence, abortion and euthanasia, permanent married love and procreation, genetic engineering and artificial insemination" (III.1.c).

The JWG submitted the Sixth Report to the Roman Catholic authorities and to the seventh assembly of the WCC (Canberra 1991). Both mandated that the JWG should deepen the study as one of its priorities during the next period. It was not to examine the substance of the potentially or actually divisive issues, but it was to describe them and outline how they may best be approached in dialogue, in the hope that such issues can offer new opportunities for the increase of mutual understanding and respect and for common witness, without compromise of a church's convictions or of Christian conscience.

The JWG commissioned consultations, co-directed by Dr Anna Marie Aagaard (University of Aarhus), one of the WCC presidents, and by Fr Thomas Stransky CSP (Tantur Ecumenical Institute, Jerusalem), a Roman Catholic member of the JWG. The report of the first consultation, held in October 1993 (Rome),*s1** was submitted to the JWG plenary in June 1994 (Crete, Greece) for decisions on future procedures. Tantur hosted the second larger consultation in November 1994.*s2** A draft received the reactions of the JWG executive (February 1995) and of the Tantur participants. The JWG plenary in May 1995 (Bose, Italy) corrected a new draft, and accepted the text a study document of the JWG itself.

The study is in two parts: (l) The Ecumenical Dialogue on Moral Issues: Potential Sources of Common Witness or of Divisions; (2) Guidelines for Ecumenical Dialogue on Moral Issues.

The study is intended primarily for those dialogues at local, national and region levels where Roman Catholics are partners. It may be useful for other bilateral or multilateral discussions.

It is important to understand that the study does not analyze specific controversial issues as such in an attempt to arrive at norms. Rather, it describes present situations and illustrates some underlying contexts which help to place the issues. It suggests possible ways and not the results of dialogue.

The JWG places this study within its general concentration on "The Unity of the Church -- the Goal and the Way" (cf. Sixth Report, III.A), and, more specifically, on new Christian ways of rendering common witness in society at large. Furthermore, the JWG is aware of the study in progress within the WCC (Units I and III) on "Ecclesiology and Ethics", and suggests that it may be complemented by the JWG study document. His Eminence Metropolitan Elias of Beirut
Most Rev. Alan C. Clark
Co-moderators of the Joint Working Group
25 September 1995

I. Ethics and the ecumenical movement

Of increasing urgency in the ecumenical movement, in the relationships between the churches called to give common witness, is their need to address those moral issues which all persons face and to communicate moral guidance to church members and to society at large.

1. Cultural and social transformations, conflicting basic values and scientific and technological advances are fraying the moral fabric of many societies. This context not only provokes questioning of traditional moral values and positions, but it also raises new complex ethical issues for the consciousness and conscience of all human beings.

2. At the same time, renewed expectations rise in and beyond the churches that religious communities can and should offer moral guidance in the public arena. Christians and those of other faiths or of secular persuasions desire to live peacefully and justly in a humane society. Can the churches together already offer moral guidance as their contribution to the common good, amidst experienced confusion and controversy?

3. Pressing personal and social moral issues, however, are prompting discord among Christians themselves and even threatening new divisions within and between churches. This increases the urgent need for the churches together to find ways of dealing with their controversial ethical issues. By taking the time and care to listen patiently to other Christians, we may understand the pathways by which they arrive at moral convictions and ethical positions, especially if they differ from our own. Otherwise, Christians will continue often to caricature one another's motives, reasonings and ways of behaviour, even with abusive language and acts. Dialogue should replace diatribe.

Other Christians or other churches holding diverging moral convictions can threaten us. They can question our own moral integrity and the foundations of our religious and ethical beliefs. They can demean the authority, credibility and even integrity of our own church. Whenever an individual or a community selects a moral position or practice to be the litmus test of authentic faith and the sole criterion of the fundamental unity of the Church, emotions rise high so that it becomes difficult to hear one another.

Christians, while "speaking the truth in charity" (Eph. 4:15), are called upon, as far as possible, "to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3) and avoid wounding further the koinonia which already exists, although imperfectly, among Christians.

4. Therefore, if some ethical issues arouse passionate emotions and create awkward ecumenical relations, the churches should not shun dialogue, for these moral issues also can become church-reconciling means of common witness. A variety of issues are woven into the moral positions of communities. In a prayerful, non-threatening atmosphere, dialogue can locate more precisely where the agreements, disagreements and contradictions occur. Dialogue can affirm those shared convictions to which the churches should bear common witness to the world at large. Furthermore, the dialogue can discern how ethical beliefs and practices relate to that unity in moral life which is Christ's will.

5. Attentive concern for the complexities of the moral life should not cause Christians to lose sight of what is most fundamental for them all: the starting and ending point is the grace of God in Jesus Christ and the Spirit as mediated in the Church and in creation. Our life in God is the fundamental continuing source of our movement towards deeper koinonia. Only God's initiating and sustaining grace enables Christians to transcend moral differences, overcome divisions and live their unity in faith.

II. The Church as moral environment for discipleship

Included in the call to the Church to be the sign and instrument of salvation in a transformed world, is the call to create a moral environment which helps disciples of Christ to shape their personal and communal ethical lives through formation and deliberation.

1. The Church has the enduring task to be a community of "The Way" (cf. Acts 9:2; 22:4), the home, the family which provides the moral environment of right living and conduct "in Christ", who in the Spirit makes known "the paths of life" to his disciples (Acts 2:28; Ps. 16:11).

Discipleship holds together what Christians believe, how believing Christians act and how they give to fellow Christians and to others an account of why they so believe and so act. Discipleship is the way of believing and acting in the daily struggle to be a faithful witness of Jesus Christ who commissions his community of disciples to proclaim, teach and live "all that I have commanded you" (Acts 1:8; Matt. 28:20).

2. Within the koinonia the disciple of Christ is not alone in the process of discerning how to incarnate in one's life the ethical message of the gospel. Faithful discipleship arises out of private prayer and public worship, of fellowship in sharing each other's joys and bearing each other's burdens. It is nourished by the examples of the saints, the wisdom of teachers, the prophetic vision of the inspired and the guidance of ministerial leaders.

In real but imperfect communion with one another, each church expects itself and other churches to provide a moral environment through formation and deliberation.

3. Formation and deliberation describe the shaping of human character and conduct, the kinds of Christian persons we are and become, and the kinds of actions we decide to do. The scope of Christian morality comprises both our "being" and "doing".

Useful for showing the inseparable dimensions of moral life are the distinctions between moral vision, virtue, value and obligation.

Moral vision is a person's, a community's or a society's "basic script" of the moral realm, the vision of what belongs to the good, the right and the fitting. A moral vision encompasses, informs and organizes virtues, values and obligations.

In the Christian moral life various summaries of teaching and different images express the gospel vision itself: the commandments of love of God and of neighbour; the prophetic teachings on justice and mercy; the Beatitudes; the fruits of the Spirit; ascetic ascent and pilgrimage; costly discipleship and the imitation of Christ; stewarding a good land. These and other biblical images suggest pathways which bring definition and coherence to the moral landscape.

Moral virtues are desirable traits of a person's moral character, such as integrity, humility and patience, compassion and forgiveness; or prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. In an analogous way one can predicate these virtues of communities and societies.

Moral values are not so much these internalized qualities of character but those moral goods which individuals and society prize, such as respect for the dignity of the human person, freedom and responsibility, friendship, equality and solidarity, and social justice.

Moral obligations are those duties which persons owe one another in mutual responsibility, in order to live together in harmony and integrity, such as telling the truth and keeping one's word; or those imperatives of a biblical moral vision such as loving and forgiving the neighbour, including enemies.

4. This way of describing the scope of morality (vision, virtue, value, obligation) can provide interrelated criteria for the Church's moral task: to be ever the witness to "our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ who sacrificed himself for us in order to set us free from all wickedness and to purify a people so that it could be his very own and would have no ambition except to do good" (Titus 2:13-14). A Christian ethic is reductionistic and deficient if it addresses only one or another of these four elements; all of them interact and modify one another. Even when it does address all four, different configurations may characterize its response.

5. The task of moral formation and deliberation is one which the churches share. All churches seek to enhance the moral responsibility of their members for living a righteous life and to influence positively the moral standards and well-being of the societies in which they live.

This identifies an ecumenical objective: the quality of the moral environment that churches create together in and through worship, education and nurture, and social witness. Reverence for the dignity of each person created "in the image of God" (Gen. 1:27), the affirmation of the fundamental equality of women and men, the pursuit of creative nonviolent strategies for resolving conflict in human relationships and the responsible stewardship of creation -- these are positive contributions of churches through the moral environment they foster. On the other hand, churches can also distort character and malform conscience. They have at times undergirded national chauvinism and ethnocentrism and actively discriminated against persons on the basis of race or nationality, class or gender.

III. Common sources and different pathways of moral deliberation

For those pathways of moral reflection and deliberation which churches use in coming to ethical decisions, the churches share the scriptures and have at their disposal such resources as liturgy and moral traditions, catechisms and sermons, sustained pastoral practices, the wisdom distilled from past and present experiences, and the arts of reflection and spiritual discernment. Yet church traditions configure these common resources in different ways.

1. The biblical vision by itself does not provide Christians with all the clear moral principles and practical norms they need. Nor do the scriptures resolve every ethical case. Narratives join many instructions about proper conduct -- general commandments and prohibitions, prophetic exhortations and accusations, counsels of wisdom, legal and ritual prescriptions and so forth. What moral theology names universal moral principles or norms are in the biblical texts mixed with specific but ever valid commandments and particular provisional prescriptions. The Scriptures' use of imagery in provocative, often paradoxical ways further makes interpretations of biblical moral teaching difficult.

Nevertheless, there is general consensus that by prayerfully studying the Scriptures and the developing traditions of biblical interpretations, by reflecting on human experiences and by sharing insights within a community, Christians can reach reasonable judgments and decisions in many cases of ethical conduct.

2. Within the history of the Church, Christians have developed ways of reflecting systematically on the moral life by the ordering of biblical concepts and images and by rational argument. Such methods intend to introduce clarity and consistency where divergences of discernment threaten to foster confusion and chaos.

For example, one tradition suggests different levels of moral insight and distinguishes between first-order (and unchanging) principles and second-order (and possibly changing) rules. Or more recently, the language of "hierarchy of values" distinguishes between those core values at the heart of Christian discipleship and those other values which are less central yet integral to Christian morality. By emphasizing the "first-order principles" or the "core values", Christians can discover how much they already share, without reducing moral truth or searching for a least common denominator.

3. Christian traditions, however, have different estimates of human nature and of the capacity of human reason. Some believe that sin has so corrupted human nature that reason cannot arrive at moral truths. Others maintain that sin has only wounded human nature, and that with divine grace and human discipline, reason can still reach many universally applicable truths about moral living.

For example, by appealing to Scripture and Tradition, to reason and experience, the Roman Catholic Church has developed its understanding of human person and human dignity, of human acts and their goals, and of human rights and responsibilities. In its tradition of moral reflection and teaching, the supreme norm of human life is that universal divine law by which God, in wisdom and love, orders, directs and governs the whole world and all ways of the human community. By nature and through grace, God enables every person intelligently to grasp this divine law, so that all men and women can come to perceive unchangeable truth more fully. Thus the revealed law of God and what one calls "naturel law" together express that undivided will of God which obliges human beings to seek and to know it as best they can, and to live as conscience dictates.

4. The tracing of the different pathways which link vision with judgment and decision may help Christians to locate and evaluate some of their differences. For example, Christians who adopt the language of human rights have an effective way of highlighting concern for the powerless, the poor and the marginalized. While different parties may agree on certain fundamental rights, they can reach different, even contradictory applications; for example, rights to religious freedom. Moreover, formulations and extensions of rights have become the subject of much dispute, especially in addressing such ethical issues as human reproduction and abortion.

One Christian vision of the integrity of sexual life links sexual relationship with procreation by an interpretation of natural law and of the biblical accounts of creation. Some churches, such as the Roman Catholic Church, hold this position. Other churches judge it most difficult, even impossible to affirm such a link. Those which find the appeal to natural law inconclusive accept the possible separation of the good of procreation from the good of sexual relationship, and use this argument to approve contraceptive means in marriage.

5. The Christian stance towards war is another example of different pathways which lead to different conclusions. Every tradition accepts the biblical vision of peace between neighbours and, more specifically, the New Testament witness to nonviolent attitudes and acts. A major division has arisen, however, from different judgments concerning the Church's collaboration with civic powers as a means of influencing human history. Those churches which have opted for collaboration accept some versions of the "just war" theory; they tolerate, even encourage, the active participation of patriotic Christians in some wars between nations and in armed revolutions within a country. But groups within these same churches agree with those other churches which choose to witness within the political order as non-compromising opponents to all use of military force, because it is contrary to the nonviolent, peace-making way of Christ. These Christians abstain from bearing arms, even if that be civil disobedience.

Here one can identify the precise point of difference in major theological options which have fundamental consequences for the policy of a church towards war and the conduct of its members.

IV. Different authoritative means of moral discernment

Different understandings and exercice of church polities and structures of authority mean that moral formation and concrete ethical positions are themselves developed in different ways, even when similar attitudes and outcomes often emerge.

1. The formation of conscience and the development of connected positions on specific ethical issues follow various pathways among different traditions, such as the Orthodox or Roman Catholic, Reformed or Lutheran, Baptist or Friends (Quaker). Every church believes that its members have the task of rightly applying their faith more fully to daily life. All traditions have their own ways of beginning, moving through and concluding their moral deliberations, and of acting upon them. There are different ways of discussing, consulting and arriving at decisions and of transmitting and receiving them.

Influencing this process are the different ways in which they understand the action of the Holy Spirit and the exercice of the specific role of ministerial leadership in moral discernment and guidance.

In the Roman Catholic Church, bishops, according to the gift received from the Holy Spirit, and under his guidance, in their ministry of oversight (episkope), are the authoritative guardians and interpreters of the whole moral law, that is, both the law of the gospel and the natural law. Bishops have the pastoral responsibility and duty of offering moral guidance, even sometimes definitive judgment that a specific action is right or wrong. Moral theologians provide ethical discernment within the community. Confessors, pastoral counsellors and spiritual directors seek to take account of the unique needs of the individual person.

In the Orthodox Church decisions on ethical issues rest with the hierarchy, whether a synod of bishops or an individual bishop, who are inspired by the Scriptures and the long tradition of the church's pastoral care and moral guidance. The main concern is the spiritual welfare of the person in his or her relationship to God and to fellow human beings. The prudential application of church law and general norms (oikonomia) sometimes temper strictness, sometimes increase severity. It is a principal means for both spiritual growth and moral guidance. Orthodox tradition cherishes also the role of experienced spiritual fathers and mothers, and in the process of moral reflection it stresses prayer among both laity and ordained.

Other churches do not ascribe to ministerial leadership this competency in interpretation or such authority of judgment. They arrive at certain ethical judgments by different polities of consulting and decision-making which involve clergy and laity. The Reformed traditions, for example, hold that the living Word of the sovereign God is always reforming the Church in faith and life. Doctrinal and ethical judgments should be based on the holy Scripture and informed by the whole tradition of the Church catholic and ecumenical. But no church body has the final authority in defining the word of God. Redeemed and fallible human beings within the Church faithfully rely on the process, inspired by the Holy Spirit, whereby they select their ordained and lay leaders and reach authoritative but reformable expressions of faith and positions on personal and social ethics.

2. Thus, ecumenical dialogue on moral issues should include the nature, mission and structures of the church, the role of ministerial authority and its use of resources in offering moral guidance, and the response to the exercice of such authority within the Church. These subjects will in turn help to locate ecumenical gifts and opportunities for common witness, as well as tensions and conflicts.

First, the tensions and conflicts. Is there anxiety and unease because many fear the erosion of the foundational sources of Scripture and Tradition, and of church authority which they believe to be most reliable in guiding Christian conscience and conduct? Or are the ways in which particular church traditions understand, accept and use the sources and authorities themselves the source of tension and divisiveness? Does deliberation of ethical issues generate anxiety and anger because some persons negatively experience these sources and their use -- for example, the interpretation of Scripture and Tradition in such ways that they present the oppressive face of social and theological patriarchy?

One often best understands persistent unchanging stands on a specific issue not by focusing narrowly on it, but by considering what people sense is at stake for life together in society if certain sources, structures and authorities are ignored or even ridiculed. For example, in some settings questions about the beginning and ending of life -- abortion and euthanasia -- carry such moral freight.

Furthermore, some churches stress more than others the structures of authority and formal detailed statements on belief and morality. This can create an imbalance and lack of realism in the dialogue if one easily compares the official teachings of some churches with the more diffuse estimates of the general belief and practice of others.

Thus, awareness of the moral volatility which surrounds the sources and authorities used -- which they are, by whom and how they are interpreted, and with what kinds of concerns they are associated -- is critical for understanding why some moral issues are difficult and potentially divisive among Christians.

3. Second, gifts and opportunities. Discerning the gifts in church traditions that may lie unnoticed as treasures for the moral life poses another set of questions for the ecumenical dialogue:

What do inherited understandings and forms of koinonia (communion or fellowship), diakonia (service) and martyria (witness) mean for moral formation today?

Which visions, virtual, values and obligations are nurtured by the lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi (the rule of praying, of believing, of living) as particular traditions and structures embody them?

Which practices in the varied traditions contribute to the legitimate difference and authentic diversity of the moral life of the one Church? How can both common and distinctive practices contribute to the moral richness of the koinonia?

In dialogue Christians thus need both to recognize the rich resources they share for moral formation and to ask critically how these in fact function in a variety of contexts, cultures and peoples.

V. Ecumenical challenges to moral formation and deliberation

Churches which share real but imperfect koinonia face new challenges as communities of moral formation and deliberation: the pluralism of moral positions; the crisis of moral authority, changing moral judgments on traditional issues, and positions on new ones.

1. Christians agree that there is a moral universe which is grounded in the wisdom and will of God, but they may have different interpretations of God's wisdom, of the nature of that universe and of the degree to which human beings are called to fashion it as co-creators with God.

We cannot deny three facts:

  • First, Christians do share a long history of extensive unity in moral teaching and practice, flowing in part from a shared reflection on common sources, such as the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes.


  • Second, divided Christian communities eventually did acquire some differences in ways of determining moral principles and acting upon them.


  • Third, these differences have led today to such a pluralism of moral frameworks and positions within and between the ecclesial traditions that some positions appear to be in sharp tension, even in contradiction. The same constellation of basic moral principles may admit of a diversity of rules which intend to express a faithful response to biblical vision and to these principles. Even the explicit divine commandment "Thou shalt not kill" receives conflicting applications; for example, yes or no to the death penalty as such or for certain crimes.

2. The crisis of moral authority within the churches further complicates effective moral formation and deliberation. Even where a church has an established moral tradition, some members strongly propose alternative positions. In fact, church members are becoming more vocal and persistent in sharp criticism of authoritative moral teaching and practice, and they use the same sources as the basis for differing ethical positions. The fashioning of effective moral formation and deliberation in these settings is an urgent ecumenical task.

3. The process of the formulation and reception of ethical decisions also poses a major challenge of participation: who forms and formulates the churches' moral decisions, using which powers of influence and action and which instruments of consultation? How do church members and the society at large assess, appropriate and respond to official church pronouncements? What are the channels of such a response, and what kinds of response are encouraged or discouraged?

4. Are not the conditions and structures of dialogue themselves prime ethical issues for churches? They are potentially either divisive or reconciling. They can either enhance or undermine koinonia in faith, life and witness. One starting point is simply to acknowledge that the way in which a church (or churches together) orders and structures its decision-making and then publicly communicates its decisions already embodies a social ethic, and influences moral teaching and practice. Structures, offices and roles express moral values or disvalues. Ways of exercising power, governance and access have moral dimensions. To ignore this is to fail to understand why moral issues and the ways in which they are addressed can be so divisive, even within the same church.

5. The extent to which moral judgments can change needs candid dialogue. For example, until the middle of the 18th century, historical churches, even in their official statements, acquiesced in the practice of slavery; some leaders even proposed biblical and theological arguments to sanction it. Today all churches judge slavery to be an intrinsic evil, everywhere and always wrong. What does this kind of change of a former established teaching of the churches mean for understanding that degree of unity in faithful moral teaching which full communion requires?

Christians in dialogue should not ignore or hide evidence of change in moral teaching or practice. Churches do not always welcome such openness, despite their emphasis on human finitude and sin in the historical development of teachings and practices. Moreover, the interpretation of change in moral teaching is itself a source of disagreement and tension. While some may interpret the change as positive growth in faithful moral understanding, others may judge it as easy compromise or rank failure.

Apartheid is a particular example, where after long deliberation, some families of churches went beyond the rejection of apartheid as inconsistent with the gospel to judge those who maintained apartheid to be Christian as placing themselves outside the fellowship of the Church.

Hence, an ecumenical approach to morality requires the awareness of different evaluations of changing moral traditions.

6. Several new ethical issues especially challenge ecumenical collaboration when the churches have no clear and detailed precedents, much less experience and consensus. Only to begin a long list of examples: economic policies in a world of "haves" and "have-nots"; immigration and refugee regulations within and between nations; industrialization and the environment; women's rights in society and in the churches; in vitro fertilization, genetic engineering and other biomedical developments. Christians and others experience the urgency of these unavoidable, complex ethical issues. They expect the churches to offer moral guidance on them.

Even the experts in the empirical sciences may offer conflicting data or disagree on the implications of scientific findings. The ways in which the churches together seek out, gather and order the facts with the best knowledge available from the empirical scientists is already an ecumenical challenge. In the light of this, Christians can responsibly address the moral implications of issues, and offer guidance.

VI. Christian moral witness in a pluralistic society

Christians are called to witness in the public forum to their common moral convictions with humility and with respect for others and their convictions. They should seek dialogue and collaboration with those of other faith communities, indeed with all persons of good will who are committed to the well-being of humanity.

1. In the political process of legislation and judicial decision, churches may rightly raise their prophetic voice in support or in protest. In common witness they can take a firm stand when they believe that public decisions or laws affirm or contradict God's purposes for the dignity of persons or the integrity of creation.

One can highlight the example of common witness of Christians in the struggle against apartheid and "ethnic cleansing". In fact, such moral issues of human rights and equality have been community-building experiences of koinonia in faith and witness, which some perceive as profound experiences of "church".

2. Sometimes churches and Christian advocacy groups may agree on the basic values which they should promote, yet they disagree about the means that should be used, especially in the political arena. In such situations, they should seek collaboration as much as their agreement allows, and at the same time articulate the reasons for their disagreement. Disagreement over some particular points or means to an end should not rule out all collaboration. In these cases, however, it is all the more important to be open and explicit about the areas of disagreement, so as to avoid confusion in common witness.

3. In the public arena, the churches are one family of moral community among others, whether religious or secular. Moral discernment is not the exclusive preserve of Christians. Christian moral understandings and approaches to ethical issues should be open to evaluate carefully the moral insights and judgments of others. Often moral traditions overlap, even when the approaches and idioms of language may be different.

In any case, the manner and the methods by which the churches publicly commend their own moral convictions must respect the integrity of others and their civic rights and liberties. For the authority of the churches in the public moral debate of pluralistic societies is the authority of their moral wisdom, insights and judgments as these commend themselves to the intelligence and conscience of others.

Guidelines for Ecumenical Dialogue on Moral Issues

The acceptance and practice of these suggested guidelines for dialogue can promote the goal of the ecumenical movement: the visible unity of Christians in one faith and one eucharistic fellowship, expressed in worship, common life and service, in order that the world may believe.

We assume that churches are seeking to be faithful to God in Christ, to be led by the Holy Spirit and to be a moral environment which helps all members in the formation of Christian conscience and practice. We affirm the responsibility of every church to provide moral guidance for its members and for society at large.

God, who through the Spirit leads Christians to manifest the unity of the Church, calls the churches, while still divided, to common witness; that is, together in Christian discipleship they are to manifest whatever divine gifts of truth and life they already share and experience.

A lack of ecumenical dialogue on personal and social moral issues, and a weak will to overcome whatever divisiveness they may prompt, place yet another stumbling block in the proclamation of the one gospel of Jesus Christ, who is "the Way, the Truth and the Life" (John 14:6).


  1. In fostering the koinonia or communion between the churches, we should as much as possible consult and exchange information with one another, in a spirit of mutual understanding and respect, always "speaking the truth in charity" (Eph. 4:15).


  2. In dialogue we should try first to understand the moral positions and practices of others as they understand them, so that each one recognizes oneself in the descriptions. Only then can we evaluate them out of our own tradition and experience.


  3. In comparing the good qualities and moral ideals or the weaknesses and practices of various Christian communities, one should compare ideals with ideals and practice with practice. We should understand what others want to be and to do in order to be faithful disciples of Christ, even though those others -- as we ourselves -- are burdened with weakness and sin.


  4. We recognize that Christians enjoy a history of substantial unity in moral teaching and practice. By placing ethical issues within this inheritance of moral unity, we can more carefully understand the origin and nature of any present disagreement or division.


  5. We trust that Christians can discover the bases for their moral vision, values and conduct in the Scriptures and in other resources: moral traditions (including specific church and interchurch statements), liturgies, preaching and catechetics, pastoral practices, common human experiences and methods of reflection.


  6. We should seek from the empirical sciences the best available knowledge on specific issues, and if possible agree on the data and their ethical implications before offering moral guidance.


  7. We should acknowledge that various church traditions in fact sometimes agree, sometimes differ in the ways they:
    • use Scriptures and other common resources, as well as the data of empirical sciences;
    • relate moral vision, ethical norms and prudential judgments;
    • identify a specific moral issue and formulate the problems;
    • communicate within a church those values and disciplines which help to develop its own moral environment in the shaping of Christian character;
    • understand and exercise ministerial leadership and oversight in moral guidance.
  8. We should be ever alert to affirm whatever is shared in common, and to admit where there are serious divergent, even contrary stances. We should never demand that fellow Christians with whom we disagree compromise their integrity and convictions.


  9. In the public arena of pluralistic societies, we should be in dialogue also with others, whether religious or secular. We try to understand and evaluate their moral insights and judgments, and to find a common language to express our agreements and differences.


  10. When the dialogue continues to reveal sincere but apparently irreconcilable moral positions, we affirm in faith that the fact of our belonging together in Christ is more fundamental than the fact of our moral differences. The deep desire to find an honest and faithful resolution of our disagreements is itself evidence that God continues to grace the koinonia among disciples of Christ.


  1. Participants in this consultation were: Prof. Anna Marie Aagaard, University of Aarhus; Rev. Prof. Peter Baelz, United Kingdom; Rev. Brian V. Johnstone, C.SS.R., Academia Alfonsiana, Rome; Rev. Msgr John A. Radano, PCPCU; Dr Teodora Rossi, Rome; Prof. Alexandre Stavropoulos, Athens University; Rev. Thomas Stransky, CSP, Tantur Ecumenical Institute, Jerusalem; Rev. Dr Elizabeth S. Tapia, Union Theological Seminary, New York.
  2. Participants in this consultation were: Prof. Anna Marie Aagaard, University of Aarhus; Rev. Prof. Peter Baelz, United Kingdom; Rev. Frans Bouwen, M. Afr., Jerusalem; Rev. B‚n‚zet Bujo, Moral-theologisches Institut, University of Fribourg; Rev. Brian V. Johnstone, C.SS.R., Academia Alfonsiana Rome; Rev. William Henn, OFM Cap., Collegio S. Lorenzo, Rome; Dr Donna Orsuto, Gregoriana University/The Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas, Rome; Rev. Msgr John A. Radano, PCPCU; Prof. Larry Rasmussen, Union Theological Seminary, New York; Dr Martin Robra, WCC/Unit III ECOS, Theology of Life Programme; Prof. Alexandre Stavropoulos, Athens University; Rev. Thomas Stransky, CSP, Tantur Ecumenical Institute, Jerusalem; Rev. Dr Elizabeth S. Tapia, Union Theological Seminary, New York.


We would like to present the document The Challenge of Proselytism and the Calling to Common Witness, which has been prepared by the Joint Working Group between the World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church, in response to concerns expressed by some of our churches in regard to the missionary outreach of other churches that would seem to bear some of the characteristics of proselytism.

It is within the concern for full Christian unity and common Christian witness that the question of proselytism is looked at in this document. There is the common conviction that central to the work of Christian unity is an urgent need for all Christians to be able to give a truly common witness to the whole Christian faith.

In this spirit, the document may help Christian communities to reflect on their own motivation for mission and also on their methods of evangelizing. Dialogue in a truly ecumenical spirit with those considered to be proselytizing is highlighted.

It is our hope, therefore, that this document will be shared at different levels of church life and reflected on by churches, so that it can contribute towards breaking down mistrust, suspicion, misunderstanding or ignorance of the other, where any of these may exist, as well as encourage persevering effort to seek new ways and means of closer collaboration in evangelization, according to the different circumstances of time, place and culture.

All such efforts will mean a deeper commitment to the goal of full communion among Christ's disciples, in the certitude that our fellowship is with the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. This document is meant as a contribution to that goal.

25 September 1995

His Eminence Metropolitan Elias of Beirut
Most Rev. Alan C. Clark
Co-moderators of the Joint Working Group



I. Introduction

1. This document is the result of discussions in the Joint Working Group (JWG) and is presented with the conviction that it is timely, and with the hope that it may serve as an impulse for further reflection and action in the churches. The conversations in the JWG were marked both by the grateful recognition of the increase of common witness of Christians from different traditions, and serious concerns about tensions and conflicts created by proselytism in nearly all parts of the world. It is the new reality of common witness and a growth in koinonia which forms the backdrop for a critical consideration of proselytism which has been described as conscious efforts with the intention to win members of another church. 1

2. Even though the JWG has addressed the questions of common witness and proselytism on two previous occasions, recent dramatic events have led it to study these issues once again. Over the past few years we have become more aware of the concern being expressed in new situations and contexts in which people tend to be vulnerable in one way or another, and where proselytizing activity is alleged to be taking place. Some situations invite urgent ecumenical attention, such as:

  • within the climate of newly found religious freedom, e.g. in Central and Eastern Europe, where there is a threat felt by some churches that their members are under pressure from other churches to change their allegiance;


  • instances in the "developing world" (often easily identified with nations in the southern hemisphere, though also found elsewhere), in which proselytizing efforts take advantage of people's misfortunes -- e.g. in situations of poverty in villages, or in the mass migration to the cities where new arrivals have a sense of being lost in anonymity or marginalized and are frequently outside the pastoral structures of their own church -- to induce them to change their church affiliation;


  • where people of a particular ethnic group, traditionally members of one church, are said to be encouraged by unfair means to become members of other churches;


  • the activity of some new missionary movements, groups or individuals, both within our churches and outside them, especially those originating in the newly industrialized nations, which enter countries often uninvited by any church and begin missionary activity among the local people in competition with the local churches;


  • in various places the arrival of evangelizing groups making extensive use of the mass media and causing confusion and division among local churches;


  • in many parts of the world, the churches are experiencing proselytizing activities of sects and new religious movements.

3. The purpose of this document is to encourage all Christians to pursue their calling to render a common witness to God's saving and reconciling purpose in today's world and to help them to avoid all competition in mission that contradicts their common calling. With this aim the document seeks to facilitate a pastoral response to the continuing challenge of proselytism which not only endangers existing ecumenical relations but is also an additional barrier to our growing together in reciprocal love and trust as brothers and sisters in Christ.

4. Today we thank God for the achievements of ecumenical theological dialogues during recent decades and for a new climate of understanding and friendship in which ecumenical relations are being developed. We are also grateful for all the recent encouraging signs of better mutual understanding and joint perspectives in the area of common witness and proselytism. 2 These are recorded in bilateral and multilateral dialogues among churches and can be seen in significant initiatives of common witness at different levels of church life. These agreements and joint actions provide a basis and encouragement to intensify our efforts to bear together a credible witness to the gospel in the contemporary world.

5. In this study process we wish to affirm what continues to be valid in the two previous WCC-RCC Joint Working Group documents Common Witness and Proselytism.r. 3 and Common Witness. 4 We also want to take into account relevant material on evangelism and proselytism from some of the aforementioned dialogues. In addition, this study process will be linked with another possible study on proselytism in the World Council of Churches by Unit II. 5

6. We acknowledge with appreciation similar studies being undertaken by ecumenical bodies such as the Conference of European Churches 6 and the Middle East Council of Churches. 7 Our desire is to invite reflection and action on the part of churches of different traditions in a task to which all are called on our pilgrimage to a fuller expression and experience of visible Christian unity.

II. Mission and unity: the context of common witness

7. An essential element of the Church is to participate in the mission of God in Jesus Christ to the world by proclaiming through word and action God's revelation and salvation to all people (1 John 1:1-5). Indeed, God's mission towards a "reconciled humanity and a renewed creation" (cf. Eph. 1:9-10) is the essential content and impulse for the missionary witness of the Church.

8. Mission in this sense of being sent with a message that is addressed to the spiritual and also material needs of people is thus an inescapable mandate for the Church. This imperative is affirmed today by many churches and is expressed through their regular activities as well as special efforts (New Evangelization, Decades of Evangelism, Mission 2000). Sent to a world in need of unity and greater interdependence amidst the competition and fragmentation of the human community, the Church is called to be sign and instrument of God's reconciling love. 8

9. Ecumenical relationships, however, have from the beginning of the modern ecumenical movement been shaped by the insight that the search for the visible unity of Christ's Church must include the commitment to and the practice of a common missionary witness. In the prayer of Jesus "that they all may be one so that the world may believe" (John 17:21), we are reminded that the unity of Christians and the mission of the Church are intrinsically related. Divisions among Christians are a counter-witness to Christ and contradict their witness to reconciliation in Christ.

10. In responding to the appeal for the unity of Christians in effective missionary witness, we need to be aware of the reality of diversity rooted in theological traditions and in various geographical, historical and cultural contexts. We recognize, therefore, that the unity we seek is a unity that embraces a legitimate diversity of spiritual, disciplinary, liturgical and theological expressions that enrich common witness. It will include the discovery and appreciation of the many diverse gifts of Christ which we share already now as Christians in "real but imperfect communion", gifts given for the upbuilding of the Church (cf. Rom. 12:4-8). Even when churches are not in full communion with each other they are called to be truthful to each other and show respect for each other. Such an attitude does not subvert their self-understanding and their conviction to have received the truth but rather facilitates the common search for unity and common witness to God's love for the world.

11. In the growing ecumenical koinonia there must also be a way of witnessing to the gospel to each other in faithfulness to one's own tradition and convictions. Such mutual witness could enrich and challenge us to renew our thinking and life, and could do so without being polemical towards those who do not share the same tradition. "To speak the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15) is a challenge and an experience long accepted within the ecumenical movement.

12. The recognition of an already existing, though imperfect, communion among churches is a significant result of ecumenical efforts and a new element in 20th-century church history. This existing communion should be an encouragement for further efforts to overcome the barriers that still prevent churches from reaching full communion. It should provide a basis for the renewal, common witness and service of the churches for the sake of God's saving and reconciling activity for all humanity and all creation. It should also provide a basis for avoiding all rivalry and antagonistic competition in mission because "the use of coercive or manipulative methods in evangelism distorts koinonia". 9

13. When Christians by means of efforts towards common witness struggle to overcome such lack of reciprocal love, of mutual understanding and of trust they will be open to the call for repentance and for the renewal of their efforts. This is the way "to come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ" (Eph. 4:13).

14. These efforts include self-critical reflection on our relationships with other churches, openness to appreciate authentically evangelical expressions of life in them, and to be mutually enriched. They will also include engaging in a more authentic dialogue where we can speak meaningfully and honestly to one another, discussing difficulties as they arise and trying to build up relationships (cf. Eph. 4:15).

III. Some basic principles of religious freedom

15. We acknowledge the right of every person "alone or in community with others and in public or in private" 10 to live in accordance with the principles of religious freedom. 11 Religious freedom affirms the right of all persons to pursue the truth and to witness to that truth according to their conscience. It includes the freedom to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and the freedom of Christians to witness to their faith in him by word and deed.

Religious freedom involves the right to freely adopt or change one's religion and to "manifest it in teaching, practice, worship and observance" 12 without any coercion which would impair such freedom.

We reject all violations of religious freedom and all forms of religious intolerance as well as every attempt to impose belief and practices on others or to manipulate or coerce others in the name of religion.

16. Freedom of religion touches on "one of the fundamental elements of the conception of life of the person". The promotion of religious freedom contributes also to the harmonious relations between religious communities and is therefore an essential contribution to social harmony and peace. For these reasons, international instruments and the constitutions and laws of almost all nations recognize the right to religious freedom. 13 Proselytism can violate or manipulate the right of the individual and can exacerbate tense and delicate relations between communities and thus destabilize societies.

17. The responsibility of fostering religious freedom and the harmonious relations between religious communities is a primary concern of the churches. Where principles of religious freedom are not being respected and lived in church relations, we need, through dialogue in mutual respect, to encourage deeper consideration and appreciation of these principles and of their practical applications for the churches.

IV. Nature and characteristics of proselytism

18. In the history of the Church, the term "proselytism" has been used as a positive term and even as an equivalent concept for missionary activity. 14 More recently, especially in the context of the modern ecumenical movement, it has taken on a negative connotation when applied to activities of Christians to win adherents from other Christian communities. These activities may be more obvious or more subtle. They may be for unworthy motives or by unjust means that violate the conscience of the human person; or even if proceeding with good intentions, their approach ignores the Christian reality of other churches or their particular approaches to pastoral practice.

19. Proselytism as described in this document stands in opposition to all ecumenical effort. It includes certain activities which often aim at having people change their church affiliation and which we believe must be avoided, such as the following: 15

  • making unjust or uncharitable references to other churches' beliefs and practices and even ridiculing them;


  • comparing two Christian communities by emphasizing the achievements and ideals of one, and the weaknesses and practical problems of the other;


  • employing any kind of physical violence, moral compulsion and psychological pressure, e.g. the use of certain advertising techniques in mass media that might bring undue pressure on readers/viewers; 16


  • using political, social and economic power as a means of winning new members for one's own church;

    extending explicit or implicit offers of education, health care or material inducements or using financial resources with the intent of making converts; 17


  • manipulative attitudes and practices that exploit people's needs, weaknesses or lack of education especially in situations of distress, and fail to respect their freedom and human dignity. 18

20. While our focus in this document is on relationships between Christians, it is important to seek the mutual application of these principles also in interfaith relations. Both Christians and communities of other faiths complain about unworthy and unacceptable methods of seeking converts from their respective communities. The increased cooperation and dialogue among people of different faiths could result in witness offered to one another that would respect human freedom and dignity and be free of the negative activities described above.

V. Sources of tension in church relationships

21. We need to look at some of the sources of tension in church relationships which could lead to proselytism, in order to ground some of this concern. One is the holding of distorted views of another church's teaching or doctrine and even attacking or caricaturing them, e.g. denouncing prayer for the dead as a denial of the need for personal acceptance of Christ as Lord and Saviour; discrediting the veneration of icons as signs of crude idolatry; interpreting the use of art in church buildings as a transgression of the first commandment.

22. Different understandings of missiology and different concepts of evangelization also underlie some interchurch tensions, e.g. seeing God's gift of salvation as coming exclusively through one's own church; seeing the task of mission as exclusively concerned with social matters or exclusively with spiritual matters, rather than in a holistic way. They can lead to competition or even conflict in missionary practice among the churches rather than a common approach to mission.

23. Different theological and pastoral understandings of the meaning of certain concepts can also contribute to tension in relationships. For example, some aim at the re-evangelization of baptized but non-practising members of other churches. But there are different interpretations of who is "unchurched", or a "true" Christian believer. Efforts to understand the perspectives of other Christian communities on these matters are therefore necessary.

24. The varieties of understanding of membership existing among churches can also be an unnecessary source of tension. There are theological issues involved. The way of becoming a member and even the way of terminating membership in particular churches can be understood very differently. The duties and responsibilities of members also differ from church to church. This diversity of understanding influences the way we see changes in church affiliation.

25. Unfortunately, there are occasions when the personal and cultural confusion of people, their social-political resentments, the tensions within a church, or their hurtful experiences in their own church can be played upon to persuade them to be converted.

26. Sometimes, evangelizers can be tempted to take advantage of the spiritual and material needs of people or their lack of instruction in the faith in order to make them change their church affiliation because they may interpret this as a lack of pastoral care and attention to these people on the part of churches to which they belong. But in fact, pastoral care, even if it could be more adequate, may be available to the person in his or her own church. Here again there may be different perceptions as to what is adequate and what is inadequate in the field of pastoral care. However the churches must always look for ways to improve the pastoral care they give to their people, especially the quality of instruction in the faith.

27. Tensions also arise on occasion because of the unjust interference on the part of the state in church matters in order to influence people to change church membership.

28. In other situations where a church identifies with the government or works in collusion with it to the extent that it fails to exercise its prophetic role, tensions can arise within the Christian community from what may be seen as preferential treatment by the government for that particular church.

29. Tensions can result in evangelizing activity when there is a lack of sufficient regard for people's culture and religious traditions. There can also be dangers if we lose sight of the fact that the gospel must take root in the soil of different cultures, while it cannot be limited to any culture.

30. Finally, there can be a lack of respect for the beliefs and practices of minority groups in contexts dominated by a majority church, and an inability to see them as full and equal partners in society that causes tensions in relationships. In some cases, a dominant Christian tradition has allowed restrictive laws to be framed by the state which disfavour Christians of another tradition.

VI. Steps forward

31. Despite all efforts to combat it, the problem of proselytism is still with us, causing painful tensions in church relationships and undermining the credibility of the Church's witness to God's universal love. Ultimately, proselytism is a sign of the real scandal which is division. By placing the issue of proselytism in the context of church unity and of common witness we suggest a perspective which makes it possible to approach the problem within an adequate theological framework.

32. As responsible ecumenical relationships in many different contexts are a complex reality requiring study and theological dialogue, prayer and practical collaboration, we would like to recommend the following to the churches, keeping in mind that the movement for Christian unity can also contribute to breaking down barriers between people in the wider society as well:

  • to encourage churches to pray for one another and for Christian unity in response to the prayer of our Lord, that his disciples "may all be one... so that the world may believe" (John 17:21);


  • to prepare more adequate Christian formation programmes within our churches so that people are better equipped to share their own faith, as well as ecumenical programmes that will foster respect for the integrity of other Christian churches and openness to receive from them;


  • to develop a sensitivity to existing ecclesial realities in a given area so that when providing the required pastoral care for one's own church members, it can be done in an atmosphere of communication and appropriate consultation; 19


  • to condemn publication of unverified alleged events or incidents concerning church activities that only fan feelings of fear and prejudice, and of one-sided or prejudicial reports on religious developments which can undercut efforts towards cooperation; 20


  • to try to understand history from the perspective of other churches in order to arrive at a shared common understanding of it and, where necessary, at reconciliation, mutual forgiveness and healing of memories;


  • to study together the nature of diakonia in order that the characteristics of Christian service be made clear and transparent; that is, that it may be truly inspired by the love of Christ and that it may not be a reason for tension, nor a means of proselytism;


  • to help people to a greater awareness of the phenomenon of sects and new religious movements, through collaborative efforts, and also to consider the question of how to respond pastorally but firmly to coercive religious practices by persons and groups that are not in keeping with the principles of religious liberty;


  • to include in any future study of proselytism the significant participation of Christians, both within and outside World Council of Churches and Roman Catholic circles of influence, especially those accused of these practices and those who have changed church affiliation through the efforts of another church. 21

33. These efforts will be effective and successful to the extent that relationships of reciprocal trust are built between the churches.

VII. Conclusion

34. Knowing that our common faith in Jesus, Lord and Saviour, unites us and that baptism is an effective sign of unity, we are called to live our Christian vocation in unity and to give visible witness to it.

35. Therefore, it is not enough to denounce proselytism. We need to continue to prepare ourselves for genuine common Christian witness through common prayer, common retreats, Bible courses, Bible sharing, study and action groups, religious education jointly or in collaboration, joint or coordinated pastoral and missionary activity, 22 a common service (diakonia) in humanitarian matters and theological dialogue. The immensely rich Christian spiritual patrimony of contemplative prayer can be a resource for all. We acknowledge that our current divisions limit the extent to which we can engage in common witness. We recall and make our own the principle cited in the third world conference on Faith and Order at Lund, Sweden, 1952:

We earnestly request our churches to consider whether they are doing all they ought to do to manifest the oneness of the people of God. Should not our churches ask themselves whether they are showing sufficient eagerness to enter into conversation with other churches and whether they should not act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel them to act separately...? Obedience to God demands also that the churches seek unity in their mission to the world. s23

36. There is also an urgent need to continue to work collaboratively in order to transcend the lines that society draws between those at the centre and those on the peripheries, between those who have an abundance of resources and those marginalized because of race, economics, gender or for other reasons. These societal divisions often provide the context for proselytism and therefore challenge our divided churches to closer collaboration that will be a common Christian witness. 24

37. In all of these reflections we take our inspiration from the gospel itself:

This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you. No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends... You did not choose me, no, I chose you; and I commissioned you to go out and to bear fruit, fruit that will last; so that the Father will give you anything you ask him in my name. My command to you is to love one another (John 15:12-13,16-17).


Note on this study document

As proselytism is a reality that obliges churches to seek a solution, and a question that continues to surface at different meetings, including the WCC central committee and the assembly in Canberra, the Joint Working Group, at its meeting in Wennigsen, Germany, in March 1992, decided to work on a new study document on proselytism, as this would be a broader forum to gather some of the findings from various meetings, including the bilateral dialogues, and to make a synthesis of solutions proposed.

At subsequent JWG executive meetings, decisions were made to base the new study document on the 1970 document "Common Witness and Proselytism" and the 1982 document "Common Witness". Mr Georges Lemopoulos and Sr Monica Cooney were asked to prepare an outline for the work. Consultations were held with various people both within the WCC and outside. A draft outline, prepared with the help of Fr Karl Müller, svd, and Prof. Dr Reinhard Frieling, was then submitted to the JWG executive meetings, and a first draft was presented to the JWG plenary meeting in Crete, June 1994.

Dr Günther Gassmann and Monsignor John Radano were then appointed as drafters. They presented an amended draft to the JWG executive in Geneva in October 1994, after which both WCC Programme Unit II and Programme Unit III (CCIA) were consulted (the latter on the question of religious freedom).

A final draft was discussed at the JWG plenary in Bose, Italy, May 1995, and finalized at the executive, Geneva, September 1995.

This document points out the problem of proselytism, noting the different realities in a variety of contexts as it is not a problem of any two churches in a particular area. It is prepared in the conviction that while we continue to proselytize and to accuse one another of proselytism, instead of speaking the truth in love, we cannot respond to the call to common witness, nor can we live the command to love one another as God has first loved us.

  1. Cf. also the more detailed description of proselytism in paras 18-19.
  2. Among many other examples which could be adduced here are "The Evangelical-Roman Catholic Dialogue on Mission, 1977-1984: A Report", in Information Service (Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Vatican City), no. 60, 1986, pp.71-97; "Summons to Witness to Christ in Today's World: A Report on the Baptist-Roman Catholic International Conversations, 1984-1988", in Information Service, no. 72, 1990, pp.5-14; letter of Pope John Paul II to Bishops of Europe on Relations Between Catholics and Orthodox in the New Situation of Central and Eastern Europe (31 May 1991), in Information Service, no. 81, 1992, pp.101-103; General Principles and Practical Norms for Coordinating the Evangelizing Activity and Ecumenical Commitment of the Catholic Church in Russia and in the Other Countries of the CIS, Pontifical Commission for Russia (from the Vatican, 1 June 1992); "Uniatism: Method of Union of the Past, and the Present Search for Full Communion: Report of the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church -- Balamand, June 17-24, 1993", in Information Service, no. 83, 1993, pp.96-99; "US Orthodox/Roman Catholic Consultation at the Holy Cross Orthodox School of Theology, Brookline, Mass., May 26-28, 1992", in Origins, vol. 22, no. 5, 11 June 1992, pp.79-80; "Towards Koinonia in Faith, Life and Witness", discussion paper for the fifth world conference on Faith and Order. Santiago de Compostela, 3-14 Aug., 1993, published in the conference report, T.F. Best and Gunther Gassmann, eds, On the Way to Fuller Koinonia, Geneva, WCC, 1994 (Faith and Order paper no. 166), pp.263ff.
  3. Published in The Ecumenical Review, vol. 23, no. 1, Jan. 1971, pp.9-20.
  4. Common Witness: A Study Document of the Joint Working Group of the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches, Geneva, WCC/CWME, 1982 (CWME Series, 1).
  5. Cf. also the report of Section IV from the fifth world conference on Faith and Order, "Called to Common Witness for a Renewed World", para. 14, in On the Way to Fuller Koinonia, pp.256f.
  6. Cf. "At Thy Word: Mission and Evangelization in Europe Today", message of the fifth European ecumenical encounter, Santiago de Compostela, 13-17 Nov. 1991, in Catholic International, vol. 3, no. 2, pp.88-92; God Unites: In Christ a New Creation, report of the 10th assembly of CEC, Prague, 1-11 Sept. 1992, pp.182-83 (final report of the Policy Reference Committee, appendix 18).
  7. Proselytism, Sects and Pastoral Challenges -- Working Document of the Commission of Faith and Unity, MECC, 1989; Signs of Hope in the Middle East, MECC/EMEU consultation, Cyprus, 1992: History of the Dialogue between the MECC and Western Evangelicals.
  8. This perspective is expressed, for example, in Vatican II, Lumen Gentium.r., para. 1; and in the Faith and Order study document Church and World: The Unity of the Church and the Renewal of Human Community, Geneva, WCC, 1990 (Faith and Order paper no. 151).
  9. Report of Section IV from the fifth world conference on Faith and Order, para. 14, loc. cit.
  10. Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, 25 Nov. 1981, art. 1,1.
  11. Cf. Vatican II, Declaration on Religious Liberty (Dignitatis Humanae), Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio); "Christian Witness, Proselytism and Religious Liberty in the Setting of the World Council of Churches", The Ecumenical Review, vol. 13, 1960, pp.79-89; WCC executive committee statement on religious liberty, Geneva, Sept. 1979; Study Paper on Religious Liberty, WCC/CCIA Background Information, 1980/1; Religious Liberty -- Some Major Considerations in the Current Debate, WCC/CCIA Background Information, 1987/1.
  12. Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, art. 7,7 and 7,2.
  13. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art. 18. Cf. also Conference on Cooperation and Security in Europe: Helsinki Final Agreement.
  14. "A historical overview shows that the understanding of proselytism' has changed considerably. In the Bible it was devoid of negative connotations. A proselyte' was someone who, by belief in Yahweh and acceptance of the law, became a member of the Jewish community. Christianity took over this meaning to describe a person who converted from paganism. Mission work and proselytism were considered equivalent concepts until recent times." "Summons to Witness to Christ in Today's World: A Report on the Baptist-Roman Catholic International Conversations (1984-1988)", loc. cit., para. 32.
  15. Cf. Common Witness and Proselytism.
  16. Cf. "Summons to Witness to Christ in Today's World", loc. cit.
  17. Cf. "Uniatism: Method of Union of the Past, and the Present Search for Full Communion", loc. cit., para. 24.
  18. Cf. "The Evangelical-Roman Catholic Dialogue on Mission", loc. cit., section 7.3: Unworthy Witness.
  19. Cf. "Uniatism: Method of Union of the Past, and the Present Search for Full Communion", loc. cit., para. 22.
  20. Cf. "US Orthodox/Roman Catholic Consultation at the Holy Cross Orthodox School of Theology", loc. cit., para. 2.
  21. Report of Section IV from the fifth world conference on Faith and Order, loc. cit., para. 14.
  22. Common Witness, para. 44.
  23. Oliver S. Tomkins, ed., The Third World Conference on Faith and Order (Lund, August 15-25, 1952), London, SCM, 1953, p.16.
  24. The theological basis for this common witness and further suggestions may be found in Common Witness: A Study Document of the Joint Working Group, 1982, passim.


It is well accepted that there is an ecumenical imperative in the gospel. However, there is also the indisputable fact that the goal of unity is far from realized. In that context of contradiction, the Joint Working Group (JWG) of the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches (WCC) decided in 1985 to focus on ecumenical formation as a contribution towards conscientizing people with regard to ecumenism. The minutes for that particular meeting of the JWG report said: "It might aim at a more popular readership. The pamphlet should be part of a wider process of promoting the idea of ecumenical formation. It should include an explanation of why ecumenical formation is a priority, along with documentation. Anything produced on ecumenical formation ought to be subtitled ‘ecumenical reflections and suggestions', to make clear there is no intention of giving directives in a field in which each church has its proper responsibility."

The document is designed to be educational, aimed at stimulating ongoing reflection as an integral part of a process of ecumenical formation. It is rooted in a conviction that there must be a deep spirituality at the heart of ecumenical formation.

With these words, we are happy to recommend this document for study.

20 May 1993

His Eminence Metropolitan Elias Audi
Most Rev. Alan C. Clark
Co-moderators of the Joint Working Group



I. The ecumenical imperative

1. In his high priestly prayer Jesus prayed for all those who will believe in him, "that they may all be one; as you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one" (John 17:21-22).

The unity to which the followers of Jesus Christ are called is not something created by them. Rather, it is Christ's will for them that they manifest their unity, given in Christ, before the world so that the world may believe. It is a unity which is grounded in and reflects the communion which exists between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Thus the ecumenical imperative and the mission of the Church are inextricably intertwined, and this for the sake of the salvation of all. The eschatological vision of the transformation and unity of humankind is the fundamental inspiration of ecumenical action.

Disobedience to the imperative

2. However, from very early in her history, the Church has suffered from tensions. The earliest Christian community in Corinth experienced tensions and factions (1 Cor. 1:10-17). After the councils of Ephesus (in 431) and Chalcedon (in 451), an important part of the Church in the East was no more in communion with the rest of the Church.

In 1054 there was the great break between the Church of the East and the Church of the West. As if those were not enough, the Western Church was unhappily divided further at the time of the Reformation. Today we continue to have not only the persistence of those divisions but also new ones.

Whatever the reasons, such divisions contradict the Lord's high priestly prayer, and Paul considers such divisions sinful and appeals "that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose" (1 Cor. 1:10).

3. Against that background, ecumenical formation is a matter of urgency because it is part of the struggle to overcome the divisions of Christians which are sinful and scandalous and challenge the credibility of the Church and her mission.

Some significant responses to the ecumenical imperative

4. If there is a tragic history of disobedience to the ecumenical imperative, there is also heartwarming evidence that time and again the churches, conscious of their call to unity, have been challenged to confront the implications of their divisions. For instance, attempts at reconciliation between the East and the West have taken place in the 13th and 15th centuries. Also in the centuries that followed there were voices and efforts calling the churches away from divisions and enmity. At the beginning of this century the modern ecumenical history received significant impulses from the 1910 world missionary conference at Edinburgh. In 1920 the ecumenical patriarchate published an encyclical proposing the establishment of a "koinonia of churches", in spite of the doctrinal differences between the churches. The encyclical was an urgent and timely reminder that "world Christendom would be disobedient to the will of the Lord and Saviour if it did not seek to manifest in the world the unity of the people of God and of the body of Christ". Around the same time Anglicans and Catholics engaged in theological dialogue at the Malines conversations, and the first world conferences on Life and Work (Stockholm 1925) and Faith and Order (Lausanne 1927) were held.

5. Another recall to the ecumenical imperative in modern times was the meeting held in 1948 at Amsterdam, at which the WCC was formally constituted. The theme of this meeting was very significant: "Man's Disorder and God's Design". The long process which culminated in the birth of the WCC represents a multilateral response to the ecumenical imperative, in which a renewed commitment to the una sancta (the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church), and to making our own the prayer of Jesus that "your will be done on earth as it is in heaven", were openly declared to be on the agenda of the churches.

6. A further important landmark on the ecumenical road was the announcement made by Pope John XXIII, on 25 January 1959, the feast of the conversion of St Paul, to convene the Catholic bishops for the Second Vatican Council, which Pope John XXIII opened in October 1962. This Council which has been highly significant for ecumenical advance definitely accelerated the possibilities for the Catholic Church to take part in the multilateral dialogue in Faith and Order, and to engage in a range of bilateral dialogues which are now an important expression of the one ecumenical scene. Various bilateral conversations between various churches attest to growing fruitful relations between churches and traditions which for centuries were at variance.

7. There have also been historic and symbolic actions which are very significant efforts to overcome the old divisions. For example, on 7 December 1965 Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, in solemn ceremonies in Rome and Constantinople, took steps to take away from the memory and the midst of the churches the sentences of excommunication which had been the immediate cause of the great schism between the church of Rome and the church of Constantinople in 1054. Moreover, the icon of the apostles Peter and Andrew in embrace -- Peter being the patron of the church of Rome and Andrew the patron of the church of Constantinople -- presented by the ecumenical patriarch to the pope, illustrates in graphic and religious form the reconciliation between the churches of the East and the West. The responses of many churches to the Faith and Order document on Baptism Eucharist and Ministry, which was the result of multilateral ecumenical dialogue, is a further illustration of ecumenical advance.

The imperative, a permanent call

8. The foregoing historical moments in the life of the Church stand like promontories in the ecumenical landscape and attest to the fact that in spite of persisting divisions, of which there is need for repentance, churches are experiencing a reawakening to the necessity of unity that stands in holy writ and in the Lord's will for the Church. Indeed many have observed that relationships between churches have radically changed from isolation and enmity to mutual respect, cooperation, dialogue and -- between several churches from the Reformation -- also eucharistic fellowship. The people of God are hearing anew the call "to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called... bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:1-3). These and other developments are steps towards that visible unity which is a koinonia given and expressed in the common confession of the one apostolic faith, mutual recognition and sharing of baptism, eucharist and ministries, common prayer, witness and service in the world, and conciliar forms of deliberation and decision-making.

II. Ecumenical formation: what is meant by it?

9. That for long periods we have been disobedient to the ecumenical imperative is a reminder that the spirit of ecumenism needs nurturing. Ecumenical formation is an ongoing process of learning within the various local churches and world communions, aimed at informing and guiding people in the movement which -- inspired by the Holy Spirit -- seeks the visible unity of Christians.

This pilgrimage towards unity enables mutual sharing and mutual critique through which we grow. Such an approach to unity thus involves at once rootedness in Christ and in one's tradition, while endeavouring to discover and participate in the richness of other Christian and human traditions.

A process of exploration

10. Such a response to the ecumenical imperative demands patient, humble and persistent exploration, together with people of other traditions, of the pain of our situation of separation, taking us to both the depths of our divisions and the heights of our already existing unity in the Triune God, and of the unity we hope to attain. Thus ecumenical formation is also a process of education by which we seek to orient ourselves towards God, all Christians and indeed all human beings in a spirit of renewed faithfulness to our Christian mission.

A process of learning

11. As a process of learning, ecumenical formation is concerned with engaging the experience, knowledge, skills, talents and the religious memory of the Christian community for mutual enrichment and reconciliation. The process may be initiated through formal courses on the history and main issues of ecumenism as well as integrated into the curriculum at every level of the education in which the church is involved. Ecumenical formation is meant to help set the tone and perspective of every instruction and, therefore, may demand a change in the orientation of our educational institutions, systems and curricula.

12. The language of formation and learning refers to some degree to a body of knowledge to be absorbed. That is important; but formation and learning require a certain bold openness to living ecumenically as well. In 1952 the third Faith and Order conference took place in Lund, Sweden. The statement that came from it may be read as a representative text: "A faith in the one Church of Christ which is not implemented by acts of obedience is dead. There are truths about the nature of God and his Church which will remain for ever closed to us unless we act together in obedience to the unity which is already ours. We would, therefore, earnestly request our churches to consider whether they are doing all they ought to do to manifest the oneness of the people of God. Should not our churches ask themselves whether they are showing sufficient eagerness to enter into conversation with other churches and whether they should not act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel them to act separately?... Obedience to God demands also that the churches seek unity in their mission to the world."

A process for all

13. Thus in pursuit of the goal of Christian unity, ecumenical formation takes place not only in formal educational programmes but also in the daily life of the Church and people. While the formation of the whole people of God is desired, indeed is a necessity, we also insist on the strategic importance of giving priority to the ecumenical formation of those who have special responsibility for ministry and leadership in the churches. To that extent, theologians, pastors and others who bear responsibility in the church have both a particular need and responsibility for ecumenical formation.

14. The ecumenical formation of those with particular responsibility for forming and animating future church leaders, could involve the study of ecumenical history and documents resulting from the ongoing bilateral and multilateral dialogues. In addition, ecumenical gatherings and organizations, particularly of scholars, can provide a useful climate for it. Exchange visits among seminary students in the course of their training may also help this process of deepening the appreciation of other traditions as well as their own.

An expression of ecumenical spirituality

15. It follows from the ecumenical imperative that the process of formation in ecumenism has to be undergirded by, and should indeed be an expression of, ecumenical spirituality.

It is spiritual in the sense that it should be open to the prayer of Jesus for unity and to the promptings of the Holy Spirit who reconciles and binds all Christians together.

It is spiritual in yet another sense of leading to repentance for the past disobedience to the ecumenical imperative, which disobedience was manifested as contentiousness and hostility among Christians at every level. Having ecumenical spirituality in common prayer and other forms as the underpinning of ecumenical formation invites all to conversion and change of heart which is the very soul of the work for restoring unity.

Furthermore, it is spiritual in the sense of seeking a renewed life-style which is characterized by sacrificial love, compassion, patience with one another and tolerance. The search for such life-style may include exposing students to the spiritual texts, prayers and songs of other churches with the goal and hope that such familiarity will contribute towards effecting change of heart and attitude towards others, which itself is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Such efforts will help deepen mutual trust, making it possible to learn together the positive aspects of each other's tradition, and thus live constructively with the awareness of the reality and pain of divisions.

16. Ecumenical formation is part of the process of building community in the one household of God which must be built on trust, centred on Jesus Christ the Lord and Saviour. This demands a spirituality of trust which, among other things, helps to overcome the fear to be exposed to different traditions, for the sake of Christ.

III. Ecumenical formation: how to realize it?

Pedagogy built on communion

17. The renewed emphasis on understanding the Church as communion, like the image of the Church as the body of Christ, implies differentiation within the one body, which has nevertheless been created for unity. Thus the very dynamic of ecumenism is relational in character. We respond in faith and hope to God who relates to us first. God relates to us in love, commanding us to love one another (Mark 12:29-31). This response ought to be "wholehearted". Therefore, in order to help Christians to respond wholeheartedly to the ecumenical imperative, we must seek ways to relate the prayer of Jesus (John 17:20-24) to all our hearts and minds, to the affective as well as to the cognitive dimensions in them. Christians must be helped to understand that to love Jesus necessarily means to love everything Jesus prayed, lived, died and was raised for, namely "to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad" (John 11:52), the unity of his disciples as an effective sign of the unity of all peoples.

18. The koinonia or communion as the basic understanding of the Church demands attempting to develop common ecumenical perspectives on ecclesiology. Unity is not uniformity but a communion of rich diversity. Therefore, it is necessary to explore with others the limits of legitimate diversity. In this regard special cognizance must also be taken of the religious and socio-cultural context in which the process of ecumenical formation takes place. Where there is a predominant majority church, ecumenical sensitivity is all the more required.

Going out to each and every one

19. The effectiveness of Christian unity in the midst of a broken world ultimately depends on the work of God's Spirit who wishes each one of us to participate. God speaks to us today the words which were addressed to Adam and Eve, "where are you?" (Gen. 3:9) as also the words to Cain, "where is your brother...?" (Gen. 4:9). All Christians should become aware, and make each other aware, of who and where their sisters and brothers are and where they stand in regard to them, whether near or far (Eph. 2:17). They should be helped to go out to meet them, to get involved with them. Involvement and participation in the whole ecumenical formation process is crucial.

20. In a Christian response to God and the ecumenical imperative which comes from God, there is no such thing as "the few for the many". The response to the prayer of Jesus must be the response of each and every one. Therefore, the growth into an ecumenical mind and heart is essential for each and for all, and the introduction of, and care for, ecumenical formation are absolutely necessary at every level of the church community, church life, action and activities; at all educational levels (schools, colleges, universities; theological schools, seminaries, religious, monastic communities, pastoral and lay formation centres; Sunday liturgies, homilies and catechesis).

Commitment to learning in community

21. While ecumenical formation must be an essential feature in every curriculum in theological training, care must be taken that it does not become something intended for individuals only. There must be commitment of learning in community. This has several components: (a) learning about, from and with others of different traditions; (b) praying for Christian unity, and wherever and whenever possible, together, as well as praying for one another; (c) offering common Christian witness by acting together; and (d) struggling together with the pain of our divisions. In this regard the participation of different institutions for theological education in common programmes of formation is to be encouraged. Working ecumenically in joint projects becomes another important aspect of ecumenical formation. The reason for such joint action must always be related to the search for Christian unity.

22. Seeking a renewed commitment for ecumenical formation does not imply to gloss over existing differences and to deny the specific profiles of our respective ecclesial traditions. But it may involve a common rereading of our histories and especially of those events that led to divisions among Christians. It is not enough to regret that our histories have been tainted through the polemics of the past; ecumenical formation must endeavour to eliminate polemic and to further mutual understanding, reconciliation and the healing of memories. No longer shall we be strangers to one another but members of the one household of God (Eph. 2:19).

Open to other religions

23. In this world, people are also divided along religious lines. Thus ecumenical formation must also address the matter of religious plurality and secularism, and inform about inter-religious dialogue which aims at deeper mutual understanding in the search for world community. It must be clear however that interreligious dialogue -- with other world religions such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. -- has goals that are specifically different from the goals of ecumenical dialogue among Christians. In giving serious attention to this important activity, Christians must carefully distinguish it from ecumenical dialogue.

24. That spirit of tolerance and dialogue must get to the pews and market places where people feel the strains of the different heritages which encounter each other. The faith that God is the Creator and Sustainer of all also requires Christians to do everything in their power to promote the cause of freedom, human rights, justice and peace everywhere, and thus actively to contribute to a renewed movement towards human solidarity in obedience to God's will.

Using the instruments of communication

25. In today's search for unity there is a relatively new factor which must be taken seriously -- the scientific technological advances, particularly the communications revolution. The world has become a global village in which peoples, cultures and religions, and Christian denominations which were once far off, are now next door one to another. The sense of the "other" is being pressed on us and we need to relate to one another for mutual survival and peace. Thus the possibilities of mass communication can be an asset for communicating the ecumenical spirit.

The media can be an extremely important resource for ecumenical formation, and the many possibilities which they offer to promote the ecumenical formation process should be made use of. However, the world of the media has its own logic and values; it is not an unambivalent resource. Critical caution must, therefore, be exercised in availing ourselves of the media for the ecumenical task.

Conclusion: ecumenical formation and common witness

26. Ecumenism is not an option for the churches. In obedience to Christ and for the sake of the world the churches are called to be an effective sign of God's presence and compassion before all the nations. For the churches to come divided to a broken world is to undermine their credibility when they claim to have a ministry of universal unity and reconciliation. The ecumenical imperative must be heard and responded to everywhere. This response necessarily requires ecumenical formation which will help the people of God to render a common witness to all humankind by pointing to the vision of the new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:1).