Reflections on the Joint Working Group between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches (1965-2005)

The Ecumenical Review, October 2005 | Go to article overview

Reflections on the Joint Working Group between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches (1965-2005)


On 17-19 November 2005, 28 participants, invited by the World Council of Churches and by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, gathered at the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey, Switzerland, the site of the first Joint Working Group meeting in 1965. The purpose of the meeting was to mark the 40th anniversary of the Joint Working Group at a transitional moment in the ecumenical movement. The consultation reflected on the role and mandate of the Joint Working Group and the ways in which the Group could continue to strengthen the relationship between the World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church.

The meeting was preceded by an open dialogue on spirituality and a public celebration of the 40th anniversary at the World Council of Churches' Ecumenical Centre in Geneva. Presentations on the future of ecumenism were given by His Holiness Aram I and His Eminence Cardinal Walter Kasper, followed by an ecumenical evening prayer.

The purpose of the Joint Working Group is to enhance the relationships between the World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church. The goals of the consultation were as follows: to assess the achievements of the Joint Working Group and its impact on relations between the parent bodies, to explore the role and contribution of the Working Group to the renewal of ecumenism in the 21st century, to help the parent bodies express their common commitment to the one ecumenical movement, to re-evaluate the methodology of its work as a group, to identify ways in which the experience and findings of the Joint Working Group could better reach the local churches, and to suggest new forms of working together.

Through intense dialogue, the consultation addressed many aspects of the Joint Working group experience, seeking to offer to the next Joint Working Group reflections that might help to improve its working method and effectiveness. The consultation affirmed the Eighth Report of the Joint Working Group between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches and its recommendations. A more detailed account of the proceedings of the consultation will be found in the Minutes.

The very fact of the establishment and continued co-operation between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches for 40 years must be considered one of the significant achievements of the modern ecumenical movement. The slow but persevering establishment of a relationship in which the World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church have found in one another a trusted partner has been perhaps the most enduring achievement of the past four decades. Some examples of concrete co-operation include joint responsibility for preparing the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, full membership in the commissions on Faith and Order, Mission and Evangelism, co-operation with other World Council of Churches entities, provision for staff in areas of mission and at the Bossey Ecumenical Institute, joint study projects on topics such as baptism and theological anthropology, and providing oversight and review of institutional links between the World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church.

The decree Unitatis Redintegratio of the Second Vatican Council noted that the call to full visible Christian unity can be fulfilled only by the joint efforts of churches working together. The Joint Working Group has sought to play this role over the years, as well as that of calling the churches to recover and reaffirm the original vision and goal of the ecumenical movement. In this context, examination of the relationship between bilateral and multilateral expressions of the ecumenical movement needs to be undertaken, in order to affirm the legitimacy of both types of relations and to clarify that multilateral dialogue provides the framework within which bilateral relations grow. …

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