Pope John Paul II and the Church

By Peter Hebblethwaite | Go to book overview

12
Is the pope committed to ecumenism?

( July 4, 1980) Pope John Paul II's pontificate has by now acquired a definite shape. Though, no doubt, surprises are still in store, it seems clear that it will be a pontificate in which Catholic identity is vigorously stressed, doctrinal orthodoxy is insisted upon, priests are called to order and nuns told to return to prayer and their habits. After a period of drift and confusion, order will be restored. The emphasis will fall on consolidation rather than experiment. This program has little place for ecumenism.

Yet John Paul's personal commitment to ecumenism is not in doubt. On the day after his election he pledged himself in the work of ecumenism without any hedging reservations: "We intend . . . to proceed along the way happily begun, by favoring those steps which serve to remove obstacles. Hopefully, then, thanks to common effort, we might finally arrive at full communion" (Oct. 17, 1978).

That is less jejune than it may sound. Not everyone in the Roman curia would accept that it was desirable to "proceed along the way happily begun" -- a phrase that could be taken as approval of previous discussions. John Paul appeared to be forward -- looking. He had no desire to turn back. And he has repeated this commitment to ecumenism in similar terms on many occasions. This fact keeps the Secretariat for Christian Unity in business.

But other facts are more disquieting. The first is the kind of schizophrenia that has been introduced into Catholic discourse. One set of statements is made in an ecumenical context, while quite different statements are made for internal consumption. The concept of "ministry," for example, so painfully hammered out by the Anglican/Roman Catholic International Commission, left no mark at all on the 1979 Holy Thursday "Letter to Priests." As far as the letter was concerned, the agreement might as well not have existed.

There is, then, this marked contrast between ecumenical language and internal language. It has nothing to do with sincerity or its absence; it has much to do with a lack of communication. Once again the old law of ecumenism is verified: only those personally involved in the dialogue process appear able to profit from the learning process it entails. Those not so informed remain unchanged.

-39-

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