Cardinal asks dialogue partners if an ecumenical catechism might work
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — A Vatican official has floated the idea of a shared “ecumenical catechism” as one of the potential fruits of 40 years of dialogue among Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and members of the Reformed churches.
“We have affirmed our common foundation in Jesus Christ and the Holy Trinity as expressed in our common creed and in the doctrine of the first ecumenical councils,” Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, told representatives of the churches.
Opening a three-day symposium at the Vatican to brainstorm on the future of ecumenism, Cardinal Kasper said it is essential “to keep alive the memory of our achievements” in dialogue, educate the faithful about how much has been accomplished and prepare a new generation to carry on the work.
He said the members of his council “proposed an ecumenical catechism that would be written in consultation with our partners,” but “we do not yet have any idea how such a catechism could be structured and written.”
One thing for sure, he said, is that there is a need for “an ecumenism of basics that identifies, reinforces and deepens the common foundation” of faith in Christ and belief in the tenets of the creed. The churches may hold those positions officially, but if their members do not hold firmly to the basics of Christian faith, the dialogue cannot move forward, the cardinal said.
Cardinal Kasper, a theologian who will be 77 in March and has led the council for nine years, also said that ecumenical dialogue “is perhaps in danger of becoming a matter for specialists and thus of moving away from the grassroots.”
He called for “a people-centered ecumenism” that would support and give new energy to the theological dialogues.
The symposium was a follow-up to the publication in October of “Harvesting the Fruits,” a book complied by Cardinal Kasper and his staff summarizing the results of 40 years of official Catholic dialogue with the Anglican Communion, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Methodist Council and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.
As for questions that still must be tackled in order for Christians to reach full unity and be able to share the Eucharist, the cardinal identified two basic areas: a common understanding of the church and its structure; and a common approach to applying the Gospel to modern social and moral concerns without falling into relativism.
Ethical issues, such as homosexuality and women’s equality, not only divide churches, he said, they raise more fundamental questions for modern and post-modern society, such as, “What is man, and what does it mean to be a man or woman in God’s plan?”
In the area of church structure and ministry, he said, the dialogues have seen progress toward a common agreement on the sacramental nature of ordination and on apostolic succession in the ministry of bishops, and have taken initial steps toward discussing the primacy of the bishop of Rome, the pope.
But on a more basic level, the dialogues must get into “not only what is the church, but where is the church? Has God given his church a specific structure or has he left the church to find its own structure, in such a way that a pluralism of structures is possible?” Cardinal Kasper asked.
The cardinal said the Vatican needs to better explain to its dialogue partners the Catholic conviction that “the Catholic Church is the church of Christ and that the Catholic Church is the true church,” even while “there exist many and important elements of the church of Christ outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church.”
The Catholic Church does believe “there are deficits in the other churches,” he said. “Yet on another level there are deficits, or rather wounds stemming from division and wounds deriving from sin, also in the Catholic Church.”
Ecumenical dialogue is the place where all Christians “learn to grow and mature in their faithfulness to Christ,” he said, and as each moves closer to Christ, they naturally will move closer to each other.