WASHINGTON (March 26, 2003) -- A group of scholars representing over forty Protestant, Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican and Pentecostal churches met here to discuss the "Petrine Ministry" and its role in promoting unity among Christians. At the invitation of Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Holy See's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the scholars have been developing a text to explore how the office of the pope might better serve Christian unity.
The meeting was held at The Catholic University of America, March 13-15.
The effort originated from a study done by the Holy See of the responses to the Pope's invitation in his 1995 Encyclical Ut Unum Sint, to theologians and church leaders of other Christian churches to enter with him into "a patient and fraternal dialogue" on how the exercise of the papacy might develop, without sacrificing the claims of the Catholic Church, to better serve the unity of the churches. As a result of this invitation, the Pontifical Council had accumulated the many responses of scholars and churches and synthesized them into a report by 2001. The Faith and Order Commission of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA was among the churches and ecumenical agencies to submit an initial response. The initial response, and this more developed 2003 text, are important contributions for several reasons.
The US Faith and Order Commission is the most confessionally diverse ecumenical dialogue in the country, including not only the Catholic Church, and Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant members of the National Council; it also has representatives from Pentecostal, Quaker, African American, and Peace churches, not represented in either the National Council membership or in the discussions of the World Council of Churches' Faith and Order Commission. For this reason, the response will give the Holy Father access to voices in this "patient and fraternal dialogue" that he will not hear from any other source, not even from the church leaders of the communities from which these scholars come. Likewise, the response has enabled these scholars to be in dialogue about the universal character of the Church, its ordering of ministry and primacy, as well as the nature of authority in the Church. This careful, theological discussion should benefit not only the Catholic Church and its ecumenical hopes, but all the members of this important US dialogue.
In addition to the text in response to Ut Unum Sint, the other studies continued their work. A study on Full Communion hopes to produce a text summarizing how this expression is used theologically in different churches as they pursue the goal of visible unity, and what other expressions are used by churches that do not normally use Koinonia as a category in their understanding of Christian unity.
Two studies on authority also continued. The study group that produced the draft response on Ut Unum Sint for the whole Commission continued its research on Authority in the Church, with hopes of producing a text before the end of 2003. The final study, The Authority of the Church in the World, continued to discuss the sources of the authority of the Church and its application in witness to the world, as these affect the divisions among churches and their pilgrimage toward visible unity.
In addition to the studies, there was also a celebration at the Catholic University, honoring the twenty two years of service to the Commission of Father John Ford, CSC, of the Catholic University faculty.
The purpose of the Faith and Order Commission is to "To call the churches to the goal of visible unity in one faith and in one eucharistic fellowship expressed in worship and common life in Christ, and to advance toward that unity that the world may believe." The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has been a member of the US Commission since 1969 and appoints five scholars to represent the Catholic Church on the Commission. The Holy See participates in the World Council of Churches' Commission as well.