The conciliar decree on ecumenism, 40 years later

Source: FSSPX News


“The last plenary session of the Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity of 2003 suggested the preparation of a vademecum of spiritual ecumenism. A preliminary version will be presented and discussed by the congress, in order to get suggestions and feedback. We hope that after being fleshed out the vademecum can be published as soon as possible”, cardinal Kasper announced.

This congress will take place from November 11 to 13, at the center for congress and spirituality Mondo Migliore, at Rocca di Papa southwest of Rome, on the theme: “The Vatican II decree on ecumenism, forty years later: retrospectives and enduring significance, development and the current situation, future perspective”. The congress will come to a close on November 13 with the celebration of Vespers, presided by John-Paul II in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The congress will bring together the presidents of ecumenical commissions of the episcopal conferences of the world, delegates of the churches and ecclesial communities with which the Catholic Church is dialoguing, as well as co-presidents of the international mixed commissions charged with dialog on different levels, consultants of the organizing dicastery and representatives of other dicasteries of the Roman curia and of the pontifical universities.

Cardinal Kasper recalled during his address that the promotion of unity “is not something secondary, is not just an appendix of the mission and pastoral practice of the Church”, and the pope himself has made of it one of the “priorities” of his pontificate, as he indicated in his encyclical “Ut Unum Sint” in 1995. The cardinal also recalled that the pope affirmed in this document that the path opened by Unitatis Redintegratio was “irreversible” and that the orientations of this decree had an “enduring validity”.

Cardinal Kasper emphasized, “one of the roots of ecumenism is the consciousness that the division of Christians is one of the most serious obstacles to evangelization, to which we are all called. We can not work for peace on earth if at the same time we are not working for unity and peace among us who are Christians. These considerations are at the heart of the ecumenical thrust which began 40 years ago.”

A film has been prepared by the Television Center of the Vatican, to recall the significant points along the ecumenical path over the last forty years: from the meeting between Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras to the signing of the joint declaration between Catholics and Lutherans on the doctrine of justification at Augsburg, in October 1999 and the return of the icon of the Mother of God of Kazan in Moscow last August. So many events “unimaginable before the council”, Cardinal Kasper emphasized.

He added: “According to the encyclical Ut Unum Sint, the principal fruit of these forty years of ecumenism is the rediscovered fraternity”. The cardinal recognized however that there are “problems and disappointments”, and the goal, “full and visible communion”, has not yet been attained, certain prejudices persist, we may deplore the cowardice and also the fact that ecumenism suffers “at times from a superficial activism”.

Two challenges have appeared of late, Cardinal Kasper indicated: “on the one hand a certain relativism and pluralism (…) which no longer searches for truth and on the other an aggressive fundamentalism exercised by old and new sects, and with which it is not possible to establish, in most cases, a dialog marked by respect. In certain ecclesial communities, one notices a kind of doctrinal and above all ethical liberalism which creates new dissensions inside these communities, as also between them and the Catholic Church.”

Cardinal Kasper refused, however, to speak of an “ecumenical winter”. He preferred to speak of “a stage of maturation and of a necessary clarification”. As for the future, the cardinal underlined the complexity of the situation according to continents for example: the congress which opens tomorrow will have to help to clarify the various possibilities.

Cardinal Kasper also spoke out against the “suspicion” - a “grave suspicion” - that ecumenism can damage “Catholic identity”. He insisted: “it is not a question of modifying the deposit of faith, of changing the meaning of dogmas”, as the pope says in Ut Unum Sint. For the German prelate, “dialogue” does not mean reducing everything to the “lowest common denominator”, but a “mutual enrichment”. The pope indeed defines ecumenical dialog as “an exchange of gifts" (Ut Unum Sint, 28): “by dialog, identity is strengthened and enriched. Catholicity and ecumenism are thus two sides of the same coin”.

A second question arises, continued the president of the organizing dicastery of the congress: “the importance of spiritual ecumenism, which is the heart and soul of any ecumenism”. “The ecumenism is not a kind of ecclesiastical diplomacy; it is a spiritual process, an adventure of the Spirit”.

The same day, November 10th, Mgsr. Eleuterio Fortino, secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, granted an interview to Radio Vatican, whose most significant extracts are as follows:

“For the Roman Catholic Church, the decree on the ecumenism is the Charter of the ecumenical commitment, whence our contacts with the other Churches and the ecclesial communities. It also allowed the beginning of the preparation and the disclosure of the ecumenical spirit and action in the Catholic Church. The decree was followed by other initiatives to assure its reception and concrete application in the Church: in prayer, in relations with others on the spot, in the organization of ecumenical commissions of the synods of the Catholic Oriental Churches and the national episcopal conferences.

“This network of transmission and reflection, constituted the real road of the spreading the ecumenical spirit of the Catholic Church.

“Also, in the light of the conciliar decree the Roman Catholic Church established relations and dialog with all the Churches of East and West. Dialog is going on; today, the Catholic Church is in a relationship of confidence, dialog and discussion and of research together with all Christians throughout the world.

At the Second Vatican Council, there were observers who received a grace from God because they identified a grave problem in the Church. Their presence was an act of good will, of fraternal relations among Christians, but has been a silent presence. Today, on the other hand, the other churches are in direct dialog with the Catholic Church. By the word, they clarified problems, so as to discuss difficulties and praise the Lord together, one day, in the celebration of the Eucharist”.

The conciliar decree was “determining”, indicated Msgr. Fortino: “because the decree describes, above all, the conviction of the Catholic Church about the identity of the Catholic Church, but at the same time, it opens, by giving it a theological basis, the real relationship, founded on the one baptism, on the common adoration of the Trinity, on the profession of faith in Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior. After the theological foundation, the decree describes the exercise of ecumenism and how to apply it in practice. And it has permitted the founding of dialogs, with the Churches of the Orient and with Churches coming from the Protestant Reformation.”

As for the congress at Rocca di Papa, “it was conceived, initially as a moment of reflection on the decree Unitatis Redintegratio, on its role in the Catholic Church, on its role in the restoration of relations with other Christians. Due to the preparation of the conference, new possibilities of reflection came to light. Above all, the search and participation of around 300 people assures a wide influence, an extended influence, such that together we can consider not only what has been done, but what ecumenism should still be. Concretely, there will be a practical reflection on the new ways to apply more profoundly this decree on the ecumenical engagement of the Catholic Church”.

- On the problem of ecumenism, see the document addressed by Bishop Fellay to all the cardinals last January, From Ecumenism to Silent Apostasy (New from the SSPX))