Joint communiqué: Reformed-Roman Catholic international dialogue

 — Sept. 19, 200019 sept. 2000

The joint commission, appointed by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity of the Roman Catholic Church and by the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, held its annual session at Mondo Migliore in Castel Gandolfo, near Rome, Italy, from September 13 to 19, 2000. This was the third session of the third round of this international bilateral dialogue. The report of the first round, 1970-1977, was entitled The Presence of Christ in Church and World, and that of the second, 1984-1989, Towards a Common Understanding of the Church.

The present third round, building on the results of the two previous phases, has as its general theme “Church as Community of Common Witness to the Kingdom of God.” The co-chairs are the Most Rev. Anthony J Farquhar, Auxiliary Bishop of Down and Connor, Ireland (Roman Catholic) and Rev. Prof. H Russel Botman, the University of Stellenbosch, Republic of South Africa (Reformed). Monsignor Dr John Radano (Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity) and Rev. Dr Odair Pedroso Mateus (World Alliance of Reformed Churches) serve as co-secretaries.

Presentations were given by Rev. Prof. Benedict T Viviano OP (Roman Catholic, USA/Switzerland), “The Kingdom of God and the Church,” Rev. Prof Rathnakara Sadananda (Reformed), “God-language in the New Testament and Its Implications for the Understanding of the Kingdom of God,” Dom Michel Van Parys OSB (Roman Catholic, Belgium), “The Church as creatura verbi and sacramentum gratiae in Patristic Theology,” Rev. Prof William Henn OFM Cap (Roman Catholic, USA/Italy) “Systematic reflection on the Church as creatura verbi and sacramentum gratiae” and “Systematic Reflection on the Church as Sign and Instrument of the Kingdom,” Rev. Prof. Leo J. Koffeman (Reformed, The Netherlands), “Sacramentality and Instrumentality: A re-reading of Towards a Common Understanding of the Church, number 113” and Rev. Dr Peter Wyatt (Reformed, Canada), “A Reformed Perspective on Continuity and Discontinuity of the Church in History.”

Other Roman Catholic participants included: Rev. Dr Henry O’Brien (Scotland), Dr Donna Geernaert SC (Canada), and Rev. Prof. John Fuellenbach SVD (Germany/Italy). Other Reformed participants were: Rev. Prof. Alasdair IC Heron (Scotland/Germany), Rev. Dr Huang Po-Ho (Taiwan), Rev. Maria Luiza Rückert (Brazil) and Dr Heidi Hadsell (USA/Switzerland).

The meeting took place in the context of recent tensions experienced between Reformed and Catholics. These were discussed frankly by the dialogue partners in an ecumenical spirit which underlined the commitment of each continually to seek to understand the other. Although the recent Vatican Declaration, Dominus Iesus, was not addressed specifically to the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the Alliance reacted strongly to some of its contents. Catholics in turn questioned negative reactions of the Alliance even to significant ecumenical initiatives on the part of the Catholic Church. Some of the issues underlining these tensions relate to significant differences in ecclesiology between Reformed and Roman Catholics. All agree that these tensions make clear the relevance and urgency of this dialogue and both sides expressed their deep and resolute commitment to the dialogue.

On Monday September 18, the dialogue commission was received in audience by Pope John Paul II and visited the Theological Faculty of the Waldensian Church in Rome.

The dialogue commission will meet for at least two more years before completing a report of its work.

The full texts of the addresses given at the audience with Pope John Paul II follow.

The address of Dr Botman

Your Holiness,

On behalf of the Reformed members of the international dialogue between the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity I thank you for inviting us to meet with you today. We are in the middle of the third round of the dialogue, hoping to find breakthroughs for our common witness in the world. We hope to complete this round with a further joint report within the next three years.

As your Holiness is aware, in recent years certain difficulties have arisen in the ecumenical relations between our churches. These difficulties are being addressed in our joint commission. We regard it our duty and calling to remain in serious dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church, even and especially when obstacles arise. Thank you.

Rev. Prof. Russel Botman
Uniting Reformed Church of South Africa

The address of Bishop Farquhar

Holy Father,

The Dialogue between the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Catholic Church has produced statements which have given insights into how we can move forward together towards a deeper understanding of each other. At the same time there are, as our Co-chairman has mentioned, differences rooted in the fact that we have been separated for so many centuries.

We appreciate very much, Holy Father, the support you have given us by your invitation to meet you today and we know that this is an indication of your wish to see our Dialogue continue and face whatever difficulties and opportunities may lie ahead. We are truly grateful for your encouragement.

+ Anthony J. Farquhar
Auxiliary Bishop of Down and Connor

The address of Pope John Paul II

Dear Friends,

I am very pleased to have this opportunity to greet you during these days of your meeting here in Rome. You are now in the third phase of the International Dialogue between the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Catholic Church, a dialogue which began shortly after the Second Vatican Council and which has already led to significant results.

Within the ecumenical movement, theological dialogue is the proper setting for us to face together the issues over which Christians have been divided and to build together the unity to which Christ calls his disciples (cf Jn 17.21). In this dialogue we clarify our respective positions and explore the reasons for our differences. Our dialogue then becomes an examination of conscience, a call to conversion, in which both sides examine before God their responsibility to do all that they can to put behind them the conflicts of the past. At that point, the Spirit fills us with a yearning to confess together that “there is one body and one Spirit, … one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Eph 4.4-6), And we feel this as a duty, as something that must be done so that “the world may believe” (Jn 17.21). For this reason the commitment of the Catholic Church to ecumenical dialogue is irrevocable.

In this third phase, your dialogue has as its theme “Church and the Kingdom of God.” In recent history we have seen the agony caused by ideologies which have sought to displace God and his reign. How important it is, at the beginning of the new millennium, for all Christians, long separated from one another, to feel deeply challenged by the Lord’s exhortation: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand, repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1.15). May your dialogue embody the spirit of fraternal love and esteem needed to embrace these words of our Saviour.

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1.3).

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