SEI 2009: Crisis in ecumenism related to its success

 — June 25, 200925 juin 2009

SASKATOON – Christian unity has come a long way in the past 50 years, but there is still a long way to go in the face of many complex factors that are slowing progress, said Rev. Tom Ryan, CSP, director of the Paulist Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, based in Washington, D.C.

“During the past four decades, the rediscovery of our brotherhood and sisterhood in Christ, along with the result of several bilateral and multilateral dialogues, have presented an historical shift and a new situation,” he said during a keynote address June 4 at a Summer Ecumenical Institute held in Saskatoon. “There is a new situation emerging in which we can be said to be facing a crisis in the dual sense of the term: on the one hand danger, and on the other hand opportunity.”

Paradoxically, the crisis in today’s ecumenical movement is related to its success. “The closer we come to one another, the more we feel the differences that still exist,” Ryan said. “After resolving many misunderstandings and establishing a basic consensus concerning the essentials of our faith, we’ve now reached the inner core of our differences.”

Between the Catholic and the Orthodox churches, the differences centre on the role and office of the papacy. With the churches of the Reformation, they centre on the question of the apostolic succession in the episcopate.

Ecclesiology – the understanding of church – is critical to moving toward unity, he said. “In the big picture, ecclesiology is the most pressing question on the agenda,” he said.

“The problem of coming to a common understanding of what makes for a church is all the more serious when we consider that ecclesial communion is, for Catholics, the pre-supposition of eucharistic communion, and the absence of eucharistic communion carries major pastoral difficulties above all in the case of mixed couples and families.”

At the same time, Ryan cited a number of “huge and historical developments,” including joint statements, church unions, mergers and ecumenical alliances among a variety of denominations in both the United States and Canada as evidence that the ecumenical movement is far from dead.

Still, there are many factors contributing to an “ecumenical slowdown.” The decline in membership of mainline denominations and the limited time and resources of those in pastoral leadership often mean that ecumenism has been “shunted off the working priority action lists.”

Ryan pointed to the ongoing theological disagreement among Christians about how to respond to modernity. “The trip wire for this crisis turned out to be sexual morality, represented by passionate differences over chastity, marriage and homosexuality. Also at stake are issues of authority, divine revelation and our understanding of the church. These matters remain unresolved.”

Another challenge is that charismatic and pentecostal movements, which are expanding around the world, have for the most part not been part of ecumenical dialogue. “We’re going to have to rise to the challenge of moving out of what is secure and familiar for us in our own relationship with one another as mainline denominations,” he said.

Culture also creates challenges to ecumenism, including shifting cultural norms, indifference to religious truth, and an emphasis on “eclectic and individualistic” spirituality. “All of this makes for a highly complex society, where communal life at any level becomes more difficult.”

At the same time, the “classic tension between movements and institutions” is being lost,” Ryan said. Some would say that ecumenism “has been brought under control and domesticated by the churches it was designed to reform. The ecumenical movement has been institutionalized and needs to become a movement again.”

In the end, said Ryan, ecumenism “must be the result of a conversion of the hearts and minds of the people who make up the church. This must be a work of the people, by the people, for the people: for the sake of the credibility of the Gospel and the life of the world.”

Posted: June 25, 2009 • Permanent link:
Categories: DialogueIn this article: Christian unity, Saskatoon, Summer Ecumenical Institute
Transmis : 25 juin 2009 • Lien permanente :
Catégorie : DialogueDans cet article : Christian unity, Saskatoon, Summer Ecumenical Institute

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