25 July 2001

Catholics and Methodists discuss differing understanding of authority

Important differences remain between Methodists and Roman Catholics on the role that lay people can play in decision-making and preaching in their two Churches.

Methodists are calling upon Catholics to bring lay people more formally into decision-making bodies, including those that have 'authoritative discernment and teaching' roles. This should allow them to share responsibility with bishops, "who nevertheless retain their special ministry of authoritative teaching".

Catholics, in return, want the Methodist Church to more formally distinguish the role of ordained ministers, especially bishops and superintendents, in the running of Methodist Conferences. This is particularly the case "where authoritative discernment and teaching are concerned".

These differences have emerged in a report by representatives of the two Churches, discussed by the World Methodist Council today.

The Council, meeting in Brighton, welcomed this latest report on international talks between the Methodist and Roman Catholic Churches on what each Church understands as its teaching authority. It recognises that there are still significant differences between the two denominations, but is also positive about the common ground that has emerged between Catholics and Methodists in recent decades.

"A significant point of divergence is the idea of a guaranteed or 'covenanted' means of grace, and the grounding this gives to the Roman Catholic understanding of the teaching authority of the college of bishops united with the Pope. Methodists wonder whether a doctrine of guaranteed indefectibility of teaching takes full account of human frailty and sinfulness," says the report.

It goes on to say that Methodists and Catholics are fully agreed that the teaching of the Church must always be tested against Scripture and Tradition.

"Methodists and Catholics can rejoice that the Holy Spirit uses the ministries and structures of both Churches as a means of grace to lead people into the truth of the Gospel of Christ."

The report, 'Speaking the truth in Love', is the result of talks over the past five years between Methodists and Catholics. Representatives of the Catholic Pontifical Council for Christian Unity and the World Methodist Council have taken part in the dialogue.

The World Methodist Council discussion commended ongoing talks with the Catholic Church. The report noted that topics for future discussion are expected to include further exploration of the relationship between ordination, authoritative teaching and the sure guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The World Methodist Council meets from Tuesday 24 July to Wednesday 25 July
The 18th World Methodist Conference meets from Thursday 26 July to Tuesday 31 July

Further information on the World Methodist Conference

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