30 July 2001

Vatican official in heartfelt plea for unity with Methodists and other Christians

The Methodist side of the Commission says Catholics should 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".

In contrast, the Catholic side of the talks wants the Methodist Church to more clearly distinguish the role of ordained ministers, especially bishops and superintendents, from lay members in the running of Methodist Conferences. This is particularly the case "where authoritative discernment and teaching are concerned".

Rev Professor Geoffrey Wainwright, Methodist co-chair of the talks, said that despite the differences, there remained substantial areas of agreement. "For 90 per cent of the Gospel, there is no reason why we could not preach it together," he said.

"It is when you get to those somewhat trickier points, such as what happens when the name of the Blessed Virgin is invoked, or when the Pope is recognised by Roman Catholics to speak with a certain kind of authority that nobody else is recognised to have. That is when we start to have to face these things. And even on matters like that we are not totally different.

"One of the most remarkable things I think has happened during the present pontificate, is how many people - Christians of all denominations and people outside the Church - have come to see in Pope John Paul II a witness and a spokesman simply for the Christian faith. That is something of a grassroots phenomenon. This has happened through popular recognition and maybe we theologians are having to catch up a bit."

In his address to delegates at the conference, Cardinal Cassidy said there was a great need for churches to work together. He said: "We sometimes look back in disgust at the moral situation in the Roman Empire before its fall. Have we not erected idols of our own: our sport and pop stars, pleasure and material goods? Are there any limits to sexual behaviour? Is life any longer sacred? What has become of the innate dignity of every human being, formed in the likeness of the Creator?"

He added: "Perhaps for the first time in the history of evangelisation we are confronted on a wide scale with a multitude of persons who do not see the need for salvation."

He said only together could churches make an impact in challenging the "increasingly secularised and pagan" society in which many people have "lost their sense of sin."

In a heartfelt plea, he said: "Is there any reason why we Christians cannot proclaim this saving name together to the world? Is there any insurmountable barrier to developing and giving witness together to the presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst? Is there any barrier to our making known to those in need - the poor, the sick, the suffering, the hungry, the lonely, the depressed - the loving face of Jesus Christ?

"How much more effective would our proclamation be if we could be seen as truly reconciled one to the other, truly brothers and sisters united in the love of Christ!"

The report of the Joint Commission is the seventh to be published in 30 years of talks. The World Methodist Council and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity have agreed that talks will continue for a further five years. They are expected to focus on the sacramental character of ordination and "what it is about ordination that confers authority". Differences are likely to focus on the view that, for Catholics, this authority is exclusive to those who are ordained.

The 18th World Methodist Conference meets from Thursday 26 July to Tuesday 31 July in  Brighton, England

Further information on the World Methodist Conference

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