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

The Methodist side of the Commission says Catholics should bringlay people more formally into decision-making bodies, includingthose that have "authoritative discernment and teaching" roles.This should allow them to share responsibility with bishops, "whonevertheless retain their special ministry of authoritativeteaching".

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

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

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

"One of the most remarkable things I think has happened duringthe present pontificate, is how many people - Christians of alldenominations and people outside the Church - have come to see inPope John Paul II a witness and a spokesman simply for theChristian faith. That is something of a grassroots phenomenon. Thishas happened through popular recognition and maybe we theologiansare having to catch up a bit."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Furtherinformation on the World Methodist Conference