Anna Arco's Diary

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See how they love one another…

 Cardinal Walter Kasper — the gap-toothed Swabian official in charge of the Vatican’s ecumenical department (or Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity as it is known for short)—has launched a book celebrating 40 years of Catholic-Protestant dialogue this week.

Even the people who worked on the book were “positively surprised at how much has been accomplished in these years. It is a very rich harvest that overcomes the polemics and the great historical problems of the Reformation”, the cardinal said.

He said that although there had been great progress, there were some “even among some members of the curia” who held a less than positive view of ecumenism. They believe, he said, that ecumenism “has not borne any fruit and left us with our hands empty.”

Harvesting the Fruits: Basic Aspects of Christian Faith in Ecumenical Dialogue comes at an interesting time for ecumenical dialogue in Cardinal Kasper’s native Germany, where ecumenical relations have, until the last week, been on the rocks.

In the last couple of months the fruitful conversation between Catholics and Protestants in this country had fallen silent, ten years after the momentous signature of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.

At the heart of this taciturnity was a paper on the state of ecumenical relations between Protestants and Catholics. Produced for the Protestant EKD (Evangelische Kirche Deutschland) and subsequently leaked to the German press, the document was written for a conference in July but not published in full until recently.

The report (German) set out to look at three points and was less than complimentary. 1) Where does ecumenical dialogue stand? 2) “An awareness of irritations which are emanating from Rome” 3) What could these mean for the standing of ecumenical dialogue between the two Churches before the Ecumenical Church Days 2010. The “irritations” listed included the publication of Dominus Jesus in 2000 with its “famous-infamous description of the churches of the reformation which are not churches in an actual sense” which caused consternation and confusion as well as general criticism towards Pope Benedict. The report mentioned the Pope’s by now infamous address in Regensburg, the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum and of course, lifting the excommuncations hanging over the Lefebvrist bishops in January this year, among the problems they perceived to be coming from Rome.

It also listed the clerical child abuse scandals, lack of vocations and declining church membership as well as a defensive approach to Pentecostal Christianity in Latin America among further obstacles in ecumenical dialogue. It effectively accused the Vatican either of being incompetent in matters diplomatic or of having a strategy and intention which sets out to reverse the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

Turning their eyes towards German ecumenism, the drafters of the report became more specific in their criticism. They viewed the appointment of Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg to follow Cardinal Karl Lehman as the head of the German bishops conference with scepticism. He was marked as a “controversial and therefore weakened candidate” from whom a “leading and marking force does not emanate”.

The paper concluded that the Catholic Church was in the middle of an internal wrestling match between modernisers and traditionalists—those who wanted to accept the Second Vatican Council and those who did not. This would affect the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Protestant Church in Germany.

“Like a wounded boxer, the Catholic Church will sway between open gestures and rough delineation of boundaries, between ecumenical invitations and profile making delineation.”

Unsurprisingly perhaps, the document did not go down all too well with the German Catholic bishops and they cancelled—at least temporarily—meetings which had been planned between the two delegations.

Since the bust-up, there have been tentative steps made towards re-establishing normality. On Wednesday a Catholic and Lutheran delegation met to produce a paper entitled “An open and constructive conversation”.

The head of the Protestant delegation apologised for the hurt the paper had given.

And Cardinal Kasper spoke about the fracas at the launch, calling the paper “ignorant and arrogant”, because it left out important developments in the ecumenical dialogue. He also announced an ecumenical conference which is to take place in the Vatican in February.

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