Reflections on the “compatibility” of ecumenical relations to date and on bilateral dialogues in the service of unity
At its annual meeting in Prague, the Czech Republic, in June 2015, the International Old Catholic Bishops’ Conference (IBC) decided in favour of a relationship of communion with the Church of Sweden.
The members of the IBC also discussed the overall view of current ecumenical relations and bilateral dialogues. This topic was covered in greater depth at a meeting in Amersfoort, the Netherlands, in August 2015, to which all Old Catholic members of the various dialogue commissions were invited. The discussions covered the question of how to set priorities taking into account theological, ecclesio-political and financial aspects, and the current ecumenical role of the Union of Utrecht. At the end of the meeting, a wish was expressed to hold such exchanges regularly in the future.
The following basic considerations are particularly important to the IBC:
- In view of the Early Church’s model of unity and structure, the Union of Utrecht stands closest, from an ecclesiological perspective, to the Orthodox Churches and the Anglican Communion. Full communion between the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht and the worldwide Anglican Communion was achieved as early as 1931, although the question of overlapping jurisdictions, which was initially left aside, has not yet been resolved. The global dialogue with the Orthodox Churches that concluded in 1987 has not yet led to full communion because the Orthodox Churches raised concerns about the existing Old Catholic communion with the Anglicans and the ordination of women by both Anglican and Old Catholic Churches. However, in the current phase of the global Orthodox–Anglican dialogue, these do not appear to be questions of faith. A three-way clarification would therefore be useful.
- With the rise of globalisation, the Union of Utrecht has established relations with other autonomous Catholic Churches. Following agreements to enter into a relationship of full communion with the Philippine Independent Church in 1965 and the Church of Sweden in 2015, attention is now turning to the Mar Thoma Church in India (Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church). The IBC is expected to decide on full communion with the Mar Thoma Church at its regular meeting in 2016, assuming the process of reception in each Church has been completed by then.
- The global dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church and the local dialogue between the Old Catholic Church of Germany and the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (VELKD) are on a different level.
- The aim for the coming years is not to begin additional dialogues, but to deepen the existing ecumenical relationships and dialogues, taking three aspects into account:
- To what extent do the outcomes to date correspond in substance? Which amendments to the various relationships and texts call for a joint statement by all of those involved? For example, are the first three Ecumenical Councils constitutive for a “common church”? Or the first four, or the first seven?
- In theory, two Churches that are in full communion and that are both active in the same territory as a result of migration should draw “structural consequences”. To what extent are they really willing to do so? To what extent would this be useful taking cultural aspects into account? To what extent would it even be possible in the light of the consensus texts produced to date?
- To what extent do new ethical issues, such as approaches to homosexuality and the significance of marriage and family, call into question the existing agreements?
The members of the IBC firmly believe that these reflections and their outcomes are of great relevance to other dialogues and ecumenical relations.
Bern and Utrecht, October 2015