Vatican’s Top Ecumenist

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The Vatican’s top ecumenist offered a frank assessment of recent ecumenical progress and future prospects in a Washington talk Nov. 3.

Cardinal Kurt Koch, the Swiss-born president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said different types of divisions affect Catholic relations with the Orthodox churches and with those that were born from the Protestant Reformation, but both can be resolved with dialogue.

He also criticized the “anti-Catholic attitude” displayed by some Pentecostals and said Catholics must resist a temptation to adopt the “sometimes problematic evangelical methods” of those churches.

The cardinal spoke at The Catholic University of America before an audience of about 100 people, including Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, who serves as university chancellor. The title of his talk was “Fundamental Aspects of Ecumenism and Future Perspectives.”

Cardinal Koch said progress toward Catholic- Orthodox unity became nearly “shipwrecked by the problem” of differences over papal primacy.

Churches that arose from the Protestant Reformation, on the other hand, sometimes diverge from the Catholic Church on the handling of ethical questions, he said, mentioning homosexuality as a “fundamental problem” in particular between the Catholic and Anglican communities.

Some Anglican churches, including the Episcopal Church in the U.S., have ordained openly gay priests and bishops.

Cardinal Koch said Protestant churches have in the past generally agreed with the Catholic Church on ethical issues while disagreeing on matters of faith. “Today that has been turned on its head, and we can say that ethics divide but faith unites,” he said.

Christian unity would be advanced if all churches could “speak with one voice on the great ethical questions of our time,” the cardinal added.

He said Pentecostals make up the second largest Christian grouping in the world after Catholics and present a “serious challenge.”

Cardinal Koch also expressed regret that some Christian churches, which he did not name, insisted on conferring baptism again on new members, even if they have been baptized in another Christian church.

“Ecumenism stands or fall on mutual recognition of baptism,” he said.

In a separate interview with Catholic News Service during a visit to the headquarters of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops before the talk, Cardinal Koch said American Catholics — like other Catholics around the world — need to demonstrate greater solidarity with their fellow Christians who face persecution, especially in the Middle East and China.

Harkening back to an address he delivered in Munich in September, the cardinal said 80 percent of all those persecuted because of religion today are Christians, leading to the possibility of a new “ecumenism of martyrs” among Christians of all denominations.

“This can be a seed for the new unity,” Cardinal Koch said. “There is not enough solidarity among all the Christians of the world.”

He said that message has had a good reception among the Catholic Church’s Christian dialogue partners, who appreciate “that our church does say that martyrdom is not only the property of the Catholic Church.”

He singled out for special praise German Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazis.

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