Catholics and U.S. Presbyterians Move Closer

Understanding of «Church» Is Still a Key Difference

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VATICAN CITY, MAR. 29, 2001 ( Over the past year, unexpected progress was made in the ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), despite continued differences on important points.

According to a Vatican press statement, a meeting was held March 20-21 in the Vatican between a high-level delegation of the 2.7-million-member Presbyterian Church and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity. The former included the Reverend Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk of the General Assembly/Head of Communion, and the Rev. Robina Winbush, director of ecumenical and agency relations.

The primary purpose of the meeting was to study the Presbyterian response to John Paul II´s proposal in No. 95 of the encyclical «Ut Unum Sint,» which expresses his willingness to rethink the specific ways that the ministry of the Bishop of Rome is carried out, in order to ensure ecclesial communion.

The Presbyterian Church responded with a document entitled «The Successor to
Peter,» which was discussed with the Pope´s senior collaborator for ecumenical affairs, Cardinal Edward I. Cassidy, at the Presbyterian headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky, last Dec. 7-8.

The discussion has continued in Rome, with the Vatican´s representative, Cardinal Walter Kasper, successor to Cardinal Cassidy, who resigned for reasons of age.

During the Rome meeting, «various aspects of the Petrine ministry» were examined, which are proper to the Pope. At this point, the discussion centered on the widest concept of the Church of each of the two Christian confessions.

Although the representatives said that Catholics and Presbyterians are united «by faith in Jesus Christ, Son of God and Redeemer, and in the Trinity,» they acknowledged that substantial differences exist «in understanding the nature of the Church,» and the exercise of authority.

However, the representatives of both confessions said that the desire for unity is alive, encouraging them to continue in the ecumenical way, by addressing additional issues in future meetings, including:

–the possibility of Reformed participation in the ecumenical consensus on basic truths of the doctrine of justification, building on the recent Catholic-Lutheran agreement;

–the possibility of reaching, at the appropriate level, a mutual recognition of the sacrament of baptism;

–and the continuing joint study of the events in the 16th and 17th centuries, which led to the divisions.

The Presbyterian delegation´s visit to Rome culminated in a meeting March 22 with John Paul II. The Holy Father encouraged Catholics and Presbyterians to undergo a spiritual renewal, the indispensable «condition to be able to surmount the barriers that still divide Christians.»

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