Saint Paul University theology professor Catherine Clifford.

Ecumenism needs to get more pastoral

  • October 6, 2014

TORONTO - Fifty years on, it’s time for the ecumenical movement to take on a more pastoral mission and worry less about trying to untie the knots of history and theology, Saint Paul University theology professor Catherine Clifford told a small gathering of bishops, clergy and lay people in Toronto commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism.

Clifford and Anglican ecumenist Archdeacon Bruce Myers were the featured speakers at a prayer service marking the anniversary sponsored by the Ontario Diocesan Directors for Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs and the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario.

“We’ve lost sight of the pastoral importance of ecumenism,” Clifford said.

From interchurch marriages to dwindling communities that can’t survive in isolation, the Church’s ecumenical mission is urgent, she said.

“A perception that it (ecumenism) has been the domain of professional ecumenists” must be overcome, said Myers.

From Bible study groups to baptismal and marriage preparation, there are many practical areas where Anglican and Catholic parishes can combine forces to act more effectively, he said.

Myers pointed out that the Catholic Archdiocese of Kingston and the Anglican Diocese of Ontario share a single justice and peace commission. The Anglican Diocese of Qu’appelle and the Catholic Archiocese of Regina have signed a covenant which commits them to working together wherever they can and the Catholic and Anglican dioceses of Edmonton are considering a similar covenant. Where Catholics have poured new energy into the idea of the new evangelization, Anglicans have a similar focus on the “marks of mission.”

Whether it’s the Catholics setting up Anglican ordinariates to receive entire, dissident Anglican parishes or Anglicans ordaining openly gay bishops and blessing same-sex relationships, the Anglican-Catholic relationship has proved resilient, said Myers. 

Ecumenism is “not an end in itself but is necessary for the effective proclamation of the Gospel,” said Clifford.

That Catholics no longer expect Protestant and Orthodox Christians to somehow abandon their traditions and rejoin the Catholic Church, but seek to recognize the gifts that other Christians bring, has been the most important development since the Decree on Ecumenism — also known by its Latin title Unitatis Redintegratio — that was published in 1964, said Clifford.

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