World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Release
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8 December 1998

WCC Eighth Assembly - Press Release No. 21

There are still many questions to be answered and details to be settled, but a Roman Catholic observer to the World Council of Churches Eighth Assembly said Tuesday (8 December) that it was not out of the question that his Church would one day join the WCC.

In response to a press conference question from the London "Daily Telegraph', the Rev. Thomas Stransky took journalists on a brief historical tour of Roman Catholic relations with the WCC, beginning with a Vatican decision in 1972 not to seek membership of the Council "in the immediate future".

At the time, Stransky said, half of all Christians were Roman Catholic and there were discussions whether the Church would join the Council as "a huge Vatican delegation, which I think would be counterproductive", or through its regional or national levels. In addition, Stransky admitted, "many smaller (Protestant) churches in countries where Roman Catholics were a majority, as in Latin America or Spain, were afraid they would be smothered".

The WCC also took stands on public issues and "the Vatican, through its diplomatic corps, had a very different way of responding" to issues, Stransky said. But now the WCC may consider a "consensus" model of decision-making in a new structure, and Stransky said times may have changed.

Choosing his words carefully, he said: "Given these presuppositions, I do not rule out that in some sort of future restructuring -- how you make decisions -- it may be a little different and the same objections that caused the "nos' in the early Seventies may not have the same weight in the future." The Roman Catholic Church is already a full member of 56 national councils of churches throughout the world, Stransky added.

Other persons facing the press Tuesday were the WCC General Secretary, the Rev. Dr. Konrad Raiser, Father K.N. George of the Malankara Orthodox Church and Professor Janice Love of the United Methodist Church (USA).

A reporter asked Love to comment on a remark in Monday's plenary session in which Fr Vseolod Chaplin of the Russian Orthodox Church suggested the ordination of woman is "blasphemous".

"I have served on the Central Committee for 23 years and that speech was one of the saddest I've ever heard," Love said. "I think of the brothers and sisters who have represented that great church before and they must be very sad, too. Some churches ordain women and some do not. What I regretted about the comment was . . . its anti-ecumenical spirit." She said that she hoped the Assembly would be able to discuss areas of disagreement "with dignity and grace".

Raiser said that he agreed "fully" with Love and cited a recent book by Orthodox scholars that concludes "there are no essential theological or ecclesiological reasons" that would prevent the ordination of women. "I do not think the discussion is closed."

Raiser declined to comment on a question from a Dutch reporter who said Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe had told him earlier that "it is the task of the Church to purify homosexuals of this nature." Said Raiser: "President Mugabe in his own country can say what he deems it is necessary to say."

Raiser also said he had not witnessed a reported incident prior to the President's arrival at the Assembly plenary session in which police and WCC staff allegedly prevented a small demonstration from being seen by Mugabe. Asked by a London Times reporter if the incident meant the WCC was backing away from its commitment to openness, Raiser cited the Padare sessions now under way in which groups with vastly differing viewpoints are being heard.

"The very fact that the WCC has opened its Assembly as it has, (and) has opened its doors very wide to convictions being expressed, should be ample evidence the WCC has not given up on its convictions," he said.

Contact: John Newbury, WCC Press & Information Officer
Press and Information Office, Harare
Tel: +
E-Mail: WCC media

The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 339, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the Assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.