A large part of this year’s meeting focussed on ecumenical matters and bilateral agreements with other churches.
At the beginning of the conference Archbishop Vercammen brought the greetings of the Bishop of Haarlem, Bert Wirix, who was critically ill. The Bishops’ Conference remembered him in its prayers and sent flowers to their fellow bishop. Bishop Wirix died the day after the end of the conference at home in Haarlem.
A redistribution of the portfolios of individual bishops took place. As of 1st January 2008, Bishop Müller (CH) takes on pastoral responsibility for the Old Catholic parishes in Italy. He is also responsible for parishes in France and for contact with the Old Catholic aid agencies.
Bishop Vobbe (D) has become the representative of the Union of Utrecht to the Anglican Communion, likewise from 1st January 2008.
Bishop Heitz is to remain delegate of the Bishops’ Conference for Croatia and Bosnia for a further two years, despite now being retired. The oversight of parishes in Scandanavia has not yet been decided.
Intensive work took place on producing an ecumenical directory. The aim of the directory is to establish guidelines for the dialogue with other churches. It will help clarify the theological questions where there is leeway and define those areas which are non-negotiable. It became clear that the latter would include the Old Catholic understanding of ministry and ecclesiology.
It was decided to pursue the idea of a forum of bishops of synodical-catholic churches. It is planned to hold an initial meeting between representatives of interested churches at this year’s Lambeth Conference with a view to developing things further. Furthermore it is planned to hold an international conference to address the matter of synodical-catholic church structures. This interesting initiative has already attracted the close attention of the Department on Faith and Order of the WCC.
The Roman Catholic – Old Catholic Dialogue Commission is working on an extensive final paper but its work is not yet complete.
Initial talks have begun with Polish Mariavites, who are interested in readmission to the Union of Utrecht. There are, however, a number of theological and structural questions which need to be addressed. Amongst other issues, it is clear for the Bishops’ Conference that there must be willingness for the Mariavites and the Polish Catholic Church to grow together, as the latter is already a member of the Union of Utrecht. A divergence from the ecclesiological principle of a single Old Catholic Church in the same territory would be unacceptable. At the present time there are no moves to bring about the short-term merger of the two churches but rather to prepare the way for a common future. With this in mind it was agreed to continue with the talks.
The Bishops’ Conference agreed that the Porvoo document be used as the basis for the continuing dialogue with the Church of Sweden. At the same time the IBC made Bishop Okoro (A) the new Co-president of the Commission. He succeeds Bishop Wirix (NL) in this task.
Since 2005 the Bishops’ Conference has sought, together with the Episcopal Church, to encourage groups within the USA who call themselves Old Catholic and who could be taken seriously as a movement to work together. However, it must now be accepted that these attempts have failed as mergers have broken up again and new splinter groups have formed. The Bishops’ Conference has therefore decided to pull out completely from this area and will, in future, refer any requests to join the Union of Utrecht from so-called Old Catholic movements in North America to the Episcopal Church.
A number of reports from the European Assembly in Sibu were submitted. These and the results of the assembly were extensively discussed. What emerged was a strong sense of disappointment. The assembly failed to draw on the work of the intensive preparatory stage and not enough time was given at the assembly to involve the participants. The question was raised as to the purpose of such gatherings. The Bishops’ Conference expressed its hope that the recommendations of the assembly would at be given priority in others forums and in the churches.
The next meeting of the International Bishops’ Conference is to take place in February 2009.
Amersfoort und Berne March 2008
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