This year’s meeting of the International Old Catholic Bishops’ Conference took place at the inspiring Benedictine abbey of Melk, Austria. Following the conference, the Old Catholic bishops once again met the Anglican bishops who are responsible for the diocese of mainland Europe for their annual exchange of ideas.
The term of office of the Anglican–Old Catholic International Co-ordinating Council (AOCICC) expired in December 2011. This working group comprises members from the Old Catholic Churches and the Anglican Communion, supported by the bishops in its efforts to strengthen the communion between the two church families. The IBC is in favour of granting a further term of office with the primary aim of continuing to examine the type and the significance of this communion. Each Church’s knowledge of the other should also be improved. This will first mean examining the consistency of ecumenical agreements and dialogues of the Churches of the Anglican Communion and the Union of Utrecht.
The Orthodox–Old Catholic Working Group will continue to discuss social and societal issues in Europe from the viewpoint of Old Catholic and Orthodox theology. It is planning a conference for theologians in the spring of 2013.
A concluding statement of the commission for dialogue with the Church of Sweden is expected to be issued in the autumn. Internal church committees will then have the opportunity to review the text.
Not all questions in the dialogue with the Mariavite Church have yet been resolved. The IBC has decided to continue this dialogue, but also emphasises that the Mariavites need to work on fulfilling the conditions for acceptance to the Union of Utrecht.
Talks will also be continued with the Mar Thoma Church as a predialogue in the next two years. The main topics will be Christology, the understanding of church offices, diverging views on ethical issues, the links between scripture and tradition, and the understanding of the binding nature of the ecumenical councils of the early church.
A new round of international dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church is due to begin in late 2012. It will aim to examine those areas in more depth which were touched on only briefly in the first stage.
The IBC also reported on the preparations for the next International Old Catholic Congress, due to take place in the Netherlands in 2014. The congress will include a commemoration of the 125th anniversary of the Union of Utrecht’s foundation. A preliminary consultation on the main theme will be held in the coming autumn. The congress will also include a program of events for young people. Further progress will be reported.
The main topic addressed by the IBC was the Permanent Diaconate. In particular, the IBC discussed the question of which responsibilities permanent deacons can and may assume in view of our understanding of the offices and sacraments, and to whom they should report. Agreement was clear that permanent deacons should be assigned to the bishop, not to a priest. The discussion was complicated by the discovery that permanent deacons are not equally established in all Old Catholic Churches, and that their training and responsibilities vary widely. It was found that further internal work is needed in relation to theological questions.
In addition, decisions were made on financial matters and on the relocation of priests within the various Old Catholic Churches.
The next meeting of the IBC will be held in Germany in March 2013.
Bern/Amersfoort, July 2012 Maja Weyermann
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