The International Old Catholic Bishops’ Conference met in Vienna, Austria, from 18 to 22 June 2017.
A significant part of the meeting was dedicated to planning for the next International Old Catholic Congress, which takes in Vienna from 20 to 23 September 2018. The current cost estimate is around €150 to €160 per ticket, plus accommodation. Research into low-cost accommodation is under way, and some financial support will be available from the member churches. This also applies to the Youth Congress, which will be held at a youth hostel. Older Youth Congress participants will also be able to attend workshops at the main congress.
The main theme of the IBC meeting was a theological reflection on the blessing of partnerships, with presentations by Professor Urs von Arx (Switzerland) and Dr. Mattijs Ploeger (the Netherlands). In his remarks, Professor von Arx focused on the theological assessment of partnerships from a Biblical/Early Church perspective. Although he maintains that the question of the sacramental nature of marriage and same-sex partnerships is of secondary importance, he also outlined the impact of a decision in this matter in discussions among the member churches of the Union of Utrecht and in their dialogues with other churches.
Dr. Ploeger approached the subject by breaking it down into four focus areas that could form the basis of a dialogue process. He remarked that homosexuality is part of reality, not only in the world, but also in the Church, and that acceptance is found in all Old Catholic churches. The next step would be to reflect on the sacramentality of the blessing of same-sex partnerships, a matter that touches on the fundamental question of the sacraments. During the meeting it became clear that the complexity of the subject calls for further in-depth reflection and discussion. The next opportunity for this will be at the coming International Old Catholic Theologians’ Conference in autumn 2017. The bishops will then discuss the findings and insights.
Attending the IBC meeting for the first time was the new bishop of the Old Catholic Church in the Czech Republic, Dr. Pavel Benedikt Stránský, who was welcomed warmly.
Also on the agenda were financial reporting, reports from the various churches, and updates from ecumenical bodies and dialogues.
The second term of dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church will be completed in the first week of July. It will be marked by an extended publication of the “Kirche und Kirchengemeinschaft” report (Church and Communion, 2009) complemented by additional articles on the Marian dogmas of 1854 and 1959, the relationship between the local and the universal church, binding doctrines, infallibility, and Eucharistic and ecclesial communion. One article, produced solely by Old Catholics, examines the issue of the ordination of women to the priesthood.
Bishop Harald Rein and Bishop Matthias Ring were unanimously re-elected secretary and treasurer of the IBC, respectively.
Planning is under way for celebrations to mark the recently established full communion between the Union of Utrecht and the Church of Sweden. The Archbishop of Uppsala, the Most Revd. Antje Jackelén, and guests from the Anglican Communion, are expected to attend the celebrations in Utrecht from 19 to 21 January 2018.
The IBC meeting was interrupted for one day for a meeting with the bishops of the Anglican Communion with jurisdiction on the European continent. Their agenda included safeguarding matters and potential consequences of Brexit for Anglican congregations in Europe.
The next regular meeting of the IBC takes place before the International Old Catholic Congress in Vienna from 17 to 20 September 2018.
Amersfoort/Bern, June 2017
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