The International Old Catholic Bishops’ Conference (IBC) met at the Maternushaus, Cologne, Germany, from 13 to 17 June 2016.
At the meeting the bishops welcomed Dr. Heinz Lederleitner, the new bishop of the Old Catholic Church in Austria, to the IBC for the first time. They also said farewell to Dušan Hejbal, bishop of the Old Catholic Church in the Czech Republic, who is retiring in July this year after many years of service.
The response to a meeting in Utrecht in early March attended by bishops and Synod Standing Committee members of the Churches of the Union of Utrecht was extremely positive. A number of Synod Standing Committee members had been newly elected and attended the meeting for the first time. The next meeting is scheduled to take place in 2019.
Among the general items on the IBC agenda were accounting matters and the digital archiving of documents, a process that is currently in its early stages. The urgent issue of improving communication was raised in this context. Administrative tasks and communication activities have increased to such an extent that the available staff members are no longer able to shoulder the entire workload. Finding a solution will need to be given a high priority. The situation is expected to ease when the digital archiving has been completed, but this will take several years.
Also under discussion was the next Old Catholic Congress, which takes place in Austria in 2018. The bishops were updated on the current status of the preparations. The IBC encourages the organisers to ensure that as many Old Catholics as possible can attend the congress and that the Youth Congress will go ahead as planned. It thanks the youth pastors for their involvement in this regard.
A focal point of the IBC meeting was a discussion on sacraments. Prof. Jürgen Werbick (Münster, Germany) and Dr. Adrian Suter (Schönenwerd, Switzerland) gave presentations titled “Sacrament and Sacramentality” and “Works of God in the Works of Man”, respectively. They described not only the historical development of the sacraments, but also the complexity and difficulties in today’s understanding of them – both at the Church level and the individual level. The bishops’ lengthy discussions with the speakers and each other showed clearly that the issue of sacraments and sacramentality is so complex that it must be considered and discussed in great depth in order to recall the historic understanding and to reinterpret it for the world today. The sacramentality of same-sex partnerships is one aspect to consider, but there are also many questions to answer concerning the understanding of baptism, confirmation and ordination. The IBC therefore decided to focus on sacraments and sacramentality at its coming meetings.
The next meeting will also deal with matters and rites connected with the blessing of same-sex partnerships in the Churches of the Union of Utrecht, including whether such blessings have a sacramental nature.
The dialogue between the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht and the Mar Thoma Syrian Church is now in the process of being received in the various Churches. In cooperation with the Department of Old Catholic Theology at the University of Bern, the Old Catholic Church of Switzerland will be holding a symposium on this dialogue in spring 2017. A number of questions are still to be answered, and the symposium could be an opportunity to discuss them with the invited representatives of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church.
Fr Oliver Kaiser (Hanover, Germany) was appointed to the Orthodox–Old Catholic Working Group. He replaces the long-standing member Urs van Arx, who is retiring from the group. Initial thoughts were shared concerning topics for future meetings.
It is encouraging to note that after the IBC meeting, Archbishop Joris Vercammen travelled straight to Crete for the Pan-Orthodox Council. His personal invitation to attend the council is a sign of appreciation and the importance of ecumenical relations. The bishops urge all Old Catholic parishes to pray for God’s Holy Spirit to guide all those attending the Pan-Orthodox Council.
Following extensive internal discussions and a meeting with Bishop Dušan Hejbal and Lucie Kodisova from the Synod Standing Committee of the Czech Old Catholic Church, a unanimous resolution was taken to ordain Dr. Pavel Benedikt Stránský as the next Old Catholic bishop in the Czech Republic. The ordination is scheduled for 1 April 2017.
The next regular meeting of the International Old Catholic Bishops’ Conference is expected to take place in Poland from 14 to 18 June 2017.
Amersfoort/Bern, June 2016
Utrechter Union der Altkatholischen Kirchen | site design: Sync. Creatieve Producties