The Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, issued in 1995 by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, was addressed to pastors of the Catholic Church. It was also intended (nn. 4-5) to inform Catholics in general as well as members of other communions about official Catholic policies relating to ecumenical work. Therefore, since the Fall of 1995, the Roman Catholic/United Church Dialogue has spent a part of its twice-yearly meetings in studying the Directory together. We hoped that our joint discussion of this document as a whole and, in particular, of its descriptions of the purposes, methods and presuppositions of ecumenical dialogue, would help us to see more clearly where our traditions are in agreement and where they diverge on the very notion of ecumenical dialogue – a concept whose value and procedures risk being taken for granted within such a long-established dialogue group as our own. We have indeed found that our discussions have been the occasion of clarification on these points. We forward our observations on this important document to the Commission on Ecumenism of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, hopeful that our comments will be of service to the Commission as it attempts to fulfil its ongoing mission.
We approached the Directory with a common desire: to find within it our individual and collective passion for dialogue and Christian unity affirmed. For Catholics, such an affirmation would imply the freedom and permission to engage fully in ecumenical conversation, confident that the Catholic Church would take seriously such dialogue and its results. For United Church members, such an affirmation would imply on the part of Rome a willingness to acknowledge that a real degree of communion marks even our divided state.
For all of us, the Directory offered a mixture of insight, hope and caution. Since our discussions focused primarily on the notion of “dialogue”– its nature, aim, bases, condition, method, subject and form –, our response centres on that concept and on how the document as a whole speaks to a dialogue group. The response is divided into three parts:
1. How the Directory affirms and enhances our dialogue.
2. How the Directory challenges our dialogue.
3. A model for understanding the different ways in which our two traditions approach ecumenical dialogue.