New steps towards the healing of memories
Since the Second Vatican Council, the Pontifical Council for
Promoting Christian Unity and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC)
have completed two phases of International dialogue, the first during
1970-77, the second 1984-90, both of which published reports.
A third phase began in 1998 and its participants are now working to
finalize its report. There have been other important contacts as well.
The two reports have documented important convergences on issues such
as (1977) teaching authority of the Church, the presence of Christ in
the world, the Eucharist and ministry, and (1990) Christ as the one
Mediator between God and humanity, the notion of justification,
classical Reformed and Catholic notions of the Church.
The reports have also documented the significant differences still
remaining, especially on the questions of the ministry and of the
Over the decades significant attention in Catholic-Reformed relations
has been given to the healing and reconciliation of historical memories.
This is reflected in the international dialogue report (second phase),
in specific statements and gestures of Pope John Paul II and also in
specific actions taken by some member churches of WARC.
The report of the second phase of dialogue (Towards a Common
Understanding of the Church, 1990) dedicated the first of four
chapters to the theme: "Toward a Reconciliation of Memories". It was one
of the first extensive treatments of the matter in international
dialogue. It sought mutual understanding of what happened in the 16th
century by presenting a Reformed perspective and then a Catholic
perspective of ecclesiological and Reforming concerns at that time.
Initial versions were done by each separately; the final versions
were the result of reading and reviewing the drafts together, learning
from one another, and, because of
this, modifying what had been written separately.
The two admit that "over the centuries our forbears had often
misunderstood each others' motives and language" (n. 15). All of this,
it says, has contributed now to a "certain reassessment of the past,
clearing away misunderstanding".
It urges that the next step be to move towards "a reconciliation of
memories" in which we begin to share "one sense of the past rather than
two" (n. 16). The dialogue thus gives our two communities a push to go
in that direction.
Papal attempts to foster healing
Pope John Paul II has also made important statements and gestures
over the years, in meetings with Reformed Christians, which foster a
healing of memory. For example, addressing French Protestants in Paris,
1980, the Pope urged that "our personal and community memory must be
purified of the memory of all the conflicts, injustice and hatred of the
past... through mutual forgiveness from the depths of our hearts" (Information
Service [IS] 44 :84). To achieve a healing and
purification of memory the Pope has called for common study of history.
While visiting Switzerland in 1984, when the Reformed were
celebrating significant anniversaries of the Reformers Zwingli and
Calvin, he expressed the hope that Swiss Catholics and Protestants would
"write the history of that troubled and complex period together with
objectivity rooted in charity (IS 55 :47).
When visiting Czechoslovakia in 1990 where the reformer John Hus
(15th century) is remembered, John Paul II challenged experts to "define
more precisely the place which John Hus occupies among the reformers of
the Church" (IS 75 [19901:139).
In Debrecen, Hungary, December 1991, after addressing an ecumenical
service in the Reformed Church, John Paul II personally visited and
offered prayers at a monument, on the church grounds, to Reformed people
who, during the 17th century religious wars, were sold as galley slaves
(IS 80 :4).
All of these gestures help to promote a healing of memory.
Member churches of WARC have taken actions which foster a healing of
memory with Catholics. Two significant events took place in 2004.
One was an action by the Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
relating to The Book of Confessions, a collection of Reformed
confessions written from the 16th century up to recent times, through
which it states its faith and bears witness to God's grace in Jesus
Christ. Through these confessions the PC (U.S.A.) declares what it is,
what it believes and what it resolves to do.
The confessions, as a report before the Assembly reminded them,
guide, direct and equip the whole people. Persons being ordained as
ministers, elders or deacons in the PC (U.S.A.) vow to receive and adapt
the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the
confession and to be instructed and guided by them.
A statement concerning The Confessional Nature of the Church
adopted by the 1986 PC (U.S.A.) Assembly explained, from a Reformed
perspective, that "Most confessions have been intended as polemical
defence of true Christian faith... against perversion from within as
well as attacks from outside the church. They are the church's means of
preserving the authenticity and purity of its faith".
Given the polemics of the 16th and 17th centuries, some of the
confessions from that time include strong anti-Catholic language.
Against anti-Catholic language
In light of this, the PC (U.S.A.) Assembly in 2004 approved the
following policy statement in which it distances itself from such
anti-Roman-Catholic language in the confessions, saying that it does not
represent PC (U.S.A.) understanding of the Catholic Church today:
"Specific statements in the 16th and 17th century confessions and
catechisms in The Book of Confessions contain condemnations and
derogatory characterizations of the Catholic Church: Chapters XVIII and
XXII of the Scots Confession; Questions and Answer 80 of the Heidelberg
Catechism; and Chapter II, III, XVII and XX of the Second Helvetic
Confession. (Chapters XXII, XXV and XXIX of the Westminster Confession
of Faith have been amended to remove anachronous and offensive language.
Chapter XXVIII of the French Confession does not have constitutional
standing). While these statements emerged from substantial doctrinal
disputes, they reflect 16th and 17th century polemics. Their
condemnations and characterizations of the Catholic Church are not the
position of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and are not applicable to
current relationships between the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the
The polemical statements in question will not be removed from these
confessions because they are historical documents. However, this new
policy will be made clear by inserting the policy statement just
mentioned into the Preface to The Book of Confessions.
The Office of the General Assembly was also instructed to include
footnotes to relevant sections, referring to the policy statement in the
Preface of all future editions of The Book of Confessions.
Furthermore, hoping to broaden the impact of this action, the
Assembly asked that conversations be initiated with the World Alliance
of Reformed Churches, seeking a WARC statement on this issue.
The impact of Ut Unum Sint was felt here. The "Rationale"
given to the Assembly to explain this action says the issue of 16th and
17th century condemnations has been before their ecumenical committee
"since the two conversations between a delegation from the Presbyterian
Church (U.S.A.) and the Vatican's Council for Promoting Christian Unity
(PCPCU)". This refers to two meetings.
The PC (U.S.A.) used the occasion of a visit of the Pontifical
Council's then President Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy to its
headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky, in December 2000, to prepare a
written response to the Encyclical Ut Unum Sint concerning the
Petrine Ministry. This was discussed with the Cardinal during his visit.
A large PC (U.S.A.) delegation followed this up with a visit to Rome
in March 2001, where for two days the delegation continued the
discussion on their response, now with the new PCPCU President, Cardinal
Walter Kasper, and the Council's staff and consultants. The communiqué
from the latter meeting made various proposals for further exploration
of issues which have separated us..
Among these was the continuing study together of the events in the
16th and 17th centuries which led to our divisions, and the hope that it
may become possible to declare that the pejorative statements made
against each other in the past are not in keeping with our view of each
The action taken by the Assembly, described above, is the
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s implementation of that proposal.
Clarifying Catholic teaching
A second event in 2004 concerns an other WARC member church, the
Christian Reformed Church of North America (CRCNA). This church has also
recently taken a significant action in its 2004 Synod.
It acknowledged that the presentation of the Catholic Mass in
Question and Answer 80 of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) does not
correctly represent Catholic teaching. Q&A 80 says of the Catholic Mass,
"But the Mass teaches that the living and the dead do not have their
sins forgiven through the suffering of Christ unless Christ is still
offered for them daily by the priests".
Based on this and other matters, such as a presentation lacking
nuance of Catholic teaching on the Real Presence of Christ in the
Eucharist, it states:
"Thus, the Mass is basically nothing but a denial of the one
sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ and [basically nothing but] a
Q&A 80's presentation on this was challenged by CRCNA members at the
Synod meeting. This led CRCNA to engage in dialogue with Catholic
theologians appointed by the Bishops' Conferences of the U.S.A. and
Canada, to seek clarification concerning Catholic teaching on the Mass.
The proper presentation of Catholic doctrine on the Mass as expressed
in the resulting report was confirmed by the U.S.A. and Canadian
Conferences of Bishops and by the Pontifical Council for Promoting
Christian Unity in consultation with the Congregation for the Doctrine
of the Faith.
Thus, based on recommendations of its Interchurch Relations
Committee, the CRCNA Synod in 2004 declared that:
"Q&A 80 can no longer be held in its current form as part of our
confession given our study of official Roman Catholic teaching and
extensive dialogue with official representatives of the Roman Catholic
The Synod will also bring this discussion and the relevant reports to
the Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC), an international body of about 35
Reformed Churches of which CRCNA is a member (besides recently becoming
a member of WARC), for review at REC's next assembly in July 2005.
Thus, a healing of memory between Reformed and Catholics has been
fostered through dialogue, through statements and gestures of Pope John
Paul II and through actions by some Reformed churches acknowledging that
certain judgments made in 16th- and 17th-century confessions no longer