Cardinal Johannes Willebrands

Authored By: PCCU

CARDINAL WILLEBRANDS RESPONSE TO QUESTIONS CONCERNING THE ORGANIZATION "SWORD OF THE SPIRIT"

This April 2nd, 1986 letter from Johannes Cardinal Willebrands, President of Secretariat for Christian Unity, to Archbishop Peter Gerety, Archbishop of Newark, is an explanation of the proper relationship of Catholic people who are nonmembers of ecumenical organizations to their Bishops.

Dear Archbishop Gerety,

I am writing in response to the questions you have formulated in relationship to the activity in the Archdiocese of Newark of the group known as the Sword of the Spirit. The basic question you raise is whether an organization which describes itself as ecumenical can for that reason replace your jurisdiction over Catholics in your Archdiocese who belong to it, in matters such as teaching these Catholics the fundamentals of a life of holiness, commitment to Christ, and in Christian training and formation.

Our response to the issue you raise is, of course, from the perspective of ecumenism. In this regard, we would affirm your authority as Archbishop in matters concerning teaching, evangelization, spiritual formation and ecumenism in your Archdiocese. In regard to ecumenism, documents of the Second Vatican Council, authoritative post-conciliar documents published by the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, and the new Code of Canon Law (1983) clearly affirm the responsibility of bishops in general and of local ordinaries in particular, for both the fostering and the guidance of ecumenism. Enclosed you will find excerpts from the documents I refer to. They illustrate clearly the bishops have, in union with the Holy See, in matters of ecumenism. I cite here three passages from the list as examples:

I. , n 4, after giving description of ecumenical activities, says "Such actions, when they are carried out by the Catholic faithful with prudent patience and under the attentive guidance of their bishops, promote . . . . unity" (UR, 4).

II. (1970): "It belongs . . . . . to bishops and episcopal conferences both and to adjust undertakings already on foot to existing conditions as these affect men and matters -- and even, as occasion offers, to start new undertakings."

III. (SPUC, 1975):

1. : "Ecumenical initiatives should be true expressions of the life of the local Church, and not simply the work of individuals. They should be carried on and in close association with the ecumenical commission of the diocese or of the episcopal conference".

Sound ecumenical initiatives are always welcome. It is also true that there can be ecumenical action "by means of informal groups of a spontaneous kind" (, 7). Such groups can bring their own contribution to the ecumenical movement but it remains that "where there are groups of this kind under Catholic responsibility, it is necessary that they function in full communion with the local bishop if they are to be authentically ecumenical" ().

But such initiatives and such organizations cannot replace the jurisdiction of a bishop over the Catholics in his diocese, or the place of the bishop as the "visible fundamental principle of unity in their particular churches" ( 23). They cannot replace the bishop as the chief shepherd of his flock, or as the chief teacher of his diocese, who is charged with the Christian formation of all members of his flock. They cannot replace the responsibility of the bishop to foster ecumenism, and his authority to guide it in his diocese. As 22 notes,

"the order of bishops is the successor of the college of the apostles in their role as teachers and pastors, and in it the apostolic college is perpetuated."

And even more explicitly:

"For the bishops . . . are the authentic teachers, that is teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach the faith to the people assigned to them, the faith which is destined to inform their thinking and direct their conduct" ( 25).

In his letter to you, Father Herbert Schneider S.J. states that SOS is an ecumenical branch "not under your jurisdiction" and therefore they "see no reason to stop . . . . teaching these new members the fundamentals of a life of holiness, commitment to Christ and loyal commited service to God's people in their own local Church situation". Father Schneider seems here to overlook two essential factors: (1) First, it is the bishop who still has primary responsibility for such teaching in regard to Catholics in his diocese. (2) Secondly, if Catholics join an ecumenical organization, the organization does not replace the jurisdiction of their bishop, who remains for Catholics the "authentic teacher endowed with the authority of Christ" ( 25).

Father Schneider also states: "We also see no reason to stop allowing people to accept the Covenant of the Sword of the Spirit after , if they wish to do so, and think that this is right for them in the Lord". The training and formation spoken of is obviously long term, and directed towards a lifetime commitment. Again, for Catholics, it is their bishop who has primary responsibility for this Christian training and formation. Speaking of the responsibility of bishops, (27) says that "the pastoral charge, that is, the and of their sheep, is entrusted to them fully". If the bishop decides to work with an ecumenical organization in this regard, that is fine. But he is the one who has to decide. And if he does so, he still cannot relinquish his pastoral responsibility for the people entrusted to him in his diocese.

According to Catholic teaching, Bishops must promote every authentic approach to ecumenism. But we can see no circumstances in which the fact that a Catholic belongs to an ecumenical group, means that the bishop of his diocese no longer has primary jurisdiction and responsibility for that person in regard to teaching the fundamentals of a life of holiness, commitment to Christ, and seeing to their Christian training and formation. The bishop may not have jurisdiction over the ecumenical group. But he does have jurisdiction over the members of his diocese who belong to the ecumenical group.

Furthermore, according to Catholic ecumenical norms, the bishop must provide and guide ecumenism. Therefore, he has the responsibility and the right to evaluate, in light of Catholic principles on ecumenism, the purpose and the program of a given independent ecumenical organization Catholics in this diocese are being invited to join. If, after serious evaluation, he makes the assessment that the organization is in some way detrimental to the well-being of the people, or seriously falls short in regard to its ecumenical approach, he has the right to direct the people of his diocese not to participate in it. They in turn owe him their obedience. For the bishops, to which order he belongs, are "the authentic teachers", according to (25), "teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach the faith to the people assigned to them."

If an organization, ecumenical or otherwise, gets approval from the Holy See, it is still the local Bishop who has responsibility to see the proper implementation of its procedures in his diocese.

I hope that these comments respond to the question that you raise in regard to ecumenical dimensions of the difficult problem that has emerged in the Archdiocese of Newark regarding the People of Hope and the Sword of the Spirit. Please feel free to contact us if further information or clarification is needed.

With best wishes and personal regards, I remain, fraternally yours in Christ,

Johannes Card. Willebrands President

A. Examples from Documents of the Second Vatican Council

I.

Texts illustrating the responsibility and authority of Bishops in Ecumenical Matters

N. 4 After giving description of ecumenical activities, says "Such actions, when they are carried out by the Catholic faithful with prudent patience and promote . . . . unity" (UR, 4).

N. 4 "This sacred Council is gratified to note that the participation by the Catholic faithful in ecumenical work is growing daily. It commends this work to the .

N. 8 In speaking about principles relating to : "The concrete course to be adopted, when all the circumstances of time, place and persons have been duly considered, , unless the bishops' conference according to its own statutes, or the Holy See, has determined otherwise."

II. (1965)

N. 15 On ecumenical cooperation: "There should be collaboration of this type not only between private persons, but also, , between churches or ecclesiastical communities in their undertakings".

B. Post Conciliar Documents

I. , Part I (SPUC 1967)

N. 3 fosters the setting up of Ecumenical Commissions: "charged to promote ecumenical activity . In those dioceses which cannot have their own commission there should at least be one person for these duties"

N. 28 vs. indifferentism: "In some places and with some communities, sects and persons, the ecumenical movement and the wish for peace with the Catholic Church have not yet grown strong."

(N. 28) (Therefore) " or, if need be, may indicate suitable measures for preventing the dangers of indifferentism and proselytism among the faithful. It is hoped that through the grace of the Holy Spirit ecumenical feeling . . . . will . . . . increase."

N. 32 Concerning prayer in common: "Where Catholics are concerned, this kind of participation is committed to the guidance and encouragement of

N. 36b The for prayer in common could be "the church of one or other of the communities concerned, if there is need for this and the ".

N. 42 "It is particularly opportune that the , whether the one, the synod or the episcopal conferences, does not extend permission for sharing in the reception or administration of the sacraments . . . . except after satisfactory consultations with the competent authorities (at least local ones) of the separated Oriental Church.

N. 50 "Because of the close communion referred to earlier (n.40) for a Catholic to read lessons at a liturgical service if he is invited".

N. 52 "It is recommended that with the separated Eastern priests and communities be allowed the use of Catholic church buildings and cemeteries and other things necessary for their religious rites. . . .".

N. 53 "As far as circumstances allow, and with , these facilities (Orthodox spiritual and sacramental ministrations to their own faithful in Catholic institutions) can be offered in the Catholic premises, including the Church".

N. 55 Concerning access to the Eucharist, penance and anointing of the sick, by separated brethren in cases of urgent necessity: "In other cases, the judge of this urgent necessity must be the or the episcopal conference".

N. 56 Concerning the question of a Catholic preaching or reading Scriptures at the celebration of the Lord's Supper by separated Christians:

"At other services, even liturgical ones, it is allowable to exercise some functions, with . . . .".

N. 61 "If the separated brethren have no place in which to carry out their religious rites properly and with dignity, may them the use of a Catholic building, cemetery or church".

II. , Part II: Ecumenism in Higher Education

N. 65 "Bishops have a special responsibility for promoting the ecumenical movement and it is ". "It belongs. . . . . and episcopal conferences both and to existing conditions as these affect men and matters -- and even, as occasion offers, to start new undertakings".

III. Ecumenical Collaboration at the Regional, National and Local Levels (SPCU, 1975)

1. "": "Ecumenical initiatives should be true expressions of the life of the local church, and not simply the work of individuals. They should therefore be carried on under and in close association with the ecumenical commission of the diocese or of the episcopal conference.

2. The Catholic Understanding of local church . . . . . relation to the Ecumenical Movement: Quotes LG 23: " are the visible, fundamental principle of unity in their particular churches".

3. Various Forms of Local Ecumenism lists areas and forms of local ecumenical action in this chapter, and they "remain always subjected to the pastoral authority of the or the episcopal conference".

-- Concerning "", many of the 56 national Bible societies "working in agreement with a number of ", have developed programs of cooperation with Catholics.

-- Concerning "":

"Clearly, initiatives in the matter of shared premises can be undertaken only under the authority of the .

6. Pastoral and Practical Reflections for Local Ecumenical Action:

b. "Ultimately, it is always the responsibility of the regional or national episcopal conference to decide on the acceptability and the appropriateness of all forms of local ecumenical action".

i. decision to join a council depends on the highest ecclesiastical authority. (If only one diocese, it would be the Ordinary of the diocese).

7. Other Forms of Ecumenism.

Concerning the emergence of "informal" groups: "In connection with the hierarchy of the Church, these informal groups can offer original and inspiring ideas, whereas without such a contact and apart from ecclesiastical direction, they run the risk of becoming unfaithful to Catholic principles of ecumenism and even of endangering the faith".

"At the same time, where there are groups of this kind under Catholic responsibility, it is necessary that they function , if they are to be authentically ecumenical."

C. (SPUC, 1972)

N. 6 What Authority Decides Particular Cases? -- The meaning of N. 55 of the

"If cases of the same pattern recur often in a given region, episcopal conferences can give general directions. More often however it falls to the bishop of the diocese to make a decision. He alone will know all the circumstances of particular case".

" (SPUC, 1973)

N. 6 "It is the local Ordinary's responsibility to examine these exceptional cases and make concrete decisions. The Instruction (N.6) recalls that the Directorium Oecumenicum gives the episcopal authority power to decide whether in these rare cases the required conditions are present or not".

D. (1983)

Canons illustrating the bishops' jurisdiction in matters relating to ecumenism are:

N. 755 paras. 1 and 2

N. 463 para. 3

N. 383 para. 3

N. 844 para. 5

(April 2, 1986)

N. 1125

N. 316 para. 1

N. 312 paras. 1 and 3.

This document was taken from "Cults, Sects, and the New Age," by Rev. James J. LeBar, available from Our Sunday Visitor Press, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750.

This document was taken from "Cults, Sects, and the New Age," by Rev. James J. LeBar, available from Our Sunday Visitor Press, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750.