The Faculty of Theology of Innsbruck held a Conference on Ecumenism that ended on February 15. “Ecumenism, the encounter of the members of Christian religious traditions” is the title of the event dedicated to issues regarding marriages between faithful belonging to different Christian denominations. Panel lectures were delivered, inter alia, by Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, by the Evangelical superintendent Luise Müller and the auxiliary Serbian-Orthodox bishop Andrej Cilerdzic. Follow some important issues highlighted during the meeting.
Finding shared solutions. The painful reality of divided Churches, notably in the case of spouses belonging to different confessions, who thus cannot jointly celebrate the Eucharist, was at the centre of the speakers’ lectures. “It is necessary to find joint solutions”, Müller asked. The evangelical superintendent spoke about the reality of a territory, that of Tyrol and Salsburg, where up to 95% of evangelical Christians marriages are between spouses that belong to different Christian confessions. Müller said he hopes that Churches will “step up cooperation in addressing social challenges” and mentioned the helpline and the support of pastoral care in critical situations, jointly coordinated by the Churches in “an exemplary manner”. Serbian-Orthodox bishop Ciledrdzic underlined the contribution of the Orthodox Church to ecumenism, while underlining that “such kind of awareness is still not very widespread, especially in originally Orthodox Countries. Thus the role of the Church of the Orthodox Diaspora, ever greater at world level, is all the more important”, he remarked, referring to the growing number of people of Orthodox faith from East European countries who settle down in Austria.
A topical issue. Msgr. Manfred Scheuer, bishop of Innsbruck, in charge of ecumenical questions for the Austrian Bishops’ Conference, assured in an interview released during the conference at Catholic press agency Kathpress that “Catholic bishops are aware of the problem”, and referred to the 1993 Vatican “Ecumenical Directory” which stipulates that “in special cases non - Catholics can be admitted to the sacraments”. On this issue, “also the Austrian Bishops’ Conference is at the stage of consultations”, thus a decision is untimely “but the theme is on the agenda”. At the same time, Msgr. Scheuer warned that Church unity “should be concretized in the joint witness of faith, in a joint understanding of the Church and the sacraments”. The bishop thus conveyed his malcontent for the Churches’ different positions on ethical questions, and on embryo research. “From this viewpoint it is necessary to take action”, said Msgr. Scheuer, reiterating unconditional protection of human life since the beginning.
Real problems. “The present situation is very difficult and unsatisfactory”: said the President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity Cardinal Kurt Koch. “The basic beliefs of Christian Churches clash against each other when it comes to concrete persons”, the cardinal said, ensuring that “the problematic situation of these couples has always been for me a special motivation to commit myself in ecumenism. Sustainable solutions are finally needed”, is the hope of card. Koch. In the meantime, organizations were spontaneously set up, such as “Arge Ökumene”, a community consisting of couples and families from different confessions. Elisabeth and Klemens Betz, members of the group, presented to the conference some of their initiatives intended to act as a “sign of reconciliation”, “bringing the Churches together”. However, underlined cardinal Koch and Msgr. Scheuer, “the Eucharistic community has the ecclesial community as their point of reference” and these activities do not solve the problem at theological level. An ecumenical view of society was called for by theologian Jozef Niewiandomski: “Ecumenism needs a clear profile which can be found in the joys and hopes, in the needs and in the problem of the current times. When we welcome concrete persons that knock on our doors, we are crossing the borders that separate each other”.