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Directory on Ecumenism for Southern Africa

by Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference


The Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference (South Africa, Swaziland, Botswana, Namibia) approved this faulty directory at their January meeting in Pretoria.

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Catholic News Service, February 26, 1998

PetersNet Editorial Note: This document betrays a serious misunderstanding and misapplication of the Church's norms on intercommunion, and is presented here mainly as an indication of how far local hierarchies can stray at times in response to local pressures.

In the spirit of the Gospel expressed in the prayer of Jesus "that all may be one" (Jn. 17:14), the search for Christian unity was one of the primary aims of the Second Vatican Council (Decree on Ecumenism, 1). The Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity issuing from the council then produced the Ecumenical Directory (1967 and 1970) and later drew up the Directory for the Application of the Principles and Norms on Ecumenism (1993). It is in this spirit and quest for Christian unity in the Catholic Church that this Directory on Ecumenism for Southern Africa has been prepared and promulgated by the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference.

The Directory on Ecumenism requires that diocesan bishops and episcopal conferences issue norms of application for dioceses and conference territories. This does not mean rewriting the directory, which contains general norms which are universally applicable. However, in the territories covered by the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, Catholics form less than 7.2 percent (2,880,000) of the total population 39,820,000 (1995), which is approximately 70 percent Christian, and in this context it is important that there be special norms for such a situation (Directory, 4, 6, 30, 3 1).

The postsynodal apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Africa of Pope John Paul 11 quotes Proposition 40 of the synod: "United to Jesus Christ by their witness in Africa, Catholics are invited to develop an ecumenical dialogue with all their baptized brothers and sisters of other Christian denominations, in order that the unity for which Christ prayed may be achieved and in order that their service to the peoples of the continent may make the Gospel more credible in the eyes of those who are searching for God" (Ecclesia, 65).

I. History of Our Divisions in Southern Africa

Christianity came to southern Africa with the Portuguese navigators, whose chaplain, it is said, celebrated Mass on the shores of the Cape of Good Hope, but was permanently established only through the Dutch settlers, whose influence made some converts among the local inhabitants to the Reformed tradition. The Christian influence was strengthened by the arrival of the French Huguenots, who were fleeing religious persecution in Europe. But it was not until the arrival of the Moravian missionaries that a definite effort was made to evangelize the indigenous peoples.

Among the early German settlers there were missionaries who established Lutheran churches in the Cape and elsewhere. The same is true of the first British settlers, among whom there were ministers of the Anglican and Free Church traditions who not only ministered to their own faithful but also reached out to the Xhosa tribes.

The first Catholic bishop in the Cape, Bishop Griffiths, arrived in 1837. There were very few Catholics in the Cape, mainly of Irish extraction, many of whom were soldiers. It was to these isolated people that the priests ministered. There was not much mission outreach until the Oblates of Mary Immaculate came to Natal in 1852. They moved to the interior, to the Free State, to Basutoland (now Lesotho), the Northern Cape and Bechuanaland (now Botswana) and the Transvaal and in 1896 entered Namibia.

In 1882 they were followed into Natal by the Trappists, who later became the Congregation of Missionaries of Mariannhill and were instrumental in bringing great numbers of Zulus into the Catholic fold. That same year, 1882, the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales began missionary work in the northwestern Cape.

The first missionaries brought the faith to Southern Africa in the context of European culture, with the European historical background of division among Christians. This contributed toward the establishment of the African independent churches, whose founders wanted to organize their churches and worship as Africans and not as Europeans. Following the example of the divided mainline churches, they created new denominations.

At the turn of the century new denominations were introduced from the United States of America, including Pentecostalism. These influenced the establishment of the Ethiopian churches and the Zion Christian churches, who claim the largest membership among the Christians of this country. Because of their syncretism, there are some Christians in mainline churches who would deny them the use of the term Christian. However, they do give an example of making Africans feel at home.

From the time of World War I, more Catholic missionary congregations arrived in southern Africa. Their ministry brought about a phenomenal increase of conversions among blacks, especially in rural areas. The establishment of the hierarchy in 1951 allowed for better organization and distribution of personnel.

In the Republic of South Africa many Christian leaders and members of the laity were united in their struggle against apartheid. Their efforts to fight apartheid were coordinated in the establishment of the South African Council of Churches. Although the Catholic Church had only observer status after Vatican II, there was considerable cooperation in the areas of social concern.

It was only after the Second Vatican Council that the Catholic Church became involved in ecumenical cooperation, and dialogue began to take root. Formal dialogue has since taken place between the Catholic Church on the one hand and the Anglicans, the Pentecostals and the Dutch Reformed churches on the other, while friendly relations are maintained with all the mainline churches. It is only recently that attempts have been made to reach out to the African independent churches. In 1995 the Catholic Church became a full member of the South African Council of Churches, having previously held observer status from the beginning.

II. Promoting the Catholic Church's Contribution to Ecumenism (Nos. 37-54)

1. As noted in the Directory on Ecumenism, the local church can contribute in many fruitful ways to the cause of ecumenism (No. 3 8). In order to assist the Catholic Church in our own region to do so, the following structures and goals should be put in place:

- In each diocese of the territory of the SACBC the bishop must appoint a competent person as diocesan officer for ecumenism (No. 41).

- In addition to exploring ways of promoting ecumenism with the more traditionally structured churches, attention must be given, as a matter of urgency, to exploring ways of promoting ecumenical dialogue and cooperation with the African independent churches.

2. Wherever possible, the bishop should set up a commission or secretariat which should assist the diocesan officer in promoting ecumenism (Directory, 4 1).

3. The diocesan officer and, where they exist, the diocesan commission or secretariat for ecumenism should collaborate with the Department of Ecumenism of the SACBC as well as the regional council of churches and the associations of local ministers.

4. Institutes of consecrated life:

- The Conference of Religious Major Superiors of Southern Africa, in collaboration with the SACBC Department of Ecumenism, should seek contact and cooperation with religious wherever they exist in other Christian churches, e.g., by sharing conferences and retreats (Directory, 50).

- Educational and health institutions which are directed and served by institutes of consecrated life: (a) should continue to serve Christians of all denominations as well as persons of other faiths and convictions; (b) must make it possible for the ministers of other churches and religions to minister to their members who are resident in these institutions.

5. Lay organizations should strive wherever possible to cooperate with similar organizations in other churches on the level of prayer and action. In particular, where organizations are devoted to socially uplifting activities, the cooperation should exist not simply on the level of action, but also and especially on the level of prayerful reflection on the faith that is the common spur to that action (Directory, 16 1).

6. The possibility of creating pastoral structures with representatives of other Christian churches should be explored. For example, parish pastoral councils could explore with similar bodies in their area the possibility of reciprocal representation on such bodies. In this way Catholics and members of other Christian churches will be drawn together in matters of common pastoral concern.

III. Ecumenical Formation in the Catholic Church (Nos. 55-91)

1. "Concern for restoring unity is the responsibility of all members of the church, faithful and clergy alike" (Directory, 55). Central to the process of growth in unity is growth in our understanding of the Word that binds us together. The Scriptures are the inspired testimony to that Word and as such constitute the source to which the church's understanding of its faith must return again and again in order to deepen, purify and enrich the tradition of faith built on the Word witnessed to within it (Vatican 11, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, 21). This conviction we hold in common with other Christians. Hence central to the process is our growth in understanding the Scriptures (Directory, 59).

2. However, more is needed. The importance of striving for Christian unity needs to be brought into our programs of catechetical and theological training. We need not only to educate people as to its importance, but make the very process of catechizing and theological education an ecumenical one (Directory, 161).

Recommendations: To achieve the above, the following recommendations are made:

- That Catholics study the Scriptures in Bible study groups not only among themselves but also with other Christians, making use of suitable programs where possible.

- That in catechetical instruction of youth and adults the teachings on the unity and catholicity of the church be structured in such a way as to bring out the tragedy of a disunited Christendom and the importance of seeking unity. In such teachings, the ways in which the concepts of unity and catholicity can contribute rather than run counter to Christian unity should be made clear.

- That in seminaries and institutes of higher studies room be made in the curriculum for a specific course on ecumenism, and that wherever possible the ecumenical dimension be included in all of the theological disciplines taught. It is especially important to seek ways of exposing students to lecturers drawn from other Christian churches.

Where appropriate, seminarians should be enabled to study with candidates for the ministry for other churches, and where cooperative structures already exist, ways should be sought of participating in them.

IV. Promoting Community Life and Spiritual Activity Between Baptized Christians

A. The Sacrament of Baptism and Its Importance (Nos. 92-101)

By the sacrament of baptism a person is truly incorporated into Christ and into his church, and is reborn to a sharing of the divine life. Baptism therefore constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn (Directory, 92).

Recommendations: In order to give full recognition to the bond that binds the baptized, especially where there is a genuine striving to overcome the historical divisions that weigh upon us, the following recommendations are made:

1. As regards the validity of baptism, the findings of earlier commissions appointed by the SACBC concerning the recognition of the baptisms performed by other Christian churches in our region should be disseminated to all priests and deacons and form

part of catechetical and theological instruction on baptism.

In cases where doubts may continue to exist concerning a particular church's baptismal practice, dialogue with that church must be sought as a matter of urgency in order to resolve the issue (Directory, 94).

2. As regards the minister, the traditional practice of only one minister performing the actual act of baptizing (viz., the pouring with water while proclaiming the baptismal formula) is to be retained. However, wherever appropriate, a minister of another Christian church should be invited to participate in the other parts of the baptismal liturgy, e.g. readings, prayers, etc. An obvious case where this would apply would be the baptism of a child, one of whose parents belongs to another Christian church (Directory, 97).

3. As regards official sponsors and witnesses, except for Eastern Orthodox Christians, the Directory on Ecumenism forbids members of other Christian churches to be one of the official sponsors at a baptism performed in the Catholic Church (No. 98).

However, the permission that is given for others to act as witnesses -provided there is at least one confirmed and practicing Catholic acting as an official sponsor - should be utilized to the full. Here too it should be encouraged that wherever appropriate a confirmed, practicing member of another Christian church be invited to act as a witness. The names of such witnesses should be entered as such into the baptismal register. We also encourage theological reflection on the extent to which the distinction that is made between Eastern Orthodox Christians and others in this matter should be retained.

4. As regards conversions, while proposing humbly our conviction that "the church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church" (Lumen Gentium), we affirm that any form of proselytism is unworthy witness. Instead, as with the Eastern Orthodox churches, the emphasis should fall on seeking unity between Christian churches. Nevertheless, those individual Christians who seek full communion with the Catholic Church are to be welcomed.

5. As regards rites of initiation, the rites to be followed for admitting validly baptized Christians into full communion with the Catholic Church must not be allowed to give the impression that someone is becoming a member of Christ's body for the first time (Directory, 100). The ceremony must be structured in such a way as to give full recognition to the Christian faith and experience that the person brings with him or her. The emphasis should be on receiving a brother or sister Christian into fuller communion with us.

- In the rites of initiation a clear distinction must be made between catechumens (unbaptized) and those who are already baptized in other Christian churches (Rite for Christian Initiation).

- Christians who were baptized in other Christian churches and who seek full communion in the Catholic Church should be examined regarding their motivation in order to ensure that it is not for purposes unrelated to their convictions of faith. Examples of insufficient reasons are because it is nearer to their home, because the spouse is a Catholic, because of disputes with their own minister, etc.

- Preparation for the reception of Christians into full communion should, wherever possible, build on the Christian knowledge they already have. Such knowledge may even include an extensive familiarity with the Catholic faith. However, even in the latter case it may be necessary to take time to enable such people to adjust to the duties and responsibilities of daily Catholic life rather than admit people to full communion too soon after the request is made.

B. Sacrament of Confirmation

"In the present state of our relations with the ecclesial communities of the Reformation of the 16th century we have not yet reached agreement about the significance or sacramental nature or even of the administration of the sacrament of confirmation. Therefore, under the present circumstances, persons entering into full communion with the Catholic Church from one of these communities are to receive the sacrament of confirmation according to the doctrine and rite of the Catholic Church before being admitted to eucharistic communion" (Directory, 101).

Recommendation: In view of this, the following recommendation is made: Where Christians who are received into full communion with the Catholic Church have not received the sacrament of confirmation, the latter should be administered to them on their reception, prior to their participating as full members of the Catholic Church in its celebration of the eucharist.

V. Sharing Spiritual Activities and Resources

"In spite of the serious difficulties which prevent full communion, it is clear that all those who by baptism are incorporated into Christ share many elements of the Christian life. There thus exists a real, even if imperfect, communion among Christians which can be expressed in many ways, including sharing in prayer and liturgical worship" (Directory, 104).

Recommendations: The following recommendations flow from the above as regards ecumenical prayer and nonsacramental liturgical worship:

1. Catholics are encouraged to join in prayer with Christians of other churches.

2. Participation in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity should be seriously encouraged in all parishes and religious houses (Directory, 110).

3. The opportunities for representative sharing in nonsacramental liturgical worship on a regular basis should be explored by diocesan and parish pastoral councils which are broader than fraternals (Directory, 116-119).

- Where such opportunities exist, Catholics are to be encouraged to participate in such worship. Other Christian communities are to be invited to nonsacramental Catholic forms of worship. In view of the above, the possibility of engaging in worship with one or more of the African independent churches ought to be explored.

4. The burial of members of each other's churches should be determined on the local diocesan level. In terms of this directory, deceased members of other Christian churches may be buried with Catholic rites, especially in the case of a deceased spouse (Directory, 120). Deceased Catholics may in turn be buried with the rites of another Christian church, should there be a justifying reason for doing so.

5. Despite the difficulties that can exist, the symbolism of sharing a single building for worship can be of great value in binding different Christian churches together. In situations where a parish is in need of a building for worship, the bishop should in the first instance consider whether or not it would be advisable to share an already existing building belonging to another Christian church, or to erect a new one in partnership with such a church (cf. Directory, 138).

VI. Sharing Sacramental Celebrations

"A sacrament is an act of Christ and his church through the Spirit. Its celebration in a concrete community is the sign of the reality of its unity in faith, worship and community life. As well as being signs, sacraments - most specially the eucharist - are sources of the unity of the Christian community and of spiritual life, and are means for building them up. Thus eucharistic communion is inseparably linked to full ecclesial communion and its visible expression.

"At the same time, the Catholic Church teaches that by baptism members of other churches and ecclesial communities are brought into real, even imperfect communion with the Catholic Church" (Directory 129).

A. Governing Principles

1. The principles governing sacramental sharing laid down in the Directory on Ecumenism can be summarized as follows: (a) The sacraments and most especially the eucharist are signs as well as sources of unity and therefore are properly open as a matter of course only to those who are in full ecclesial communion with each other; (b) baptism creates a bond between all the baptized which seeks its full expression in eucharistic communion (Directory, 129).

2. The general rule flowing from these principles is therefore that abstinence from shared sacramental worship is the normal state of affairs, but circumstances can exist in which such a sharing becomes not only permissible but advisable (Directory, 129).

3. The circumstances in which such sharing is justified are (a) danger of death and (b) any other pressing need.

4. The norms for judging when such a need exists should be laid down by the diocesan bishop (Directory, 130), although the Directory on Ecumenism does single out the situation of spouses in a mixed marriage, bound to each other as they are by the sacraments of baptism and matrimony (Directory, 160).

5. The pastoral advisability of permitting sharing the sacraments depends both on the general situation of the local worshiping community and on the conditions to be met by the individual persons concerned.

6. When such sharing is justified, the following conditions are to be met: (a) The person admitted to such sharing must seek it of his or her own initiative; (b) must be unable to receive the sacrament from a minister of his own church; (c) must manifest Catholic faith in the sacrament; (d) must have the proper dispositions for the fruitful reception of it (Directory, 13 1).

7. As regards (b) in VI, 6 above, this inability need not be one that exists over a period of time but could arise out of the nature of the situation in which the petitioner finds him or herself (e.g., when spouses in a mixed marriage attend a eucharistic celebration together).

8. As regards (c) in VI, 6 above, it is important to recall that there is a crucial distinction between the substance of the faith and the way in which it is expressed. What is required is unity in the substance of the faith.

Moreover, in judging whether or not such unity is present, due cognizance must be taken of those ecumenical agreements that display the existence of a substantial agreement in faith. One example of such an agreement is that which was reached by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission regarding the eucharist. In the light of that agreement, members of the Anglican Communion may be presumed to share the essentials of eucharistic faith with us.

B. Recommendations

In view of the above, the following recommendations are made. These are permissive, not prescriptive, since they clarify what can be done within the framework of church discipline.

Since "the salvation of souls is the supreme law," in danger of death the above norms are not to be interpreted narrowly. Pastoral considerations must predominate when in such circumstances Christians from other churches wish to receive the sacraments of penance, anointing of the sick or the eucharist.

In cases other than danger of death, provided that conditions (a) to (d) mentioned in VI, 6 above are fulfilled, the following guidelines apply:

1. As regards baptismal celebrations, Christians of other churches who so wish are to be encouraged to participate as fully as possible. Similarly, Catholics are to be encouraged to participate, where invited, in baptismal celebrations of other Christian churches (see IV, A, 2 and IV, A, 3).

2. As regards the sacraments of the sick and of penance, the mere request for such sacraments can be taken as evidence of pressing spiritual need, and the sacrament may be administered. Special consideration should be given to spouses in an interchurch marriage who may wish to approach these sacraments together if their situation justifies it.

3. As regards the eucharist, a special need can be said to exist on occasions when Christians from other churches attend a eucharistic celebration for a special feast or event. On these occasions eucharistic sharing may be both meaningful and desirable, expressing the degree of unity that the participating Christians already have with each other.

(a) It has been a longstanding pastoral practice in the Catholic Church not to refuse someone who comes to receive communion in good faith. However, where possible and according to circumstances, it may be advisable or even necessary to inform such a person afterward of Catholic discipline.

(b) A unique situation exists as regards spouses of a mixed marriage who attend Mass together in a Catholic Church. The uniqueness consists in the fact that their baptismal unity in Christ has been still further sealed by the sacramentality of their marriage bond. Hence both may experience a real need to express that unity by receiving holy communion whenever they attend Mass together. If such couples attend Mass together only infrequently, then they may both receive communion on those occasions, provided that it is the spontaneous desire of the non-Catholic partner to do so. In cases where both parties attend Mass together virtually every Sunday, then the non-Catholic party may approach the local ordinary through the parish priest for permission to receive communion every time he or she attends Mass with his or her spouse. In all the above cases it is assumed that the non-Catholic lives devotedly within his or her tradition.

Cases where the only church that the non-Catholic partner attends is the Catholic Church must be referred to the local ordinary through the parish priest.

4. The guidelines given above must not be allowed to lead to a situation where the divisions between Christians are no longer taken seriously. Catholics must therefore be educated as to the reasons why abstinence from eucharistic sharing is the general norm and why only a limited form of such sharing is possible. Catholics also need to be educated to take seriously the fact that the degrees of visible unity between the Catholic Church and other churches can differ. In the case where the visible unity is very close - e.g., in the case of the Orthodox Church - less weight (from a Catholic perspective) may be placed on the divisions and more on the unity already possessed, thus justifying a far freer sharing in the sacraments in general and the eucharist in particular. In cases where the visible unity is marred by very many serious divisions, more emphasis needs to be placed on bearing truthful witness to the sad state of the division, thus justifying a more limited form of sacramental sharing.

5. As regards Catholics seeking to receive the sacraments from pastors in other churches, the same circumstances apply as above (viz., regarding need, substantial agreement in faith, etc.). Catholics must also have due respect for the ecclesiastical discipline that may operate in the church in which they seek to receive a particular sacrament. The Directory on Ecumenism also notes a further condition, viz., that the sacrament be sought "from a minister in whose church these sacraments are valid or from one who is known to be validly ordained according to the Catholic teaching on ordination" (Directory, 132). As regards the Eastern Orthodox churches, this condition is already fulfilled. As regards the churches arising out of the divisions that occurred in the West at the time of the Reformation, the matter, from a Catholic perspective, is not so clear.

6. Where it is not permissible for Catholics to receive the sacraments in another church, they should be educated to take the pain of Christian divisions sufficiently seriously to use that opportunity to pray and pledge themselves to strive for Christian unity.

VII. Interchurch Marriages

1. Catholics and members of other churches who are entering into the covenant of marriage must be adequately prepared to make an ecumenical partnership of their marriage, as envisaged by the postsynodal exhortation Familiaris Consortio, while respecting the responsibilities of the Catholic partner regarding the practice of the faith and the education of the children (Familiaris Consortio, 78).

2. Where there are genuine pastoral reasons for the granting of a dispensation from the canonical form of marriage, it should not be refused.

3. Pastors should make the fullest possible use of opportunities afforded for ecumenical celebrations for mixed marriages.

4. It is against freedom of religion and the dignity of women that a wife should be expected to join the church of her husband or that pressure be put on either spouse to convert on the pretext of achieving unity of faith.

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