Episcopal News Service, NY
April 19 2008
At ecumenical service, Pope Benedict XVI calls for oneness of hope, faith and love among Christians
‘Prophetic actions’ leading to splintering of Christian bodies decried
By Jan Nunley, April 19, 2008
[Episcopal News Service] National and local leaders of the Episcopal
Church were among the invited guests at an ecumenical prayer service
on April 18 with Pope Benedict XVI at Saint Joseph Roman Catholic
Church on New York’s Upper East Side. The parish, founded in 1873,
grew out of the German-speaking community of Yorkville.
After greetings by Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York and Monsignor
John Sullivan, administrator of Saint Joseph Parish, the audience
of some 250 Anglican, Protestant and Orthodox and 50 Roman Catholic
leaders in ecumenism then heard Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan, vicar
general for the archdiocese, welcome the Pope with a summary of recent
ecumenical relations between the branches of Christianity.
Speaking in soft, Bavarian-accented English, Benedict took Ephesians
4:1-6, St. Paul’s plea for Christian unity, as his text for the
evening. He expressed appreciation for the ecumenical work of the
National Council of Churches, Christian Churches Together in the
USA (CCT/USA), and the Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical
and Interreligious Affairs, and lauded the contribution of American
Christians to the ecumenical movement.
But then Benedict sounded the theme that has threaded throughout
his first U.S. visit as Pope: the dangers of secularism, unbridled
individualism, and relativism.
"Scientific discoveries, and their application through human ingenuity,
undoubtedly offer new possibilities for the betterment of humankind,"
Benedict stated. "This does not mean, however, that the ‘knowable’
is limited to the empirically verifiable, nor religion restricted to
the shifting realm of ‘personal experience.’"
Benedict returned to the topic of ecumenism, several times referring
to the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis
Redintegratio ("Restoration of Unity"), promulgated by Pope Paul VI
in 1964. Citing Father Paul Wattson, a former Anglo-Catholic turned
Roman Catholic priest who co-founded the Society of the Atonement in
Garrison, New York, he expressed confidence that ecumenical efforts
would result in the "oneness of hope, oneness of faith, and oneness
of love" for which Christians seek.
Benedict decried the "splintering" of Christian churches over
"so-called ‘prophetic actions’ that are based on a hermeneutic not
always consonant with the datum of Scripture and Tradition." Such
actions, he said, cause Christian communities to "give up the attempt
to act as a unified body, choosing instead to function according
to the idea of ‘local options,’" thus losing their connections to
Christians in other times and places. Some, but not all, interpreted
that as a veiled reference to controversy in the Episcopal Church
and the Anglican Communion.
"I think he did us the honor of giving us a serious address that I
think needs to be read and reflected upon," said New York’s Bishop Mark
Sisk. Asked whether he thought Benedict had singled out the Episcopal
Church in his remarks, Sisk responded, "It’s possible–but I would
be rather surprised. I don’t think he was trying to send shots across
the bow at particular churches. I think he spoke in a respectful way
and I didn’t see that as a shot at the Episcopal Church."
(In 2003, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger sent a telegram on behalf of
Pope John Paul II to the American Anglican Council’s "A Place to Stand"
protest meeting in Texas following that year’s General Convention. The
message spoke of the Pope’s "heartfelt prayers" and said that "the
significance of your meeting is sensed far beyond Plano… in the
Church of Christ there is a unity in truth and a communion of grace
which transcend the borders of any nation. With this in mind, I pray
in particular that God’s will may be done by all those who seek that
unity in the truth, the gift of Christ himself.")
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was invited to the service,
but was unable to attend due to a previous commitment to bless a new
diocesan center in Utah. Bishop Christopher Epting, the Episcopal
Church’s ecumenical officer, represented her.
At the end of the ceremony,Benedict greeted national and local
ecumenical leaders, including Archbishop Demetrios of America,
Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America and Exarch of the
Ecumenical Patriarchate; Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of
the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America; Archbishop Vicken
Aykazian, legate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America
(Eastern) in Washington and president of the National Council of
Churches USA; the Rev. Dr. Donald McCoid, Director of the Ecumenical
and Inter-Religious Relations Office of the Evangelical Lutheran
Church in America, representing ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson;
Bishop Jeremiah J. Park of the New York Annual Conference of the
United Methodist Church; the Rev. Dr. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson,
General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America and one of five
Presidents of Christian Churches Together in the USA (CCT/USA);
the Rev. Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian
Church (USA); the Rev. Dr. William J. Shaw, President of the National
Baptist Convention, USA, and one of the five CCT/USA Presidents;
Bishop James Leggett, General Superintendent of the International
Pentecostal Holiness Church and a CCT/USA President; and Dr. Leith
Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).
In addition to Bishop Sisk, invited leaders from the New York area
included Bishop David H. Benke, president of the Atlantic District of
the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod); the Rev. Dr. A. R. Bernard Sr.,
president of the Council of Churches of the City of New York; Elder
Bernice A. King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta
Scott King; and the Rev. Jimmy Seong G. Lim, executive director of
the Council of Churches of the City of New York.