The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) announced last week that the dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Reformed (Protestant) churches in the U.S. continues with the discussion of serious theological issues.
The Seventh Round of the consultations included the United Church of Christ, the Reformed Church in America, and the Presbyterian Church (USA). Joining them for the first time were representatives of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. Lutheran leaders participated as observers.
The consultations began Sept. 24 at Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Louisville. Dr. Richard Mouw, resident of Fuller Theological Seminary, and Bishop Patrick Cooney of Gaylord, Michigan, co-chaired the Consultation.
According to a USCCB press release, the discussions took an in-depth look at two major "church-dividing" issues in the 16th century, which lay at the heart of the Protestant Reformation – the sacramental understanding of Eucharist and baptism.
These issues, raised by the reformer John Calvin and his followers, split the Church in the West and are considered to be essential toward eventual union.
The American dialogue between Reformed and Catholic Christians began in 1965. Previous discussions have led to innovations in several areas of ecumenical reflection, such as the ministry, structure, and nature of "the unity we seek" (1975), the implications for church unity of the respective stances on questions of abortion (1980) and war and peace (1988).
The two recent consultations have produced practical and well-received pastoral materials: Laity in the Church and the World (USCCB publications, 1988) and Interchurch Families: Resources for Ecumenical Hope (Westminster John Knox Press and USCCB, 2002).
In an unprecedented move last year, the Reformed Church asked the U.S. bishops whether its Heidelberg Catechism, produced after the Council of Trent in the 16th century, accurately depicts the Catholic understanding of the mass.
According to Fr. Arthur Kennedy, director of the USCCB Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, the constructive reaction of the Reformed Church to the response that it did not adequately portray Catholic teaching represents, "a significant ecumenical achievement, giving rise to renewed hopes for unity."