Report on Dialogue With Baptist World Alliance

Author: Mons. John A. Radano


Mons. John A. Radano
Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity


For international contacts with Baptists, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity is in touch with the Baptist World Alliance. The Alliance's headquarters are located in Falls Church, Virginia, USA, near Washington, DC. The constituency it represents includes some 40,000,000 baptized believers. Baptists give baptism only to those who are able to consciously make an act of faith, and not to infants. Thus when one includes the children in families of the baptized believers, the number is closer to 100,000,000.

There has been one phase of international conversations between the Baptist World Alliance and the Catholic Church which took place 1984-1988 and published a report entitled Summons to Witness to Christ in Today's World (1990). The PCPCU would like to continue with a second phase of international dialogue and is waiting for the BWA to approve a second phase.

In the meantime, cordial contacts continue. For example, the BWA invites a representativeof the Catholic Church (along with representatives of various Christian World Communions) to attend the Baptist World Congress which is held every five years. The Catholic Church, through the PCPCU, invites the BWA to send a representative to various events, more recently for example to the ecumenical events of the Jubilee year, and most recently to the Assisi Day of Prayer for Peace on 24 January 2002.

Meeting in Rome, 3-4 December 2000

In December, 2000, a BWA international delegation of about 15 persons came to Rome for one and one-half days of discussion, at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, as an initial step to prepare the way for a second phase of dialogue. A part of that discussion included the presentation by the Baptist Prof. James Leo Garrett of issues which would need to be taken up in a second phase of dialogue. These included the Petrine ministry; Marian dogma and spirituality; sacraments as ex opere operato; authority, scripture, tradition, magisterium. But since the BWA was yet not ready to begin a second phase of dialogue, in order to ensure continuing contacts, the BWA proposed that a next step could be a similar gathering in 2001 where the two sides could continue discussion, if not official conversations. Buenos Aires was suggested as the site.

Meeting in Buenos Aires, 6-7 December 2001

It was agreed to meet in Buenos Aires Argentina 6-7 December 2001 at the International Baptist Theological Seminary, and to focus on relations between Catholics and Baptists in Latin America. Thirteen Baptists and nine Catholic leaders took part in the discussion. The Baptists included two leaders from the BWA headquarters in the USA and other participants from Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Venezuela. The Catholic delegation included Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the PCPCU, and others from the PCPCU including Bishop Marc Ouellet, Secretary, Mons. John A. Radano and Fr Juan Usma Gomez, as well as other participants from Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador and Chile.

The meetings were co-chaired by Dr. Denton Lotz, General Secretary of the BWA, and Cardinal Kasper. The first day, 6 December was dedicated to "theological issues between Baptists and Catholics in Latin America". Presentations were made, on the Baptist side, by Dr Tomás Mackey (Argentina), Dr Fausto Vasconcelos (Brazil), Amparo de Medina (Colombia) and Josue Fonseca (Chile), and on the Catholic side by Bishop Julio Terán Dutari (Ecuador), Rev. Jorge Scampini O.P., (Argentina) and Rev. Gabriele Cipriani (Brazil). These presentations gave insights into the historical background to current relations between the two sides especially the clashes between the two, as well as perspectives they have towards each other today. Today they also mentioned some of the issues surfaced by Prof. Garrett as those which Baptists and Catholics need to discuss in dialogue. They surfaced other concerns as well. One concern expressed by the Catholic side is that Baptists in Latin America sometimes do not recognize the Christian identity of Catholics. One concern of Baptists is that Catholics sometimes call them a "sect". While some changes for the better have taken place, there is still much misunderstanding, and suspicion of one another, and the need for dialogue in order to inform one another accurately of the theological positions which each side holds.

The discussion on the second day focused on a paper given by Cardinal Kasper on the theme "The concept of 'communio' as a framework within which to discuss issues of concern", such as Petrine ministry, marian dogma etc. Cardinal Kasper explored the ecumenical significance of a theology of "communion". In this framework he also made some initial points which might be taken into consideration in discussion of some of the issues on which Catholics and Baptists differ. But he did not claim to give a full treatment to these questions. That still remains for future dialogue. An initial response from the Baptist side to the Cardinal's paper was given by the Reverend Harold Segura Carmona of Colombia. An open discussion then took place.

On the evening of December 6th, a celebration of prayer, a service of the Word, was organized in the chapel of the Baptist seminary, and was open to the public. Persons from various Christian traditions attended including the Reverend Melidá Ritchie, a Methodist pastor in Argentina who is a former vicemoderator of the World Council of Churches, and Dr Norberto Padilla the Secretary for Cults of the Government of Argentina.

Some Observations

In a certain sense this two day meeting was unique. While organized by the BWA and the PCPCU, it brought together for the first time, some Baptists and Catholics from different countries in Latin America. Although there were persons present on both sides from some of the major countries of Latin America, this was not in the strict sense a regional Latin American meeting.

The atmosphere was cordial. One would hope that some of the Baptists and Catholics who came from the same countries would continue to stay in contact in their own countries and even find ways to meet on a regular basis. This remains to be seen.

At the end of the meeting one of the Baptists, Dr Raúl Scialabba, proposed the idea of some sort of "forum" in Latin America which would foster these contacts. Some expressed interest in this. Whether something can come of this remains to be seen.

There were some moving moments in the meeting. At one point one member from each side expressed personalregret for negative attitudes often expressed by members of each of these Christian communions toward the other side.

Finally, this was a useful meeting and important in many ways. But in another way it was an interim step taken to maintain contacts between the BWA and the PCPCU in this period while awaiting the possibility of a second phase of international dialogue. This meeting was able to bring Baptists and Catholics into contact with each other, and if those contacts continue it will be even more fruitful. But, an international dialogue is able to produce a carefully and mutually worked out report, (as resulted in 1990 from the first phase of dialogue) in which the sides can state together, in print, which aspects of Christian faith they share in common, and where they differ. This sort of report, which usually takes the intense reflection afforded by an international phase of dialogue lasting some years, cannot be produced by a brief two day meeting. The report of a dialogue would be a major resource in assisting the reconciliation of two communities of Christians who have been bitterly separated for 400 years. It would provide the theological rationale they need for taking steps toward reconciliation.

Hopefully, the meeting in Buenos Aires will be a step creating the confidence necessary to move toward this kind of international dialogue.

January 8, 2002  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
20 March 2002, page 9

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