Cardinal calls ethical diversity new threat to ecumenism

While many of the doctrinal differences that divided Christians for centuries are close to being resolved, different approaches to modern ethical questions are making Christian unity appear as distant as ever, said Cardinal Walter Kasper.

"I am very sad we are not able to speak with one voice on these issues to a world that needs to hear," the cardinal said on Friday at an international ecumenical conference at Ushaw College, a Catholic seminary in Durham.

The cardinal, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, received an honorary doctorate on Thursday from the University of Durham and delivered the keynote address the following day at the opening of an ecumenical conference organised by the university to discuss steps the Catholic Church and its dialogue partners should take at a time when full church unity seems distant.

Cardinal Kasper told conference participants that believing Christians cannot give up hope for Christian unity because church division is "a sin before God and a scandal before the world."

However, he acknowledged a sense that, after 40 years of what appeared to be major progress toward unity, ecumenical dialogue has come up against serious, unforeseen obstacles.

Differences among Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants over issues such as homosexual activity, abortion, euthanasia and other moral questions "are not on the top of the hierarchy of truths" - like the belief in Jesus as saviour is - "but they are very emotional and, therefore, very divisive," the cardinal said.

Just five or six years ago, he said, Catholic bishops and leaders of some other churches seemed ready to explore concrete steps their communities could take toward organizational unity.

Since then, however, it has become clear that "both the ecumenical mood and the ecumenical situation worldwide have changed so radically as to virtually run counter to the ecumenical movement toward unity," he said.

Ethical approaches make unity appear distant, says Vatican official (Catholic News Service 13/1/06)

Admitting past mistakes is key to Christian unity, pope says (Catholic News Service 9/1/06)

16 Jan 2006