Methodists advocate for unity with new pope
A UMNS Report | By Linda Bloom*
Several Methodist leaders are hopeful that the new Roman Catholic pope, Benedict XVI, will support efforts toward Christian unity.
German-born Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected April 19 as the 265th pope to lead the billion-member Roman Catholic Church. Since 1981, he had served as second-in-command to Pope John Paul II, who died April 2.
The Rev. Geoffrey Wainwright, who has been chairman of the dialogue between the World Methodist Council and the Roman Catholic Church since 1986, called the new pope “a first-rate theologian, with a subtle and penetrating mind” and said he was delighted by his election.
“I have found it very easy to enter into technical and friendly conversation with Cardinal Ratzinger during my meetings with him over the years, when I have kept him up to date on our international Methodist-Catholic dialogue,” Wainwright added. “He is committed to the cause of Christian unity in the truth of the Gospel.
“Doctrinally, he holds to the Christian faith in a classic form. Pastorally, he showed great grace and sensitivity during his conduct of the funeral Mass for Pope John Paul the Second and in his homily on that occasion.”
The Rev. Larry Pickens, chief executive of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, said he believes the selection of Ratzinger is an indication of a church “in transition.”
As prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, Ratzinger “had enormous impact upon the theological life of the church” and helped shaped its response to liberation theology in Latin American and theological issues involving Catholics in Africa and the United States, Pickens said.
“In some sectors of Latin America, his selection is viewed with disappointment because there is a sense that he will not be as committed to social justice as Pope John Paul II,” Pickens told United Methodist News Service.
He said he hopes the new pope will continue John Paul II’s commitment to ecumenical dialogue and interfaith cooperation and further efforts for peace and liberation.
“I hope that he will help the church deal with the AIDS crisis in Africa,” Pickens added. “Furthermore it is my hope that the role and impact of the developing world continues to grow in its significant witness within the Catholic Church.”
Cooperation between the United Methodist and Roman Catholic churches should continue to develop through bilateral dialogue, he said.
The Rev. Samuel Kobia, a Methodist pastor from Kenya and chief executive of the World Council of Churches, sent a letter to Pope Benedict XVI, encouraging him “to initiate new ways of cooperation” between Catholics and the World Council.
Noting that the new pope’s election coincides with the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, Kobia asked him to “constitute a time for the Roman Catholic Church to apply, in a renewed commitment, the teachings and the spirit of ecumenical openness exemplified in the Second Vatican Council to the life of her faithful and of the whole church.”
He expressed hope that the pope would be “guided by the ecclesiological vision of the Second Vatican Council … a vision that has prompted, encouraged and strengthened the commitment of the Roman Catholic faithful to the journey towards encountering their sisters and brothers in Christ and experiencing the real, though imperfect, communion with them.”