Pope Benedict XVI met Thursday with Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, the leader of the World Council of Churches, in an effort to improve relations between the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches.
Since the beginning of his tenure, the newly elected pope made reaching out to other Christians a “fundamental commitment” of his papacy.
That commitment was echoed in a statement released after the meeting, where Benedict said he is “eager to continue cooperation” with the WCC.
"The commitment of the Catholic Church to the search for Christian unity is irreversible," Benedict said.
Kobia, agreed, saying faith "is more effective and vibrant when it is lived out together with our brothers and sisters in Christ."
Kobia also invited the Pope to the WCC’s headquarters in Geneva "as yet one more concrete step in our long journey towards visible unity".
One of the main points emphasized during the meeting was in regard to the understanding of the ecclesiology. Kobia, in an interview with the AP, explained that some Protestant members of the WCC were “vexed” by a 2000 document from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, which framed the role of the Catholic Church in human salvation in an exclusive matter.
The document, “Dominus Iesus,” which the pope signed and headed when he was a cardinal, suggested that non-Catholic “ecclesiastical communities” were “not churches in a proper sense.
“There are many Protestant churches that are members of the WCC and are concerned that they are defined as 'ecclesiastic communities' and not full churches," Kobia said to AP in an interview prior to the meeting.
He said he wasn't looking for Benedict to renounce the 2000 document, but said he hoped the two sides could "move beyond it."
"I would seek understanding that in order to progress on unity, it would be important to speak another language, moving beyond what has been said," he said.
During his meeting with the Pope, Kobia mentioned the issue as one of the fundamental questions of unity.
"Responses to these fundamental ecclesiological questions will certainly affect whether or not our member churches recognize each other's baptism, as well as their ability or inability to recognize one another as churches," Kobia said.
The WCC "would like to encourage dialogue on these fundamental questions," Kobia told the pope, "in our relationships with all our ecumenical partners".
Benedict’s prepared remarks, however, made no mention of the issue.
Kobia's delegation included Bishop Eberhardt Renz from the Evangelical Church in Germany and Archbishop Makarios of Kenya and Irinoupolis, from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and all Africa.