VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI told Baptist and Catholic representatives he hoped conversations between the two denominations “will bear abundant fruit for the progress of dialogue and the increase of understanding and cooperation.”
The pope met privately at the Vatican Dec. 6 with more than 20 delegates who were in Rome for a meeting of the joint international commission sponsored by the Baptist World Alliance and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
Pope Benedict said if reconciliation and greater fellowship between Baptists and Catholics were to be realized certain issues “need to be faced together, in a spirit of openness, mutual respect and fidelity” to the Gospel.
He said some of the “historically controverted issues” that needed further discussion include “the relationship between Scripture and tradition, the understanding of baptism and the sacraments, the place of Mary in the communion of the church, and the nature of oversight and primacy in the church’s ministerial structure.”
He said the commission’s focus on the word of God in the life of the church offered “a promising context” for discussing the differences in Catholic and Baptist approaches to faith.
Catholics place great emphasis on the sacraments, with particular reverence for Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. Baptists recognize baptism and the Lord’s Supper but refer to them as biblical “ordinances,” carried out in obedience to the Lord’s commands in Scripture.
Baptists honor Mary as the mother of Jesus Christ, but they do not address prayer to Mary or the saints because Jesus is the only mediator between human beings and God.
Both Catholics and Baptists agree that the primary source of knowledge of God is Scripture, and they share beliefs in the Trinity, the divinity and humanity of Jesus, and the existence of heaven and hell. They also share the same concerns over many social and moral issues such as abortion, pornography and violence.
During the Dec. 6 audience, one Baptist representative from the United Kingdom thanked the pope for his Christian leadership.
He said the joint commission’s conversations on “the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper in their relation to the word of God in the life of the church” have shown “much convergence as we have thought about the ways God uses these elements of creation to draw us more deeply into the communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
A U.S. Baptist representative told the pope his papal ministry “encourages us as we try to discover how we are united in the Lord” and how the two denominations could pay “common witness to the value and sanctity of human life, justice and peace.”
Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Christian unity council, told the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano that dialogue between Catholics and Baptists was “very fruitful” and that he was pleased with “the atmosphere of friendship that has developed.”
“In the past, who would have thought that (Baptist representatives) would have willingly come to Rome to talk together with us?” he said in the paper’s Dec. 5 edition.
The cardinal said while there is still disagreement on the sacraments Catholics and Baptists agreed “on the foundations of the faith: Christology, the Resurrection” and ethical issues.