WACOM IV  4th World Apostolic Congress on Mercy  Philippines January 16-20, 2017

Photo: Dan Valenti

An area of disagreement between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is handled by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn (left, with Cardinal Stanislas Dziwisz) with respect and consideration.

Passing the Ecumenical Test

Cardinal Schönborn Clarifies Church's Position on Day 3 Plenary Topic

By Dan Valenti (Apr 6, 2008)
At the opening of Day 4 (Saturday April 5) of the World Mercy Congress plenary sessions at St. John Lateran Basilica in Rome, Congress President Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Austria dealt with the usual housekeeping matters.

He offered a special welcome to the delegates from Lebanon. "The Christians there are in a very dire condition," Cardinal Schönborn said. He called for prayers of solidarity. The Cardinal then referred to the presentation yesterday (Friday, April 4) of Russian Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Austria, which had stirred much interest and comment.

As pastoral heads of Austria for their respective Churches, the Cardinal and Bishop enjoy a warm and productive relationship many see as a model for ecumenical rapprochement.

Sticky Point Presents Opportunity
In his talk, Bishop Hilarion shared a teaching on God's mercy. He said Divine Mercy is so great it even places a limit on the punishment due to sin of those in hell. According to Bishop Hilarion, "hell" is actually like the Roman Catholic teaching of purgatory. Obviously, it is a point of disagreement between the two Churches.

Bishop Hilarion's teaching presented an example of one of the sticky points of disagreement that can surface in the ecumenical dialogue referred to — prophetically, as it turned out — by Cardinal Phillipe Barbarin on Day 2 of the Congress (Tuesday April 3). Cardinal Barbarin said on Day 2 that such moments, and many far worse, would inevitably arise, but they present opportunities for Christians to move forward to unity. Not to do so would amount to spiritual cowardice.

Cardinal Schönborn said, "The witness [of Bishop Hilarion] has caused a few doubts in some of us." He said he holds Bishop Hilarion "in great esteem. What he said about the eternal destiny of man is not a doctrine of the [Catholic] Church. We should follow what great saints of all time have said. [We should] pray that no one should be lost. God wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth. For this reason, we invoke The Divine Mercy on us all."

The unscripted comments were noteworthy in that Cardinal Schönborn did not reject or minimize the teaching of Bishop Hilarion. Cardinal Schönborn had invited Bishop Hilarion to address the Congress. The Bishop's topic had been approved for inclusion in the plenary sessions by the Congress' International Executive Committee.

The matter offered a real-life, textbook example of what Cardinan Barbarin had talked about Tuesday. Here we had the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church confronting an issue of disagreement with mutual respect, openness, and dialogue.

Cardinal Schönborn had met the moment live on the world stage, in front of the international press. In doing so, he demonstrated why so many hold him in such great regard that they think he may one day be Pope.

Be a part of the discussion. Add a comment now!

Robert Allard, Director, Apostles of Divine Mercy - Apr 7, 2008

Perhaps what Bishop Hilarion was trying to get accross is that in hell we have different degrees of suffering. We all know that if a soul ends up in hell, it is for eternity. Anyone doubting scripture would do well to read the book "A Divine Revelation of Hell" by Mary K. Baxter. For thirty days Jesus showed her hell and the reasons why souls are there. It is an eye-opener that includes scripture quotations.

The more we know about hell, the more we know we need God's Divine Mercy!

Mary - Apr 7, 2008

If you are interested in what Bishop Hilarion said, see my comments under the "Bishop Lori" headline for the previous day's stories.

J.M.J. - Apr 6, 2008

One day , the world may recognise this too as part of the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart - as has been that turning of the key that Pope John Paul 11 set in motion through the consecration of Russia and the unity of the 'moral totality ' of the bishops that it represented !

May the peace that comes with a world that believes, in the goodness and holiness of our Father , flood all hearts!