Joint Committee of Orthodox and Catholic Bishops Hold 22nd Meeting; Discuss Future of Kosovo in Light of Negotiations, Other Topics

June 28, 2006 By Public Affairs Office
WASHINGTON (June 28, 2006)--The Joint Committee of Orthodox and Catholic Bishops held its 22nd meeting at Saint Paul's College in Washington, DC, from June 21 to 23. It was co-chaired by Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb of Mobile and Bishop Seraphim of Ottawa and Canada (Orthodox Church in America). Plans had been made for the twenty-second meeting to take place in October 2005 in Syria as a guest of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, but for technical reasons this was not possible.

At this meeting the Joint Committee discussed in depth the future of Kosovo in light of the current negotiations now underway to determine the political status of Kosovo. Metropolitan Christopher of the Serbian Orthodox Church summarized the position of his Church's Holy Synod on this matter, and Mr Walter Grazer, responsible for European issues and human rights, especially religious freedom, in the International Office for Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, also made a presentation. The Joint Committee then said that "As Orthodox and Catholic bishops of the United States and Canada, we urge all the parties involved, but especially the political leadership of Kosovo and the Serbian government, to negotiate in good faith for a just and peaceful resolution of their differences. Only through a real dialogue of mutual respect and good faith negotiations can justice and peace become a reality in Kosovo."

The Joint Committee expressed its support for the efforts and the plea of the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church to guarantee the political rights of all minorities, especially Serb minorities in Kosovo. The Joint Committee discussed at length the difficult situation of Serb minorities and the need to guarantee their security and full political and social participation in the life of Kosovo. Without such guarantees, it will be difficult to achieve a lasting political framework for the governance of Kosovo. The Joint Committee was grateful for the recent agreement signed between Serbian and Kosovar authorities pledging to create safe and fair conditions for the return of some 200,000 Serb and other minority refugees. The Joint Committee hopes that other aspects of the negotiations will go as well.

Finally, the Joint Committee is especially concerned about the destruction of places of worship, monasteries, cemeteries and other religious and holy sites. It hopes that these sites can be rebuilt and restored and that there will be adequate protection throughout all of Kosovo for all religious and holy sites. To this end, the Joint Committee urges the government of the United States and the other members of the Contact Group (Germany, France, Italy, Russia and the United Kingdom) to continue to remain engaged and provide leadership in helping the parties to negotiate and implement a just resolution to this situation.

The efforts of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches to combat internet pornography were also discussed. Bishop Dimitrios of Xanthos presented the text of a letter that the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA) addressed to the Orthodox clergy on this matter last March, and Cardinal William Keeler reported on the work of the Religious Alliance Against Pornography. The Joint Committee expressed its support for these efforts.

At this meeting the members of the Joint Committee also heard comments by Archbishop Vsevolod of Scopelos on the recent book by Olivier Cl�ment, You Are Peter. Kevin Appleby, director of migration and refugee policy for the U.S. bishops, furnished an overview of the Catholic Church's position in the current debate in our country about immigration.

This year's meeting coincided with the installation of Most Reverend Donald W. Wuerl as Archbishop of Washington on June 22. He and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick invited the members to a luncheon at the John Paul II Cultural Center with the other bishops present, and to participate in the Installation Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The Orthodox bishops processed into the Basilica and were given places of honor during the liturgy. In addition, on the evening of June 21 the members attended an Akathist Hymn service at the John Paul II Cultural Center and a reception sponsored by the Orientale Lumen Conference which was taking place at that time.

The Joint Committee also reviewed significant events that have taken place recently in their churches. Among these were relations between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, including an agreed statement on ecumenism, the transfer of the headquarters of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church from Lviv to Kiev and other developments in Ukraine, the withdrawal of the Antiochian Archdiocese from the National Council of Churches, the election of Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem, the encyclical Deus Caritas Est by Pope Benedict XVI, the decision by Pope Benedict XVI to set aside the title of Patriarch of the West and Orthodox reactions, developments in SCOBA, the resumption of the international Orthodox-Catholic dialogue, the raising of the Romanian Greek Catholic Church to Major Archepiscopal status, the visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch to the United States in January, the recent General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Porto Alegre, Brazil, the inauguration of "Christian Churches Together in the USA," recent developments in the Orthodox Church in America, and the just-concluded General Convention of the Episcopal Church.

The next meeting of the Joint Committee was scheduled to take place from October 3 to 5, 2007, in St. Augustine, Florida, at the Orthodox Christian Mission Center. The main topic of discussion will be evangelization and mission efforts of our Churches.
The Joint Committee of Orthodox and Catholic Bishops was established in 1981, and is sponsored jointly by the Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas.

The Catholic members of the Committee include Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb of Mobile (Co-Chairman); William Cardinal Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore; Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati; Bishop Tod D. Brown of Orange; Bishop Dale Melczek of Gary; Bishop Nicholas Samra, Auxiliary of the Melkite Greek Catholic Eparchy of Newton; Bishop Richard Sklba, Auxiliary of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee; and Rev. Ronald G. Roberson, CSP (staff).

The Orthodox members are Bishop Seraphim of Ottawa and Canada (Co-Chairman, Orthodox Church in America), Archbishop Vsevolod of Scopelos (Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA), Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver (Greek Orthodox Archdiocese), Metropolitan Christopher (Serbian Orthodox Church), Metropolitan Nicholas of Amissos (Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese), Archbishop Nicolae (Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in America and Canada), Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco (Greek Orthodox Archdiocese), Bishop Thomas of Oakland, PA and the East (Antiochian Archdiocese), and Bishop Dimitrios of Xanthos (Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, staff).