I have just finished reading “The Ministry of Oversight”, the final statement of the 2000-2007 round of dialogue between the Australian Catholic Churches and the Lutheran Church of Australia. You can read the media statement released from the Adelaide Archdiocesan office here.
The document as a whole is not available on line, and until it is, there is little point in me doing a commentary on it line by line on this blog. But it is my intention to do a complete critique at some time in the near future.
I think I may safely say that I am one of only two or three persons anywhere in the world who can really claim to have had an in depth working experience of both the LCA and Catholic systems of “episcopal” governance. Others may indeed by more knowlegable than me on either the Catholic or the Lutheran theology and practice of episkope, but as far as knowing the other (ie. Lutherans knowing the Catholic practice and doctrine and vice versa), I don’t think there is anyone else as well placed as I am to offer comment.
The place of “ministry of episkope” in the Church is an essential matter for the dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics that must be squarely, honestly, and accurately addressed if there is any hope that Lutherans and Catholics will move further in the direction of full communion.
However, I don’t think this document helps to advance this dialogue in any way. It is a deeply flawed document, which obfuscates rather than clarifies the issues between us, largely by basing the discussion on false equivalents (eg. Bishop=President, instead of Bishop=Pastor, or District=Local Church=Diocese instead of Congregation=Local Church=Diocese).
It mentions the problems raised by “Dominus Iesus” at the beginning regarding the true nature of the Church, but does not engage properly with its assertions. Of course the document came too late to deal with the amplification of the statement in “Dominus Iesus” in the CDF statement “Responses on the Nature of the Church”, but fundamental disagreements between this statement from the CDF and “The Ministry of Oversight” almost render the latter statement useless.
“The Ministry of Oversight” shows a great deal of willingness and desire to reach agreement, but what agreement has been reached has been muddied by misunderstandings throughout. I can read it with both a Lutheran and Catholic mind, and I assure you, Catholics are hearing Lutherans say different things than what the Lutherans are actually saying in this document and vice versa.
I am deeply disappointed.