Bishop resigns in protest

Published October 1, 2002


Lutheran Bishop Margot Kaessmann of Germany, one of the most prominent women in the World Council of Churches, has resigned from the ecumenical body?s central committee to protest against proposals intended to smooth over differences with more conservative Orthodox churches in the organization.

The WCC central committee, at a 10-day meeting in Geneva ending Sept. 3, adopted the proposals, including changes in future WCC worship and decision-making procedures.

?For me ? it is a question of my own credibility with regards to how my church understands ministry and the church, including the ordination of women,? Bishop Kaessmann said in a statement explaining her resignation.

Bishop Kaessmann, who had been a member of the central committee since 1993, said she resigned because there would be no further ecumenical worship at WCC events.

The proposals were intended to respond to Orthodox church complaints that the ecumenical body was too dominated by Protestant views on theology, including the ordination of women and ethical issues.

(Bishop Kaessmann, 44, who studied in Germany and Scotland before her ordination, leads the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover which has more than 3 million members and is one of the biggest Lutheran churches in the world. She was the first female bishop to sit on the WCC central committee.)

Bishop Kaessmann said she wanted to see a ?strong WCC? but its effectiveness was being affected by tensions between Protestantism and Orthodoxy. If it was not possible to bridge these differences, she said Protestant and Orthodox churches should consider having separate world organizations.

The recommendations presented to the central committee dropped the term ?ecumenical worship? because it could be misunderstood. This was seen by some as giving in to Orthodox demands.

The WCC will distinguish in future between ?confessional common prayer? (according to the rites of a particular tradition) and ?interconfessional common prayer.?

Bishop Kaessmann said: ?For me?over the past 20 years ecumenical worship services have been at the heart of the World Council.

?If it is not even possible to celebrate a common worship service without the Eucharist … when even the mutual recognition of baptism is being called into question, I do not see how we can cope with the controversial issues (that divide us).?

Like the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox churches strongly oppose the ordination of women as bishops or as priests.

The WCC has 342 member churches from all mainstream Christian traditions including Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox apart from the Roman Catholic Church, which nonetheless cooperates with the ecumenical body.


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