"…Tensions have also continued between the Catholic Church and the separated churches of the East, always a delicate relationship. Pope John Paul II’s longstanding desire to visit Russia remains thwarted.
At the local level, there are continued instances where parish priests and sometimes bishops, while presiding at weddings and funerals, announce to their assembled congregations that non-Catholic Christians who happen to be in attendance are not to receive Holy Communion.
But the record also has some positive aspects. On October 31 (Reformation Day), 1999, there was a Lutheran-Catholic Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification signed in Augsburg, Germany, by official representatives of the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation. Pope John Paul II hailed it as a “milestone” on the road to Christian unity.
Cardinal Avery Dulles pointed out in a lecture at Fordham University that the Joint Declaration “says clearly to a world that hovers on the brink of unbelief that the two churches that split Western Christendom on the issue of justification nearly five centuries ago are still united on truths of the highest import.”
The Declaration insisted that, while the condemnations issued by the Council of Trent in the 16th century remain part of the historical record, both sides have arrived at “new insights” into each other’s understanding of justification. The polemics of the Reformation period have been transcended, and neither side’s views merit condemnation any longer by the other. Whatever differences continue to exist between them “are acceptable” because they do not touch the heart of Christian faith.
Indeed, Cardinal Edward Cassidy, at the time President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, acknowledged that “Serious difficulties remain, but they are secondary to what we hold in common. No longer may we look upon our different expressions of faith as being like two huge cannons drawn up in battle line and facing each other…We need, above all, to give thanks to God for this achievement.”
The next year, in May of 2000, a special consultation of Roman Catholic and Anglican bishops from thirteen regions of the world met for a week in Mississauga, Ontario, to review and evaluate 30 years of formal dialogue between the two churches, as well as to pray and worship together. The meeting was jointly convened by Cardinal Cassidy and the then-Archbishop of Canterbury, George L. Carey.
The consultation, which was a long time in preparation because of the sensitivity of issues to be discussed, had grown out of a visit by Archbishop Carey to Pope John Paul II in late 1996. Three years later, on January 18, 2000, Archbishop Carey assisted the pope in opening the holy door at St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls Basilica, inaugurating the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
"…But at least some additional seeds have been planted and, in the words of the late Cardinal Leo-Josef Suenens of Belgium regarding the documents of Vatican II itself, these seeds are only awaiting the sunlight of divine grace to begin to flower and blossom to the benefit of the whole Church.