by Sarah Crowe in Stockholm NEW ecumenical ground has been broken in Sweden, paving the way for stronger links between the Catholic and Protestant churches worldwide.
The Catholic and the State Lutheran Church in Sweden ended nearly 20 years of "theological negotiations" last week with the signing of a document which is considered a breakthrough for the international ecumenical movement.
The document — described as a significant historical development — was drawn up by theologians from both churches and goes further than previous documents such as the Mean Document drawn up under the auspices of the World Council of Churches in 1982 in Lima, Peru, and the Ministry of the Church documents which were published in 1978 by the Lutheran World Federation and the German Catholic Church.
It forms the basis of agreement between the Swedish State Church and the Catholic Church on three major issues: the sacramentality of the church, apostolic succession and the ministry of a bishop in a democratic society — essentially "democratising" the mission of the Church.
This new spirit of cooperation between the two major churches in Sweden, traditionally not on speaking terms, is expected to go from strength to strength this year as both churches prepare for the prospective visit of the Pope early next year — the first ever to a Nordic nation.
"This development is of great significance to the current international dialogue particularly between the Lutheran and Catholic churches", said the head of the Swedish Church, Archbishop Bertil Wekstrom.
"After a long period of very weak contact, we are now in an intensive period of co-operation. The Pope's visit next year can become an inspiration for us to build on this", said the archbishop.
The document itself brings the churches to a point of shared vision on the sacramentality of the church which recognises the need for a ministry of oversight, or moderators and sees the church as "not simply a tool for the will of God — as many Protestant churches do — but rather as an active labourer", as the group secretary, Professor
Sven Erik Brodd, explained: "In this way the church is proclaiming the sacraments by being not just by doing in a non-sacramental sense.
"The Catholic Church has also now come close to recognising the bishops of the Swedish Church who are consecrated today in the same way as they were before the Reformation as the Swedish Church was isolated for so long.
We also think there is a need for the apostolic succession of the whole church, the people of God, not only the bishops".
The ministry of the bishops in a democratic society was central to the document confirming the trend already begun by liberation theologians.
"In a democratic western society we have built up a social structure from below, but in the church it is the other way around: a bishop does not reflect what the people in general think.
This document now reinforces the position of pastoral councils of Vatican II, and the attempts to lessen the divide between the hierarchy and the people as has happened in parts of Latin America", said Professor Brodd. "But we have to move forward to a situation where the believers elect their bishops."
To the followers of the Church of Sweden — who statistically amount to about 90 per cent of the population — the document is likely to raise some eyebrows.
"For Lutherans the language sounds very Roman Catholic. At the same time it embodies the key questions central to the ecumenical movement and takes the dialogue a lot further. But the terminology is Vatican II", said Professor Brodd.
"We are not of course united, but our common views are now greater than our differences".
Such moves towards unity are not unexpected in consensus Sweden — a country which has not been involved in any form of conflict for 200 years.