Will the Roman Catholic Church (membership: 46 million) join the National Council of Churches (constituent membership: 41.5 million)?

John Coventry Smith, the Presbyterian ecumenist who heads the NCC’s “working group” with Roman Catholicism, thinks the Catholics “will join a National Council in ten or fifteen years.” He stresses the indefinite article, because the NCC will obviously be a much different organization if it includes the Roman millions.

Speculation has been heightened by two significant events late in 1966. First, the amorphous U. S. Catholic hierarchy became the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, with an apparently more authoritative secretariat to administer programs between annual meetings.

William Norgren, an Episcopalian who is executive director of the NCC’s Faith and Order Department, says “autonomy” is one criterion for membership in the NCC. With Roman Catholicism, he observes, “it’s hard to tell if it’s a series of united national churches, or a world church. If the latter, it’s hard to see how they could join the National Council.” Thus structure, not size, could be the chief obstacle, and the Roman Catholic bishops’ reorganization is an important step.

The second significant move came from the other side. In December, the National Council’s General Board added the Roman Catholic Church to the list of non-members recognized as agreeing with the brief doctrinal requirement in the NCC Constitution: “communions which confess Jesus Christ as Divine Lord and Savior.”

The immediate effect of the action, spokesmen said, was to make Jesuit David Bowman a legitimate staff member of the NCC’s Faith and Order Department. Now Roman Catholics can be hired freely and included as participants in programs and agencies. ...

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