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Institution of The Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission (Originally The Ecumenical Affairs Commission)

On All Saints’ Day (1 November) 1967, Archbishop James Knox established the Ecumenical Affairs Commission of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne. It is the longest running Commission of the Archdiocese. Coincidentally (and there is no indication that it was anything other than a coincidence), this date was also the 450th Anniversary of the start of the protestant reformation in 1517.  


It is believed that Archbishop Knox’s motivation in instituting the Commission was the publication by the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity” (later the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity) on 14 May 1967 of the first part of the “Directory for the Application of the Decisions of the Second Vatican Council concerning Ecumenical Matters”. This directory was itself the result of Vatican II which, in the decree Unitatis Redintegratio, “briefly set out the conditions for ecumenical action and the principles by which it is to be directed” (UR §24).

The First Meeting

The first meeting of the Commission (called variously The Commission for Ecumenical Affairs and The Ecumenical Affairs Committee, but finally settling on The Ecumenical Affairs Commission) was held on 7 December 1967. 

The first meeting took place in the St Patrick’s Cathedral Presbytery, and was presided over by the auxiliary bishop of Melbourne, Lawrence Moran (d. 1970). Those present were “Fathers B. O'Connor, J. Cleary, D. Conquest, L. Kelly, P. Willy, D. Murphy, M. Costigan and M. King; Brother [R.S.] Stewart, Sister [M.] Callistus; Messrs. J.J. McKenna, R. Walker, J. Callanan, and P. Conde; and Misses A. Orlebar, and A. Healy. An apology for inability to attend because of University examinations was received from Father D. D’Arcy.” We note that at that time of the 50th Anniversary, the only surviving member of the original Commission is Michael Costigan.

The minutes of the first meeting show something of the concerns at that time:

After a preliminary address by Bishop Moran in which he spoke in general terms of the ecumenical movement and of the Archbishop's initiative in establishing the Committee, the ecumenical directives laid down several years ago by Archbishop Simonds and others issued by Archbishop Knox at the time of the formation of the Committee were read to the meeting.

The meeting then conducted a rapid survey of Catholic participation in ecumenical activities in Melbourne in recent years.

Among activities mentioned were: collaboration with other churches on the question of religious instruction in State Schools; the "Week of Prayer" committee and its two or three annual meetings for clergy; the "consultations" on Vatican II organized by the Anglican Archbishop's Ecumenical Affairs Committee; the Inter-Church Trade and Industry Mission; the ecumenical activities of the Legion of Mary and other lay apostolate organizations ; the meetings of the "Studia Liturgica” group; the Religious Press Association; collaboration between the Catholic Radio and Television Committee and the Christian Television Association; the Biblical Association; participation in or liaison with local inter-church bodies; the commission given to Sister Callistus by Archbishop Simonds as an observer at the: meetings of the Women's Inter-Church Council of Victoria; Y.C.W activity on the Youth Council of Victoria; relationship between Catholic and non-Catholic adult apostolate groups; and the Christian East Association.

It is interesting to see that joint prayer with other Christians was a major concern:

Bishop Moran asked for the views of members on a suggestion for combined prayer gatherings in St. Paul's and St. Patrick's Cathedrals.

 Fr. Cleary said that such a service should be formal, including sermon, hymns and biblical readings. Brother Stewart described a successful combined service of this kind held in the Hobart Town Hall on the occasion of a meeting of the College of Education. Fr. L. Kelly said that Christmas was a suitable and popular time for these functions.

 Fr. Cleary said that prayers of unity ought to be offered in this combined way at Pentecost, when the “Week of Prayer for Unity" is observed.

 Mr. Conde noted that Catholics had recently attended “Evensong" in an Anglican Cathedral in England and that sung Evensong could be very easily accepted as a type of common service.

 Miss Orlebar asked whether or not an exchange of pulpits ought to be recommended at this stage.

 The following motion was proposed:


(Proposed by Brother Stewart, seconded by Fr, Murphy). Carried.

 Chairs of the Commission and Episcopal Vicars

 The original Chair of the Ecumenical Affairs Commission was auxiliary Bishop Lawrence Moran. Bishop Moran died in March 1970, and Rev. Dr Percy Jones was appointed as Chair in his place (the first meeting he chaired was in April 1970). In December of that Dr Jones was also appointed the first Episcopal Vicar of Ecumenical Affairs. Fr Peter Cross joined the Commission in 1972, and was appointed Chair of the Commission from 1978 to 1980, while Percy Jones continued as EV. In February 1981, Dr Jones chaired the meeting, but at the March meeting that year, Fr Peter Kenny took on the role of Chair of the Commission for the first time, for an initial appointment of 3 years. The minutes record that “Dr Jones welcomed the new chairman and wished him well.” Dr Jones continued in the role of Episcopal Vicar, but increasing ill health meant he was rarely able to attend the meetings. He resigned as in November 1989 after 19 years in the office, and Fr Kenny was appointed as the Episcopal Vicar for Ecumenical Relations in addition to his role as Chair of the Commission. Fr– now Monsignor – Kenny was himself to outdo Dr Jones, serving as EV for 20 years until his own retirement at the end of 2009. During his time, the title and role of the EV was changed to Episcopal Vicar for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations. The new Episcopal Vicar and Chair, Fr Denis Stanley, took the Chair at the first meeting in 2010 and continued in this role until his appointment as Rector of Corpus Christi Seminary at the start of 2017. At this date, Archbishop Hart chose to maintain Fr Stanley in the role of Episcopal Vicar, while bringing in Fr Cameron Forbes as the Chair of the Commission.

The Ecumenical [and Interfaith] Bulletin

In the early years of the Commission, a “Ecumenical Bulletin” was published and issued 3 to 5 times a year. The Bulletin was published from late 1969 until 1974, at which point it was discontinued for a time, only to be revived under the editorship of Fr Len Thomas in 1984. It then continued until February 2009, at which time we transitioned to electronic communication. All the past Ecumenical [and Interfaith] Bulletins can be read online in the Library section of this website. These provide an interesting historical overview of the work of the Commission.

Executive Secretary/Officer

In August 1989, the Commission began discussion for the appointment of a salaried “Executive Officer”. An advertisement for an Executive Officer on a part-time basis was placed in The Advocate on 14 December and four applicants were short-listed. From these, Anne Paul was selected and appointed in January 1990, beginning in May 1990 in a 20hrs per week part-time basis. (Nb. The title “Executive Officer” fell into abeyance quite quickly and was replaced with “Executive Secretary” until 2001.) The position was raised to 3 days a week in 2001, 4 days a week in 2005, and became full time in 2008. 

Anne Paul 1992-1997
Jeff Wild 1998-2001
Paul Taylor 2001-2002
David Schütz 2002 to the present.

 The Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission

In 2000 the Commission was given a new name by Archbishop George Pell, and with this change also came a new charge. The question of adding “Interfaith” to the title of the Commission first came up at the meeting of the Commission in August 1998, although there was discussion of creating an “Inter Faith” subcommittee already in August 1989. There was already a long-running “Subcommittee for Relations with Jews”, but otherwise the work of the Commission had almost entirely been focused on ecumenical relations with other Christians. There had been a visit from Cardinal Arinze in July 1995, which did involve some interfaith encounters, and, at the Adelaide 1996 National Meeting of Ecumenical Commissions, Margaret Mooney made a presentation on interfaith issues. She also began giving an “Interfaith Report” at each meeting. At the November 1998 meeting of the Ecumenical Affairs Commission, Fr Peter Kenny reported that he had “recently met a representative from an Indian group wishing to hold a seminar on Hindu Spirituality, and hoping for our support in promoting the event.”

The Commission voted to change their name at the September meeting in 2000 to reflect this growing involvement with communities of other faiths, and it was reported at the November 2000 meeting that Archbishop Pell had approved the change of name to “The Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission”. Perhaps not coincidentally, at the same meeting it was reported the Fr John Dupuche had agreed to join the Commission and the Archbishop’s ratification of his membership was requested.

The 50th Anniversary of the Commission

On Monday 11 December, the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission marked its 50th Anniversary in a small way with a gathering of members past and present at “The Moat” under the State Library in Little Lonsdale Street. The following attended:

Current Members: Fr Denis Stanley, Fr John Dupuche, Dr Max Stephens, Rev. Joseph Leach, Sr Mary Reaburn, Dr Edmund Chia, Dr Nasir Butrous, Mr Jeff Wild, Mrs Elissa Roper, Mr David Schütz; Apologies: Fr Cameron Forbes, Sr Cheryl Camp, Fr Geoff McIlroy

Past Members: Mons Peter Kenny, Fr Len Thomas, Sr Mary Lotton, Mrs Gwenda Rait, Dr Des Cahill, Mrs Mary Williams, Ms Anne Paul, Mrs Margaret Mooney, Mr Tom Tierney; Apologies: Mons Franco Cavarra, Dr Paul Taylor, Mr Gary Cuthell, Ms Shirley Carroll, Mr Kevin Mark

Interestingly, in the files of the Commission a guest list for the “Silver Jubilee of the Ecumenical Affairs Commission” was found. Here is a facsimile:


From "The Advocate"

"Focus on Unity" The Advocate (Thursday, May 8, 1975) [PDF] A 15 page text and photo "lift out" feature jointly published in The Advocate (Melbourne based Catholic weekly), Church Scene (Melbourne based Anglican weekly) and The Southern Cross (Adelaide based Catholic weekly).
Journey begun, Destination unsighted : the ecumenical movement in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne 1960-1990

We are delighted to be able to publish Sr Mary Leonora Moorhead's important work on the history of Catholic ecumenism in Melbourne. Sr Mary Lou died in 2005, and we publish this work as a tribute to her contribution to ecumenism. Click here to download the PDF file.
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