Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, the new general secretary of the World Council of Churches, aims to give the organisation a higher profile as a focus for action by Christian bodies on global issues like humanitarian relief in crises, climate change and the Middle East impasse. But at his first news conference this week since taking over on January 1, the Norwegian Lutheran cleric also made it clear that the constraints imposed by a widely diverse organisation that makes its decisions by consensus limit his options. It’s unlikely we’ll hear him taking a public stand on two of the main issues making religion headlines these days, the sexual abuse charges against the Roman Catholic Church and the disputes over homosexuality straining relations in several Protestant churches.
Tveit left no doubt that the 349-member WCC, which groups many of the world’s Christian churches but not the Roman Catholics, will not join in widespread criticism of the Roman Catholic Church for its continuing problem with clerical sexual abuse of children. These have surfaced most recently in Ireland and Germany.
“That is a burden all of us have to bear. It is a burden that is carried by the Roman Catholic Church, and they have to deal with it. It is not our role to make it worse,” the 48-year-old Tveit told journalists on Monday at the Geneva Ecumenical Centre, where he has his office and which serves as the effective headquarters of the WCC.
The strength of the WCC, which has member churches in 110 countries representing some 560 million Christian believers, lay in in its power to combine resources from around the globe to move quickly to help people stricken by disasters — as it did in the wake of the Haiti earthquake on January 12, he said.
“I think it is important that the WCC has a strategic role, one of leadership, especially at the present time when we in the churches have a lot of unsolved issues between us,” he declared.