The first tentative steps toward reconciliation of the three-year dispute between Arlington Bishop Thomas J. Welsh and parishioners of Good Shepherd Roman Catholic Church were taken in a meeting earlier this week.
The bishop, the church's pastor and members of the advisory board that he appointed from the loyalist members remaining in the congregation, and the council of the dissident Good Shepherd Community for Shared Responsibility met in a two-hour closed door session Tuesday evening in response to a Vatican request that the parties make "every effort" to resolve their difficulties.
The dispute at Good Shepherd, a once thriving parish located in a prosperous section of Fairfax County near Mount Vernon, has attracted international attention as a microcosm of the worldwide conflict in the Catholic Church between the new style of Catholicism and the older, more traditional ways.
Under a pastor appointed by retired Bishop John J. Russell, church members had grown accustomed to extensive participation in church affairs and in making decisions in virtually every aspect of parish life. The parish had gained a widespread recognition for its efforts to put into practice many of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
When the pastor appointedvby Bishop Welsh, in September, 1974,curtailed the role of lay members, large numbers of the parishioners rebelled.
After earlier efforts at reconciliation failed, the dispute was ultmately appealed to the Vatican.
A joint statement summarizing the Tuesday meeting reflected the good faith of both sides to enter into the reconciliation process but anticipated no quick results.
"All parties involved in the meeting emphasized that trust would have to be restored and it was obvious that a complete reconciliation could not take place overnight," the statement said.
According to the statement, Bishop Welsh acknowledged the differing styles of churchmanship now operating within Catholicism. "Bishop Welsh stressed that pluralism was appropriate in matters that allow it, but not in matters of church doctrine, the statement said.
The bishop expressed the hope that the anticipated resolution of the Good Shepherd conflict might "serve as a model" for similar differences elsewhere.
While both parties reflected willingness to enter into the dialogue in good faith, neither appeared willing to make significant concessions at this time.
At one point,according to the joint statement, Bishop Welsh asked representatives of the dissenting group if they accepted the "fraternal correction" that he said was provided in the Vatican response, made public last month.
The Vatican had asked the Good Shepherd group "to join with their bishop and pastor, making every effort to cooperate in the work of the church according to church policies."
Regis Reynolds, cochairperson of the Good Shepherd Community, replied to Bishop Welsh's query, according to the joint statement: "In our view, the response of the (Vatican) did not address the issues presented in the petition (from Good Shepherd) and therefore provided no fraternal correction."
Also still unresolved was the question of the full text of the Vatican decision. The vatican's response to the parishioners' petition for mediation in their dispute with Bishop Welsh was contained in a letter to the bishop. He made public only three short paragraphs from the letter, contending that the rest of the letter was personal.