The Roman Catholic commitment to Christian unity is as strong as it ever was, said the Roman Catholic primate of England here last week, although he suggested that the ecumenical movement today "needs another step forward."
Fifteen years ago, when the Catholic Church began its serious involvement in Christian unity talks, "we had to look first at points of agreement," said Cardinal George Basil Hume.
"Now, we have to look carefully at points of disagreement," he said, suggesting that was the more difficult task.
Hume, a member of the Vatican Secretariat for Christian Unity, denied suggestions that either the Catholic Church or Pope Paul II have wavered in their commitment to ecumenism.
"It's the ecumenical movement itself that needs another step forward," he said. Hume acknowledged he could not suggest what the step should be.
Hume met reporters during his visit here last Sunday, when he received an honorary doctorate from Catholic University and celebrated a special mass at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
The visit here and in several other American cities was in connection with the year-long celebration of the 1,500th anniversary of the birth of St. Benedict, the father of Western monasticism and founder of the order that bears his name.
A member of the order himself, Hume complained good-naturedly: "I'm the only Benedictine cardinal, so I have to be their showpiece."
Hume is deeply involved in Christian unity efforts in England, where Catholics are a minority of the population, and is a member of the official worldwide Anglican-Roman Catholic theological dialogue.
He said the pope recently asked him for a briefing on Anglicanism.
Although he has been archbishop of Westminster only since 1976, Hume is widely considered to be one of the foremost leaders of the Roman Catholic Church. His name frequently was mentioned as a possible successor to both Popes Paul VI and John Paul I.
Hume, generally considered to be among the more liberal leader of the church, dismissed compaints by some Catholics that John Paul II was sought to crack down on the liberal wing of the church.
The disciplining of theologians such as Hans Kung and Edward Schillebeeckx "all began before he [John Paul] came in," Hume said.
"It's not all goodies and baddies," he said, "it's not all black and white . . . it's very complicated."
The British cardinal emphasized that the search for spiritual values extends beyond the boundaries of the church. "It's important to remember that there are many more people who are religious than just those going to church," he said. "There are religious people who may nevery come to us in the church.
"I don't regard myself, as a bishop, as just the Roman Catholic cardinal. I see myself as responsible for all men and women who are searching for God," he said.