By Paul Dobbyn
BISHOP Michael Putney’s “ecumenical conversion” was a vital part of his life and will continue to be influential long after his death.
National Council of Churches in Australia general secretary Uniting Church Reverend Tara Curlewis said the bishop was “an ecumenical giant who has championed the importance of dialogue between churches both in Australia and internationally”.
Anglican Primate of Australia Archbishop Phillip Aspinall made reference to this important part of Bishop Putney’s ministry at the launch of the bishop’s book My Ecumenical Journey.
The book was launched on Thursday March 20, just about a week before the passionate ecumenist’s death.
Archbishop Aspinall, launching the book, said when he read the book’s “proofs” it had no title.
“So I mused about what a suitable title might be,” he said.
“I thought ‘Utter fidelity, utter openness’ sums up something fundamental in the ecumenical enterprise, which shines through the book.
“No less has it shone through the life of Michael Putney the man, the Christian, the scholar and the ecumenical ambassador.”
Bishop Putney’s interest in ecumenism came during his time as a seminarian during the Second Vatican Council.
“I was genuinely converted to ecumenism by the bishop’s decisions during this time,” Bishop Putney once said.
His doctorate in theology from the Gregorian University Rome, summa cum laude (with high praise) in 1985 was on ecumenism.
On the local scene, Bishop Putney was involved in Townsville’s ecumenical annual Walk of Witness for Christian unity.
“His beliefs that all faiths should work together for common good, and putting that philosophy in practice, marked the character of the man,” Townsville Mayor Jenny Hill said.
At last year’s Walk of Witness, representatives of the former National Council of Churches came and planted an olive tree to mark the bishop’s contribution to ecumenism.
Bishop Putney, at the time, described the tree-planting as “very powerful and moving”.
He was also a current or past member of organisations promoting ecumenism including the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the Methodist-Roman Catholic International Commission and the National Council of Churches in Australia.
Pontifical Council president Cardinal Kurt Koch said “as co-chairman of the Methodist-Roman Catholic International Commission, Bishop Michael brought his theological expertise, his sensitivity and his great human warmth to bear in over twenty years of ecumenical engagement.
“The current Methodist co-chairman, Rev David Chapman, wrote of Bishop Michael that he was “not only a much-loved co-chair of the dialogue but also a father in God to all of us serving on the commission,” Cardinal Koch said.
“We will all miss his wise leadership as we continue our ecumenical journey.”
Rev Curlewis said “the bishop’s contribution as the co-chair of the International Roman Catholic World Methodist dialogue has been greatly valued for many years.
“Equally significant is his four years as president of the NCCA where he upheld the importance that the ecumenical space is the place where the real agenda of the churches was able to be discussed together.
“The week (of Bishop Putney’s death) marked the thirteenth anniversary for him as the Bishop of Townsville and last week on March 20 Bishop Michael launched his book My Ecumenical Journey.
“The timing is extraordinary that the last week of his life is marked with these two significant events as if to neatly close his journey.”