Hotchkin, John Francis

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Ecumenist, theologian, and priest; b. Mokena, Illinois, Feb. 3, 1935, d. Washington, D.C., June 24, 2001; son of John E. and Sarah (Cure) Hotchkin; ordained in Rome (July 12, 1959) for the Archdiocese of Chicago, Hotchkin served in two successive parish assignments in Chicago (19604). Albert Cardinal Meyer assigned him in 1964 for further studies in Rome during the Second Vatican Council when major shifts were occurring in Catholic thinkingon the nature of the church, the promotion of Christian unity, and relations with Jews and peoples of other Religionsthat would shape the career of the future ecumenical leader. Hotchkin earned a doctorate in sacred theology with a specialization in ecumenical theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University (1966). He accepted an appointment to the U. S. Catholic bishops' conference and its Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (SEIA) beginning Jan. 1, 1967; in April 1971, he became SEIA Executive Director, a post he would hold until his death.

Hotchkin was a member of the U. S. Faith and Order Commission and other joint commissions co-sponsored by the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, and beginning in 1967 he served as a Catholic observer and consultant to the Consultation on Church Union, attending every plenary assembly from its inception. He received numerous appointments: observer to the fifth Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (Evian, 1970); delegate to the first Assembly of the World Conference on Religion and Peace (Kyoto, 1970); consultor to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (1973), renewed every five years for the rest of his life; voting member, international Roman Catholic-Lutheran Commission (197384); observer to the fifth Assembly of the World Council of Churches (Nairobi, 1975), to the sixth assembly of the same body (Vancouver, 1983), and to the World Convocation on Justice, Peace, and the Integrity of Creation (Seoul, 1990); co-chairman of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Consultation on Women's Ordination (Versailles, 1978); consultor to the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (198590); and observer to the signing of the Joint Declaration on Justification by Faith (Augsburg, 1999).

Among his awards were: James Fitzgerald Award for Ecumenism (1990), National Association of Diocesan Ecumenical Officers; Patron of Christian Unity (1991), the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Laureate in Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (1997), Archdiocese of Chicago; and Paul Wattson Christian Unity Award (2000), Franciscan Friars of the Atonement.

Under his direction, ecumenical dialogues were initiated with the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the Polish National Catholic Church, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and the Southern Baptist Convention. These and the already ongoing ecumenical dialogues produced dozens of reports during his tenure; among these, two were ostensibly significant in increasing reconciliation between Christian communities and the Catholic Church: the U. S. Lutheran-Catholic dialogue report, Justification by Faith (1983), and the Polish National Catholic-Roman Catholic report, Journeying Together in Christ (1990). In addition, he played a significant role in the preparation of two evaluations by the U. S. bishops' conference of international ecumenical documents that affected meaningfully the worldwide response to these documents: The Final Report (1981) of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission and Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (1982).

Finally, he often drew attention to Facing Unity (1984), a report of the international Roman Catholic-Lutheran Commission produced while he was a member, as an example of a new and third stage in the ecumenical movement that he termed "phased reconciliation." While Executive Director, Hotchkin successfully added to the Secretariat expertise in the fields of interreligious relations and Eastern Christianity, expanding the staff from five to nine. In 2001, the BCEIA established a Sub-committee on Interreligious Dialogue. At the time of Hotchkin's death, there were nine Christian bi-lateral dialogues, two dialogues with Jewish groups, and three dialogues with Islamic groupsall benefitting from his guidance in varying degrees. Hotchkin was at the service of the whole conference of Catholic bishops whether offering insight on a particular case, updating progress on Christian unity, drafting reflections on a theological or pastoral question, or responding to ecumenical texts.

As a long-time participant in the ecumenical movement, Hotchkin was often requested to offer insights and observations on various aspects of the progress towards Christian unity. Numerous church leaders and ecumenical staff sought his counsel. In an address on the 1993 Ecumenical Directory to the National Association of Diocesan Ecumenical Officers, he reminded them that "the work of ecumenism is to remove all obstacles to that communion so this energy and life may flow forth with ever greater power and abundance" and thus "that is why ecumenism is not something extra or a specialty for a few; it is a constitutive element of our very lives as Christians" (Origins, 24, 3). In the Hecker Lecture for 1995, reviewing the ecumenical movement, he deduced that "what is developing among us is so far reaching and loaded with implications that it is hard to think it all through and see it whole." He cited Vatican II's Decree on Ecumenism, saying that indeed movement to restore unity "transcends human energies." In an address to the Mercersburg Society in 1998, he observed that "dialogue can only appear a magic sure-fire trick to those who have not tried it" and described how theological progress is experienced in dialogue: "At different points, after an arduous trek, I can almost name the day and the hour when a corner was turned, the key turned in the lock of a previously barred passageway." He noted that "at such moments a truly palpable sense of relief and lifting of the atmosphere." In his last published piece, an address to the Canon Law Society of America (2000), Hotchkin affirmed that there can be no real reconciliation without true repentance: "What we experience in our individual spiritual growth, Christian communities also will experience in their growth in unity." A few weeks later, when he received the Paul Wattson Award, he expressed the hope that Christians of the third millennium will be remembered as "those who worked and succeeded with the Lord's help to free themselves of splits and divisions and be blessed with reconciliation in the unity which will ever be Christ's will and prayer for us, that we may be one, as he and the Father are one, that this old world may believe. And have hope."

His published works included contributions to the New Catholic Encyclopedia and the New Dictionary of Sacramental Worship. His prominent essays and articles include: "Ministry An Ecumenical Concern," The American Ecclesiastical Review 161 (1969) 38695; "Ecumenism in the 1970s: Is There a New Direction?" CTSA Proceedings 31 (1976) 20315; "Familiaris Consortio: New Light on Mixed Marriages," One in Christ 22 (1986) 739; "Bilaterals: Phasing into Unity?" Journal of Ecumenical Studies 23 (1986) 40411; "Standards for Measuring Ecumenism's Course," Origins 20, 32 (Jan. 17, 1991) 50914; "Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism," Ecumenism 117 (March 1995) 412, appeared earlier in Origins 24, 3 (June 2, 1994): 238 ; "The Third Stage of Ecumenism," Occasional Paper, No. 45, Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, Collegeville, MN (November 1995), appeared also in Origins 25, 21 (Nov. 9, 1995): 35561; and "Canon Law and Ecumenism: Giving Shape to the Future," CLSA Proceeding 62 (2000) 116, appeared also in Origins 30, 19 (Oct. 19, 2000) 28998.

[j. borelli]