WASHINGTON (CNS) — Ecumenism is meant to be a two-way street — joint declarations between faiths working their way down to the local level, and local initiatives working their way up to the broader church — and one organization wants to continue serving as a bridge between both.

The work of the Catholic Association of Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers is to foster and further that kind of exchange.

The outgoing president of CADEIO, Father Don Rooney, a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, said that those chosen by their diocesan bishops to serve as ecumenical and interreligious liaisons to their confreres in other faith traditions can be a disparate lot. Some are priests, although laypeople can serve in the role. Some have the task as just one hat they wear in the diocese. Some bishops appoint themselves as their diocese’s chief ecumenical and interreligious officer.

Moreover, some of those have had training and experience in ecumenical settings, while others have not.

CADEIO conducted an introductory-level institute for ecumenical leadership in May at Theological College in Washington, with an advanced institute slated for early June, to better help those tasked with the responsibility fulfill that responsibility better.

Father Rooney said CADEIO also has forged stronger bonds with the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and its accompanying secretariat to play a more vital role in the exchange.

“What the churches were doing together was not being communicated in the parishes. And what was happening locally was not being told to the bishop,” Father Rooney told Catholic News Service. “It’s a kind of renewal that took place because of our vision. We were able to re-establish ourselves as a valuable resource to the (U.S.) bishops’ conference.”

Father Rooney said the concept of dialogue is “a very Vatican II idea,” adding that if bishops were educated as seminarians in a milieu where dialogue was still seen as unnecessary activity, that mindset would likely filter to the priests serving in that diocese, thus hindering dialogue in that locality.

But he said the era of “sloppy agape,” in which Catholics and other Christians ignored whatever doctrinal differences they had just to show unity, is long over. “That was the last liberal holdout,” Father Rooney told CNS. Catholics, just like their Protestant counterparts, have to be faithful in their identity or “the dialogue will be false and the relationship will be false.”

Jan Skrehot, Father Rooney’s successor as CADEIO president, comes at it from her own perspective. Raised in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in Texas, she fell in love with a young Catholic man she described as “a hippie surfer.” When the wedding plans were being formed, she said he told her, “I’m remaining Catholic. You can do whatever you want to.”

“In the early 1970s, that was a pretty profound statement,” Skrehot said. She consulted her parents, who she said “gave their blessing” for her to join the Catholic Church.

Three children and several grandchildren later — all of them churchgoing — Skrehot, associate director of the Center for Faith and Culture at the University of St. Thomas in St. Thomas in Houston, said that her commitment to dialogue was sealed by attending an institute a decade ago at the Centro Por Unione in Rome, an ecumenical research and action center founded and directed the Society of the Atonement.

For Skrehot, that institute experience resulted in a shift from parish ministry to a larger palette at the university, and her own membership in CADEIO.