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Plans for joint commemorations of Reformation begin to unravel
18 July 2014 12:55 by Christa Pongratz-Lippitt

A bitter clash between the Catholic Church and the Lutherans in Germany is threatening the planned joint celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017.

The row revolves around the failure of the German Protestant Church (EKD) to mention the historic 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, in its “position paper” on the ­theological foundation of the Reformation, which was published in May. The 1999 declaration is seen as a milestone in Catholic-Lutheran relations, and the omission has seriously endangered ecumenical dialogue.

The omission was criticised by the former president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Walter Kasper, last month (see The Church in the World, 21 June).

Since then, feelings have been running high and on 10 July Bishop Heinz Josef Algermissen, deputy chairman of the German bishops’ conference’s ecumenical commission, publicly stated that he was “incensed and disappointed” by the position paper. Referring to the 2017 Reformation commemoration he added, “I really cannot actually see a reason for celebrating anything together any longer.”

For him the position paper was a “disinvitation” to the Catholic Church to the commemoration in favour of an invitation to “the whole of society and to the secu­larist state” to celebrate “the link between the Reformation and the modern history of freedom”.

After having given the Catholic Church “one slap in the face after the other recently, the cat has now been let out of the bag”, Bishop Algermissen said and added that after all the consensus documents of recent years, the position paper was “destructive”.

Bishop Gerhard Feige of Magdeburg, responsible for ecumenical affairs in the bishops’ conference, regretted that the Protestants had missed a great chance. “Mentioning the Joint Declaration, which was a major breakthrough, would have been a good contribution to the Reformation commemoration by underlining that what divided us, no longer divides us,” he said.