The renowned theologian Hans Kung, who has promoted ecumenical understanding throughout his long career, has criticised the “Common Word” document issued jointly by the Catholic and Protestant Churches in Germany to celebrate the Reformation Anniversary, for its failure to address “the deadlock that exists in both church hierarchies on the decisive issues”.
In a letter written exclusively to the Tablet and the National Catholic Reporter (NCR), Kung declares: “500 years after the Reformation it is time to end the schism!”
In September 2016 the chairman of the Protestant Churches in Germany (EKD), Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, and the president of the German Catholic bishops’ conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, presented their “Common Word” entitled “Healing Memories – Bearing Witness to Christ”.
After five centuries of condemning and inflicting wounds upon each other, said Kung, the two leading Churches in Germany declared that they intended to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation together as a “Feast for Jesus Christ”.
When he met the two leaders in Rome, Kung said, Pope Francis spoke of “an already reconciled diversity”, saying he greatly appreciated the spiritual and theological gifts that the Reformation had given us and that he wanted to do everything he could “to overcome the obstacles that still remained”.
“We ecumenically committed Christians at long last want to see actions. Unfortunately, the ‘Common Word’ does not mention the deadlock that exists in both church hierarchies on the decisive issues and disregards the fact that in many Protestant and Catholic communities ecumenism has already been practised for a long time now.However, Kung is sceptical regarding the strength of the Vatican’s determination to overcome these obstacles. “We have heard Vatican declarations of intent and suggestions of repentance and reconciliation all too often,” he told The Tablet and NCR.
"For these communities, mutual recognition of each other’s ministries and Eucharistic hospitality are no longer a problem. Church leaders lag far behind them. If the leaders do not take the matter of ‘overcoming the still remaining obstacles’ seriously, they alone will have to bear the responsibility for not doing so before God and the faithful.”
Kung says the Church should consider Martin Luther’s rehabilitation; lifting all the excommunications that were pronounced in the Reformation era; recognising Protestant and Anglican ministries; and “mutual Eucharistic hospitality”.
Merely celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation without really ending the schism means incurring yet more guilt, he insists.
“May the pressure exerted by theologians, grass roots Christians, Christian communities and many committed men and women help the church leadership in Rome and elsewhere, which is so often hesitant and afraid, not to miss this historic opportunity but to wake up, otherwise yet more people will turn away from the Church and more communities and groups will take the law into their own hands!” he warns.
“In today’s world, Christianity will only come across as credible if it presents itself in truly reconciled diversity.”