Pope Benedict XVI said Monday that ecumenical talks with Lutherans had run into new challenges and called for greater efforts at dialogue in the years before the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation, in 2017.
Benedict, who has made uniting all Christians a fundamental priority of his pontificate, made the comments to Bishop Mark Hanson, president of the Lutheran World Federation, during a Vatican audience.
Hanson, in remarks released by his organization, thanked the pope for making Christian unity such a priority, and said Lutherans agreed that they had a shared responsibility to ensure that the Gospel "may truly fill the life and mission of our churches." Both he and the pope cited a landmark 1999 Catholic-Lutheran document on salvation as evidence of strong ties between the two churches, the AP reports.
Benedict called the declaration, which officially buried a centuries-old dispute on the means of salvation, a "significant milestone on our common path to full visible unity."
The pope said differences on that issue remain and need to be addressed - and repeated his hope that ecumenical talks in the future not deal solely with "institutional" questions of the church but delve into what he called "the true source of all ministry in the church."
Catholic-Lutheran talks will demand patience in the future, the pope said, but he called for renewed vigor in light of the 500th anniversary, in 12 years time, of the start of the Protestant Reformation in Germany.
The Augustinian friar Martin Luther inspired the Protestant Reformation by opposing the Catholic Church's sale of indulgences - the complete or partial remission of punishment for sins already forgiven. In 1517, Luther famously posted his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg castle church to protest the abuses and was eventually excommunicated.
In his speech, Hanson cited Luther's 62nd thesis, in which he said the "true treasure" of the church was the Gospel. A.M.