Catholic and Protestant Theologians Discuss Indulgences

Ecumenical Meeting to Clarify Theological Aspects

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 14, 2001 ( For the first time since the schism caused by Martin Luther, Catholics, Reformed Protestants and Lutherans debated the question of indulgences together, one of the issues dividing these Christian communities.

The meeting involving the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU), the Lutheran World Federation, and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches was held in Rome last Friday and Saturday, at the invitation of the PCPCU, the Vatican said in a press statement released today.

“The purpose was to clarify historical, theological and pastoral issues related to indulgences in order to come to a better understanding of one another,” the press statement explained. “It did not aim at an agreement on indulgences — an issue on which there have been long-standing differences between the Roman Catholic Church and the Churches of the Reformation.

“The consultation took place in a positive atmosphere, which lent itself to honest and constructive discussion. There were common prayers at the beginning of each day, and at the end of the consultation.”

There were two presentations describing the Catholic understanding of indulgences. Professor Gerhard L. Mueller of Munich, Germany, addressed the “Historical Aspects of the Indulgence.” Jesuit Father Jared Wicks, based in Rome, gave a systematic presentation entitled “Towards Understanding Indulgences: Vetera et Nova.”

On the Lutheran and Reformed side, the following responses were given: Professor Michael Root, Lutheran, of Columbus, Ohio, gave an analysis of “The Jubilee Indulgence and the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.” Professor Ellen Babinsky, Reformed, of Austin, Texas, presented “A Reformed View of Indulgences.” Professor Theodor Dieter, Lutheran, of Strasbourg, France, gave a response to professor Mueller´s paper. Professor George Sabra, Reformed, of Beirut, Lebanon, responded to Father Wicks´ paper.

Cardinal-designate Walter Kasper, PCPCU secretary; the Rev. Dr. Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation; and the Rev. Dr. Setri Nyomi, general secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, each took turns chairing the meeting.

Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy, PCPCU president, took part in several sessions of the consultation.

“It is intended that the papers from this consultation will be published as a contribution to further discussion,” the Vatican statement said.

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