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Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed Churches Discuss Indulgences

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Representatives of the Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed churches have held a historic meeting in Rome to exchange views on the divisive issue of indulgences, the Vatican reported Wednesday (Feb. 14).

The Vatican said it was the first "ecumenical theological consultation on the theme of indulgences" since the birth of Protestantism in the Reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries.

The sale of indulgences by corrupt churchmen of the time was one of the issues that Martin Luther protested in his theses of Oct. 31, 1517, and which ultimately led to the Protestant breakaway from the Roman Catholic Church.

Protestants reject the concept of indulgences, but Catholics have continued to believe that an indulgence -- remission of temporal punishment for sins -- can be gained through penitence and contrition.

The granting of indulgences was a key feature of last year's Holy Year observances by Roman Catholics.

The Vatican said leaders of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the Lutheran World Federation and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches met in Rome last Friday and Saturday (Feb. 9 and 10).

"The purpose was to clarify historical, theological and pastoral issues related to indulgences in order to come to a better understanding of each other," the Vatican said. "It (the meeting) did not aim at an agreement on indulgences."

While acknowledging "there have been long-standing differences between the Roman Catholic Church and the churches of the Reformation" on the issue of indulgences, the Vatican said the consultation "took place in a positive atmosphere which lent itself to honest and constructive discussion."

The participants prayed together and discussed papers presented by six scholars, one of them a woman. The Vatican said the papers will be published to serve as a basis for further discussion.

Gerhard L. Mueller of Munich and Jared Wicks, a Jesuit, presented the Roman Catholic understanding of indulgences. Responding for the Protestants were Michael Root, a Lutheran, of Columbus, Ohio; Ellen Babinsky, Reformed, of Austin, Texas; Theodor Dieter, Lutheran, of Strasbourg, France; and George Sabra, Reformed, of Beirut, Lebanon.

The sessions were chaired by Bishop Walter Kasper, the No. 2 prelate on the Vatican council who will become a cardinal next week; the Rev. Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran federation; and the Rev. Setri Nyomi, general secretary of the Reformed alliance. Cardinal Edward Cassidy, president of the Vatican council, also took part.

-- Peggy Polk


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