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Pope wants more time for ecumenism in Germany visit

The Pope has said he is unhappy about the small amount of time given to ecumenical dialogue in the provisional plans for his September visit to Germany

By on Thursday, 10 March 2011

Pope Benedict XVI, right, meets Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, the head of the German Episcopal Conference and other German bishops AP

Pope Benedict XVI, right, meets Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, the head of the German Episcopal Conference and other German bishops AP

The Holy Father has surprised German Vatican watchers by writing a letter to leader of the German Protestant church in which he said he wished for a greater focus on ecumenism during his September visit to Germany.

Unhappy with the fact that the carefully prepared programme for the visit included only one hour for ecumenical dialogue, Pope Benedict wrote to Nikolaus Schneider, the chairman of the council of the German Evangelical Church (EKD), the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported today.

“In the meantime, the responsible bodies have prepared a provisional program, in which the meeting with the EKD takes a relatively modest spot,” the Pope wrote to Schneider in a letter dated February 28—20 days after the Pope met the German Protestant chairman in the Vatican.

“I have now told those responsible that in the land where the Reformation has its source, a stronger ecumenical accent is necessary,” the Pope wrote. He asked Schneider for understanding if, with “a very overfilled programme not everything that I myself would wish for which would give the matter appropriate weight, will be able to be realised”.

In the past German Protestants have been wary of the Pope for being the author of the controversial Declaration Dominus Jesus in 2000 when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The document said the churches of the Reformation were not Churches in an actual sense. The Protestants were in uproar. To understand the controversy, here is an interview of Cardinal Ratzinger the FAZ ran in 2000. Relations between the Catholic Church and the EKD have since been tense. (For some background on recent EKD Catholic spats see here)

But recently the Holy Father has reached out to the different Christian denominations and Churches to the Orthodox Church and to conservative Anglicans with Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus. He has sounded a more generally conciliatory tone toward mainstream Protestant groups. In his interview with Peter Seewald last year, he still spoke of Protestant churches as “ecclesial communities” but explained what this meant in a gentler way.

In Light of the World he said: “The word was intended to indicate that such communities embody a different mode of being a church. As they themselves insist, it is precisely not the same mode in which the Churches of the great tradition of antiquity are Churches, but is based on a new understanding, according to which a church consists, not in the institution, but in the dynamism of the Word that gathers people into a congregation.”

“This term, then, is an attempt to capture what is distinctive about Protestant Christianity and to give it a positive expression. We can always keep trying to find better terms, but the basic distinction is legitimate, indeed, it is a fact even from a purely historical point of view.”

All eyes are on the Holy Father’s visit to Germany in September. The Church there has suffered from an enormous crisis of confidence when hundreds of sexual abuse allegations came to light last year and members of the German hierarchy were implicated in the cover-up. In Catholic Bavaria alone, 60,000 Catholics officially left the Church last year, double the number of the previous year when the Williamson Scandal rocked the country.

In the last few months, a group of German theologians signed a document calling for the Pope to end compulsory celibacy. This week, his erstwhile Tuebingen colleague Hans Kueng said the Pope should reform the Church instead of writing books.

Already there has been evidence of careful planning—the Pope has been meeting regularly with members of the German hierarchy since December—and the visit is provisionally due to start on Thursday September 22 in Berlin and end with a Mass and “A speech to Germany” in Freiburg on September 25.

This is sure to develop.

  • Gordon S

    Hans Kueng is right on, and makes good sense. The reactionary period that the Church has been going through is only destroying it. If it had continued the good and progressive direction that the spirit had moved it towards after Vatican 2, we would now have had married priests and therefore very little sexual scandal.
    We would by now be ordaining our Catholic women to the priesthood. How wonderful and just this would have been. We would have become a more loving and accepting Church. A progressive Church. Less dogmatic and understanding. We can only hope and pray… blessing… Gord

  • jorge

    Are you a Catholic?

    Women’s ordination is impossible. The Church simply does not have this authority.
    Ending priestly celibacy is possible, but unlikely in the foreseeable future. There are very good reasons for it. And it amuses me that the ones who are so concerned about priestly celibacy are most often lay, and often they are not even Catholic. It makes me wonder that they are just offended with this huge shock: that in a world of hedonism and a culture that sexual urges are impossible to control, there are men (priests and monks) and women (nuns) that live in celibacy.

    And please don’t use “sex scandal” to drive your agenda. The abuse rate among protestants (which have no mandatory celibacy) and secular teachers was higher than among priests.

    Remember that pederasty was socially accepted in Rome and Greece. It was the Church that stopped it. And nowadays, when the Cristian faith is weak and secularism is strong, crazy secular intellectuals (philosophers, psychologists) are starting to claim that children have a “right to sexuality”, which include the right to have sex with adults (they call it “intergenerational love”). Not to mention the flooding with pornography, which makes it much easier to live celibacy. What happened to the Church was an infiltration of secularism; to combat it, we need MORE orthodox faith, not less.

    Oh: and it is immensely unchristian to use a horrible wound to drive your ideology. Shame on you. Please pray and ask God’s help.

    Oh, and you want the Church to be less “dogmatic”? Meaning, She should stop teaching the Truth, and accept what is politically correct?

    Then why would we need a church in the first place? There are already many human NGOs that perform charity.

  • jorge

    > Not to mention the flooding with pornography, which makes it much easier to live celibacy.
    By “easier” I meant “harder”, of course.

    My point is, what happened was caused by lack of faith and surrender to secular world view; the solution if more faith.

  • Auricularis

    I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the above

  • Aging Papist

    Pope Benedict should sack the pack of clowns he has around him and hire Father Hans Kung. Kung has been critical of Benedict’s vision of the Church for years, but his advice may save his papacy from ruin and it would
    open doors for Benedict that can never be opened with the crew of fawning, self-serving toadies he has now.

  • Aging Papist

    Jorge, it is time to leave the Renaissance era, the dungeons where “heretics” are enslaved, and come into the 21st century. The Church is far larger than Rome and the papacy. It has the power to change whatever it wants including John Paul’s nonsense regarding the ordination of women. Political correctness is the not the issue here. It is the Church’s false reading of history and the role of women in it that needs changing.

  • Aging Papist

    Pornography has been with us since the beginning of time. Celibacy neither stands nor falls as a Church policy because of it.

    You dishonor the eastern churches both in communion and out of communion with Rome by your pietistical rubbish. Get out of your medieval cocoon, stop bashing the present world, and face it head on. Armed with intelligence, enlightened thinking, and a knowledge of history. Instead of a past created in your mind built upon a foundation of mythology, superstition, and augmented by a twisted priest craft.

  • jorge

    > Pornography has been with us since the beginning of time.
    Please refrain from illogical arguments. Pornography is old, but a few decades ago it was not nearly so widespread in the West as it is today. A movie with sex scenes would rarely (if ever) appear in a normal theater; those who wanted it had to go to back-alley cinemas.

    > You dishonor the eastern churches both in communion and out of communion with Rome
    Since this is a matter of discipline (not doctrine), different churches may have different policies.
    Different policies suit different cultures.

    > by your pietistical rubbish.
    Be more respectful.

    > Get out of your medieval cocoon, stop bashing the present world, and face it head on. Armed with
    > intelligence, enlightened thinking, and a knowledge of history

    Try reason yourself. Name-calling and personal attacks are not reason.

    > . Instead of a past created in your mind built upon a foundation of mythology, superstition, and
    > augmented by a twisted priest craft.

    More (unwarranted, completely gratuitous) personal attacks.

    I can barely believe that you can write like this and talk about reason with a straight face!

    With all your drivel I saw no logical argument at all; just personal attacks. I suspect you are just trolling.

  • paul

    you “Aging Papist” STOP trolling here,do not act like a BITCH!!!!!! no politics in the church,the church is not FEMINIST the church is MARIAN,so stop your feminism.You are simply stupid dear!!!!!

  • paul

    ruin???the church doesnt need your uncharitable and ridiculous comments,please stop giving rubbish comments,insteade think about your wife and how you can make her happy,I can see this is not your field!!! you are probably an atheist,and you have your own motives.