Roman Catholics have been invited to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, a celebration sponsored by the Lutherans of Germany.
(Reuters) – It’s rare to be invited to an event five years off and even rarer to bicker about its details, but Germany’s Catholic Church finds itself in that delicate situation thanks to an overture from its Protestant neighbors.
German Protestants are planning jubilee celebrations in 2017 to mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s launching of the Reformation, a major event in the history of Christianity, of Europe and of the German nation, language and culture.
The Protestants have invited the Catholics to join in, a gesture in harmony with the good relations the two halves of German Christianity enjoy and the closeness many believers feel across the denominational divide.
But even after five centuries, being asked to commemorate a divorce that split western Christianity and led to many bloody religious wars is still hard for some Catholics to swallow.
“It’s not impossible in principle, but it depends on the character of the events planned,” Bishop Gerhard Feige, the top Catholic official dealing with Protestants, said in a statement for the Protestant Reformation Day holiday on Wednesday.
“Catholic Christians consider the division of the western Church as a tragedy and – at least until now – do not think they can celebrate this merrily,” he wrote in the text outlining Catholic doubts about the event….
Feige said Catholics and Protestants had come closer to each other since the 16th century, especially since the reforms of the 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council opened the Catholic Church to more contact with other faiths.
But there were still major differences between them on issues such as the office of the pope, the meaning of the eucharist and the role of the priest that could not be ignored.
Feige also found some Protestant depictions of the Reformation too positive, playing down the suffering and divisions it caused over the following centuries.
“It would be very helpful if both denominations could come to a common understanding of what happened,” he said, suggesting they could find some way to “cleanse their memories”.
Margot Kaessmann, a former Lutheran bishop who heads the preparations for the 2017 events, has said she wants Catholics to join in but turned down a Vatican suggestion both sides work out a common admission of guilt for the separation.