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Pope Disappoints German Protestant Leaders Seeking Common Ground

September 23, 2011

Sept. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Pope Benedict XVI disappointed Protestants seeking common ground with Catholics by stressing differences between the two groups, as he continued a four-day journey in his native Germany.

The Evangelical Church of Germany, or EKD, an umbrella group of German Evangelical and Lutheran denominations, had raised the issue of joint communion for married couples of different Christian denominations. Speaking in the eastern city of Erfurt today, the Catholic leader rebuffed expectations by saying that one can’t “think through or negotiate” faith.

“I’d like to point out that this represents a political misunderstanding of faith and ecumenism,” Benedict said in a speech to a joint-faith group in the St. Augustine cloister, where Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, began his monastic studies in 1505.

Benedict arrived yesterday in Berlin, where he met with Chancellor Angela Merkel and warned in a speech to Parliament that Europe risks falling into “culturelessness” that invites extremism, such as Nazism. His remarks today recalled his views when he policed Catholic doctrine as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith under his predecessor, John Paul II.

“In the run-up to this papal visit, there has been various talk of an ecumenical gesture that could be expected of it,” he said. Yet rather than comparing religious tendencies, unity requires “intensified thinking and living” in one’s own faith.

Reformation Jubilee

While the meeting between the 84-year-old pontiff and leaders of Germany’s protestant denominations was “open and friendly,” Bishop Johannes Friedrich, head of the United Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Germany, said he would have wanted to see closer ties. He also expressed disappointment that Benedict declined to discuss the Reformation Jubilee in 2017, five centuries after Luther issued the 95 theses that represented his movement’s rupture from the Catholic Church.

“The pope unfortunately didn’t concretely discuss the Reformation Jubilee in today’s talks,” Friedrich said in a statement posted on the group’s website.

Nikolaus Schneider, chairman of the EKD, lauded the pope’s appearance, while adding that “our heart burns for more,” according to the group’s website. Although he didn’t mention the 2017 anniversary, Benedict praised Luther as a theologian.

--Editors: Jeffrey Donovan, Andrew Davis

To contact the reporters on this story: Patrick Donahue in Berlin at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at

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