New Round in U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue Opens

January 31, 2006 By Public Affairs Office

WASHINGTON (January 31, 2006)– Forty years after the first talks between the two religious traditions began, more than 20 Lutheran and Roman Catholic leaders and theologians participated in the first meeting of Round XI at the Cenacle Conference and Retreat Center here Dec. 1-4. The theme of this round of the dialogue was "The Hope for Eternal Life."

Co-chairing the dialogue in this round are the Most Rev. Richard J. Sklba, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and Chair of the Bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (BCEIA), and the Rev. Lowell G. Almen, secretary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

Among the topics taken up were differences between Catholics and Lutherans over the Christian's life beyond death, especially as regards purgatory, indulgences, and masses and prayers for the dead. Interest in treating the theme of "Hope for Eternal Life" emerged from earlier discussions surrounding the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) in 1999. Questions in the current round of talks pertain to issues identified in the development and completion of the JDDJ, Rev. Almen said.

The JDDJ was signed by leaders of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and Holy See in Augsburg, Germany, on Oct. 31, 1999. With the JDDJ, the LWF and the Holy See agreed to a basic understanding of the doctrine of justification and declared that certain 16th century condemnations of each other no longer apply.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, is "eager to see a review of this issue of eschatology" as a way of determining whether problems dating back to the 16th century could be seen in a "new light," said Bishop Sklba.

Dialogue participants are also aware that leaders of the LWF and the Vatican are talking about the possibility of joint events and observances leading up to 2017, the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's posting of the 95 theses, which began the Protestant Reformation. Another occasion for collaboration is the 50th anniversary of the Vatican II "Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation" in 2015. Some participants have proposed a two year commemoration of both historic events leading up to 2017. "Further work on these topics in relation to whatever plans might emerge for 2017 for the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation all seemed very timely," Rev. Almen said.

The opening meeting included presentations of papers and follow up discussion of a variety of topics such as the Council of Trent, Lutheran Confessions on the hope for eternal life, biblical overviews, indulgences, and Lutheran and Roman Catholic funeral rites.

"The particular round really does speak about those matters that are so close to the way people live," said the Rev. Arthur Kennedy, former executive director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"One of the things that I think is most important about this particular theme is that it's talking about being in the presence of God," Father Kennedy said. The theme of the current round of dialogue can give people "God's gift of hope," he said. "This is hope not just for Lutherans and Catholics. This is hope for other Christians, all working together," he said.

Bishop Sklba noted that a particular interest of his is to make sure "our own Catholic practices do reflect the JDDJ." Almen agreed, saying that it is an issue for both churches. It may take years to complete discussions on the issues in this round of dialogue, Bishop Sklba said. "I do think if it's going to be substantial it will take some time," he said.

For Lutherans and Roman Catholics, especially in families in which members belong to both communities, the subject of the dialogue is personal. "With varied religious backgrounds of people in the household, the hope of greater mutual understanding is one that touches their lives," Rev. Almen said. "They go to separate places of worship, or when one goes with the other, they are separated at the table (of Holy Communion)."

"No matter how intense our efforts, the journey is going to be one that extends far beyond our lifetimes. In our lifetimes we have an opportunity in some way to search for that future that we believe is also the desire of God, namely the future of reconciliation," Rev. Almen said.

The dialogue's desired goal is "pulpit and altar fellowship, full communion," recognizing that the ELCA, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and Roman Catholic Church "have different criteria for when it will be possible to recognize that goal as having been achieved," according to a protocol for the participating churches. The dialogue also builds on Round X of the U.S. dialogue, which concluded in April 2004 with ELCA-Roman Catholic approval of "The Church as Koinonia of Salvation: Its Structures and Ministries," a 69-page document.

The next meeting is planned for April 20-23, 2006, in Phoenix.

In addition to Father Kennedy and Bishop Sklba, Roman Catholic representatives to the dialogue are:
+ The Rev. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., Jesuit community, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.
+ Dr. Margaret O'Gara, faculty of theology, University of St. Michael's College, Toronto
+ The Rev. George H. Tavard, A.A., emeritus professor of theology, Brighton, Mass.
+ Dr. Christian David Washburn, assistant professor, systematic theology, St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Wynnewood, Pa.
+ The Rev. Jared Wicks, S.J., Jesuit community, John Carroll University, University Heights, Ohio
+ Dr. Susan K. Wood, S.C.L., Department of Theology, Marquette University, Milwaukee

In addition to Rev. Almen, ELCA representatives to the dialogue include:
+ The Rev. Theodore W. Asta, associate to the bishop, ELCA New England Synod, Worcester, Mass.
+ The Rev. Stephen J. Hultgren, assistant professor, Department of Theology, Fordham University, Bronx, N.Y.
+ The Rev. Randall R. Lee, executive director and assistant to the bishop, ELCA Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Affairs, Chicago
+ Dr. Lois E. Malcolm, associate professor of systematic theology, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn.
+ The Rev. Marcus J. Miller, bishop, ELCA Northeastern Ohio Synod, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
+ The Rev. Winston D. Persaud, Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa
+ The Rev. John H. P. Reumann, emeritus professor of New Testament and Greek, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia
+ Dr. Michael J. Root, professor of systematic theology and dean, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, S.C.
+ The Rev. Paul A. Schreck, associate for bilateral dialogues, ELCA Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Affairs, and executive assistant, ELCA Office of the Secretary, Chicago.

In addition to leaders and theologians from the ELCA and Roman Catholic Church, this round includes two participants from the LCMS. Dr. Samuel H. Nafzger, executive director, LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations, St. Louis, and Dr. Dean Wenthe, president of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind., were appointed by the Rev. Gerald B. Kieschnick, LCMS president. The LCMS has had participants in nine of the 10 previous rounds of the dialogue.