Pope Benedict announced this morning that a new document will soon be produced, marking the next step in an ongoing dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics seeking to find common ground.
Earlier today, the Pope met with Bishop Mark Hanson, president of the World Lutheran Federation, who was accompanied by a delegation from the group.
In his address to them, given in English, Pope Benedict affirmed that one of the results of the "fruitful dialogue" between the Catholic Church and the World Lutheran Federation is "the Joint Declaration on Justification, which constitutes a significant milestone on our common path to full visible unity.”
“This is an important achievement,” he said. “In order to build on this accomplishment, we must accept that differences remain regarding the central question of justification; these need to be addressed, together with the ways in which God's grace is communicated in and through the Church."
The Pope recalled his recent visit to Cologne, Germany for World Youth Day, and expressed the hope that "the future progress of our dialogue ... will not only be placed in a context of 'institutional' questions, but will take into account the true source of all ministry in the Church.”
“In fact,” he said, “the mission of the Church is to witness to the truth of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. Word and witness go together."
The Pope also announced that "The International Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity will soon complete its fourth phase of dialogue and publish its findings in a document on the apostolicity of the Church.”
“We are all aware”, he said, “that our fraternal dialogue is challenged not just by the need to verify the reception of these shared formulations of doctrine in our respective communions, but even more so today by a general climate of uncertainty regarding Christian truths and ethical principles which formerly went unquestioned.”
In certain cases, the Pope said, this fraternal patrimony “is being undermined by changed hermeneutical approaches" to the interpretation of Scripture.
Benedict XVI also indicated that the ecumenical path "will continue to encounter difficulties and will demand patient dialogue. I draw much encouragement, however, from the solid tradition of serious study and exchange which has characterized Catholic-Lutheran relations over the years."
"As we prepare to mark the five-hundredth anniversary of the events of 1517, we should intensify our efforts to understand more deeply what we have in common and what divides us, as well as the gifts we have to offer each other."