More than 20 Lutheran and Roman Catholic leaders in the United States are set to continue their dialogue toward unity April 20-23 in Phoenix. The leaders had their first meeting of Round XI at the Cenacle Conference and Retreat Center in Washington Dec. 1-4.
Lutheran-Catholic dialogue has been under way for the last 40 years. Its desired goal is "pulpit and altar fellowship, full communion,” and it has seen significant progress.
In 1999, the Lutheran World Federation and the Holy See signed the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, which indicates an agreement on the basic understanding of the doctrine of justification and declares that certain 16th-century condemnations of each other no longer apply.
The current round of talks, on the theme “The Hope for Eternal Life,” is building on the Joint Declaration and on talks that preceded the signing in 1999. 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.
Bishop Richard Sklba, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and the Rev. Lowell Almen, secretary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) are co-chairing this round of talks.
Bishop Sklba said it may take years to complete discussions on the issues in this round of dialogue. He said he is interested in making sure Catholic practices reflect the Joint Declaration.
On an international scale, officials of the Lutheran World Federation and the Vatican are discussing 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. A two-year commemoration of both historic events leading up to 2017 is being considered.
The 2004 dialogue produced the 69-page document "The Church as Koinonia of Salvation: Its Structures and Ministries.”