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Catholics should learn from Luther, Pope says in new interview

October 28, 2016

Pope Francis said that Catholics can learn a great deal from Lutherans, in an interview published as he prepared for a trip to Sweden to join in commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

The Holy Father’s latest interview appeared in the Italian Jesuit journal Civilta Cattolica. The Pope was interviewed by Father Ulf Jonsson, the editor of a Swedish Jesuit magazine, Signum.

Speaking about what Catholics should learn from Martin Luther, the Pope said: “Two words come to my mind: reform and Scripture.” He explained that Luther set out to reform “a complex situation” in the Church, but because of political considerations his effort caused “a state of separation, and not a process of reform of the whole Church.” Regarding Scripture, he said, “Luther took a great step in putting the Word of God into the hands of the people.”

Speaking more generally about ecumenical relations, the Pontiff said, “Personally, I believe that enthusiasm must shift toward common prayer and the works of mercy” rather than concentrating on theological discussions. “To do something together is a high and effective form of dialogue,” he said.

Responding to questions about the objections that were raised to a papal Mass in Sweden, the Pontiff said that he deliberately avoided scheduling a Mass on the same day as the ecumenical prayer service that he will lead, to “avoid confusing plans.” He added: “The ecumenical encounter is preserved in its profound significance according to a spirity of unity; that is my desire.”

The Pope brushed away complaints by some Catholics that his visit to Sweden, and his celebration of the Reformation, will suggest a surrender of Catholic claims. “You cannot be Catholic and sectarian,” he said. “We must strive to be together with others.” He emphasized that Catholics should recognize their common Christianity with Lutherans, avoiding attitudes which suggest sectarian superiority. “Proselytism is a sinful attitude,” he insisted. “Speaking, praying, working together: this is the path that we must take.”

Addressing ecumenical and inter-religious questions in a broader context, Pope Francis said that the prayer service in Assissi offered an opportunity for religious leaders of all faiths to take a common stand against the political manipulation of religious beliefs. “We together said strong words for peace: what all religions truly want,” he said. He went on to say that the exploitation of religion for ideological purposes is a form of idolatry, and continued:

“There are idolatries connected to religion: the idolatry of money, of enmities, of space greater than time, the greed of the territoriality of space. There is an idolatry of the conquest of space, of dominion, that attacks religions like a malignant virus.”


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  • Posted by: roseofsharon - Oct. 31, 2016 12:51 PM ET USA

    Martin Luther did not believe in transubstantiation; he believed in consubstantiation (although he never used this term.) Luther is a heretic, not a model for Catholics. He started, not a Reformation, but t a Revolution, that tore apart the unity of Christendom.

  • Posted by: impossible - Oct. 30, 2016 4:46 PM ET USA

    St. Paul must have been one of the worst Catholics in history if these words of the Pope are to be believed, “Proselytism is a sinful attitude,” he insisted. Let's be sure to note that Jesus himself should be corrected for having said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, etc. Someone needs to convince our Catholic Bishops, including the Pope, that similar efforts or lack of efforts have pretty well emptied our pews. Truth attracts and retains people.

  • Posted by: impossible - Oct. 30, 2016 4:34 PM ET USA

    Why should the Pope encourage us to dialogue with heretics, rather than encourage us to teach them truth and convince them to abandon their heresy?

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Oct. 30, 2016 5:34 AM ET USA

    "'Luther took a great step in putting the Word of God into the hands of the people.'" Hmm. The Catholic Church believes that faith comes by _hearing_. "...rather than concentrating on theological discussions." The Pope's words? If so, we learn more about the nature of the prison he finds himself within. "He denounced the idea that Catholics should seek to convince..." Are all of us apologists out of a job? Does the scale of gray now mean that "truths of the Catholic faith" no longer matter?

  • Posted by: feedback - Oct. 29, 2016 2:20 AM ET USA

    I am afraid that those over-friendly gestures of Pope Francis will be meaningless to the majority of Lutherans but confusing, if not unacceptable, to many Catholics. I hope I'm wrong. The Pope is the Bishop of all Christians: "The Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered." [CCC 882]

  • Posted by: JimKcda - Oct. 29, 2016 12:00 AM ET USA

    Huh? Surely this is another "mistranslation." Or perhaps a sick joke, or a fake email.

  • Posted by: dover beachcomber - Oct. 28, 2016 10:22 PM ET USA

    There's no virtue in unifying around anything but the Truth, which is only found in its fulness in the Catholic Church.

  • Posted by: jalsardl5053 - Oct. 28, 2016 10:10 PM ET USA

    I used to think that Luther was more right than wrong. The more I looked, the more I saw a man who, though initially of good intention, let pride carry him far away, from his original purpose. If we examine Luther's methods and the Church's reactions, it is possible to conclude that the end justifies the means, i.e. putting the Word of God into the hands of the people trumps all. Given this and the emphasis on reform, one might look for a bunch of new churches!!

  • Posted by: rfr46 - Oct. 28, 2016 7:17 PM ET USA

    Is the Pope Catholic?

  • Posted by: Travelling - Oct. 28, 2016 7:13 PM ET USA

    But the trouble is that Luther put into people's hands not the Word of God but his doctored version of it! Luther changed the words of scripture to suit his own political and theological agenda. There is so much wrong with the words of Pope Francis above, it is difficult to know where to begin to disentangle. Our Lady Undoer of Knots, pray for us.

  • Posted by: hartwood01 - Oct. 28, 2016 6:49 PM ET USA

    The Holy Spirit has given us some opportunities to be one in the Body of Christ!

  • Posted by: Lucius49 - Oct. 28, 2016 6:18 PM ET USA

    Convincing people about the truths of the Catholic faith is proselytism?? Sectarian? No Holy Father it's about doctrinal truth. Luther was a heretic. Scripture alone is not the Catholic teaching on Scripture. Holy Father you are dangerously close to standing for indifferentism which is not Catholic teaching on ecumenism! Peter confirm the brethren. Do not confuse them!