By Ruby Russell
Public figures from the fields of politics, sport, culture and entertainment in Germany presented a statement in Berlin on 5 September making an urgent call for unity between the Catholic and Protestant churches.
“Today, the church schism is neither wanted nor justified politically,” the statement entitled “Ecumenism Now — one God, one faith, one Church” reads. “Will theological factors, institutional habits and ecclesiastic and cultural traditions sustain the schism between the churches? We don’t think so.”
The statement calling for an end to the 500-year-old schism between the churches was signed by politicians including the head of the German parliament Norbert Lammert, Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere, and head of the opposition Social Democrat Party Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Also among the 23 Catholic and Protestant signatories were TV host Guenther Jauch, head of the German Olympic Sports Federation Thomas Bach and author Arnold Stadler, as well as artists and academics.
The statement said that both Vatican II, which opened 50 years ago next month and the Reformation, which is approaching its 500th anniversary in 2017, had a major impact that continues to be felt across different denominations. The initiative calls for lay members of the churches to play an active role in taking these anniversaries as an opportunity for change.
“We cannot and should not allow the problem of church unity to rest until the church leaders have reached an understanding of the Holy Communion and administration,” the statement said. “And we cannot be satisfied with simply having the churches recognize each other.”
The issue of interdenominational Holy Communion is a hot topic in Germany, which is home to around 50 million Christians, split almost equally between Catholics and Protestants, who frequently intermarry. Members of both denominations have repeatedly called the rules that govern Catholic communion to be relaxed so that Catholics and Protestants could take Holy Communion together.
In a statement responding to the “Ecumenism Now” statement, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, chairman of the Catholic German Bishops Conference (DBK), referred to the issue as “a sore spot that keeps cropping up, and one that highlights the lack of common understanding in faith.”
Both the DBK and the Protestant Church in Germany (EKD) cautiously welcomed the initiative — with some reservations.
“The idea for the “Ecumenism Now” initiative has had a very positive reception,” Thies Gundlach, vice president of the EKD said in a statement. “It is an effort to see the future of ecumenism not only as the responsibility of church leaders, but also to remember that strengthening unity is the responsibility of all Christians. We are grateful to see that Evangelic and Catholic Christians are more unified than they are disconnected.”
But it is important, he said, to remember each denomination as its own basic theological understandings.
“At the start of the 16th century, reformers developed a different view of the church that is even today at odds with some central beliefs of their Roman Catholic brothers and sisters,” Gundlach concluded.
“But the bottom line is, it is important to move with as much speed as possible on ecumenical matters, but to also have as much patience as possible.”