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Roman Catholics, Lutherans Look into Purgatory, Indulgences, Prayers for the Dead

Catholics and Lutherans entered a new round of dialogues this month, nearly 40 years after the two traditions first engaged in ecumenical talks.

Roman Catholics, Lutherans Look into Purgatory, Indulgences, Prayers for the Dead

Catholics and Lutherans entered a new round of dialogues this month, nearly 40 years after the two traditions first engaged in ecumenical talks.

Meeting in Chicago from Dec. 1-4, more than 20 Lutheran and Roman Catholic leaders and theologians addressed key topics relating to the Christian view of life beyond death. Along the way, they touched on highly contested issues of purgatory, indulgences, and masses and prayers for the dead – characteristics more reflective of the Roman Catholic tradition.

This new series of discussion takes on the title, “The Hope for Eternal Life,” and marks the sixth round for the two traditions.

"The particular round really does speak about those matters that are so close to the way people live," said the Rev. Arthur Kennedy, executive director of ecumenical and interreligious affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C., according to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) News Service.

“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,” he added, saying the dialogue’s theme can give people “God’s gift of hope.”

"This is hope not just for Lutherans and Catholics. This is hope for other Christians, all working together," he said.

After centuries of hostility, Lutherans and Catholics opened channels of discussions in 1965 through the newly established Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Since then, the two bodies agreed upon several landmark doctrines, including the question of justification – an issue that largely sparked Martin Luther’s fierce criticism of Roman Catholicism.

Through the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, which was signed on Oct. 31, 1999, the Vatican and the world’s Lutherans agreed to a basic understanding of justification and declared that certain 16th century condemnations of each other no longer apply.

The new round of talks will address some of the topics identified during the development and completion of the Justification doctrine, according to ELCA news. It will also touch on some unanswered questions from round X of dialogues, which concluded with the acceptance of a 69-page document on the “Church as Koinonia of Salvation.”

Meanwhile, the theologians also looked to the possibility of holding joint events and observances leading up to the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 theses and the official start of the Protestant Reformation. The anniversary falls on 2017.

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