An Irish friend in the comments below links to an Irish blog, Clerical Whispers, which links to a Times article that says Pope Benedict XVI will be issuing a new evaluation of Martin Luther this September [Update: the story is bogus].
Pope Benedict XVI is to rehabilitate Martin Luther, arguing that he did not intend to split Christianity but only to purge the Church of corrupt practices.
Pope Benedict will issue his findings on Luther (1483-1546) in September after discussing him at his annual seminar of 40 fellow theologians — known as the Ratzinger Schülerkreis — at Castelgandolfo, the papal summer residence. According to Vatican insiders the Pope will argue that Luther, who was excommunicated and condemned for heresy, was not a heretic.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, the head of the pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said the move would help to promote ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Protestants. It is also designed to counteract the impact of July’s papal statement describing the Protestant and Orthodox faiths as defective and “not proper Churches”.
The move to re-evaluate Luther is part of a drive to soften Pope Benedict’s image as an arch conservative hardliner as he approaches the third anniversary of his election next month. This week it emerged that the Vatican is planning to erect a statue of Galileo, who also faced a heresy trial, to mark the 400th anniversary next year of his discovery of the telescope.
Update: As noted below, it is hardly news that Benedict appreciates much of Luther’s thought.
See also Amy Welborn’s comments:
If the news story is from the British press and involves the Pope….
DON’T BELIEVE IT. …
But what’s the story? The only real story?
That the Pope’s annual gathering with former students – the Schülerkreis – is a seminar in which papers are read and discussed. Past topics have included Islam and Creation and Evolution – the papers discussed at the 2006 gathering on that topic will soon be released in book form by Ignatius.
This year’s topic will be Luther. Period.
Update: Carl Olson also has some sober reflections and some good links.
Update: See also James Swan.
My take: As I post here, I think this is only possible if they muzzle Martin Luther, or try to present a phony Luther. Read what Martin had to say for himself.