The second visit of a Pope to the land of Luther since the Reformation has elicited reverence from Roman Catholic laymen, a welcome with reservations from Lutheran leaders, and criticism from dissident Roman Catholic theologians.
The personable, conservative Pope John Paul II has won the hearts of hundreds of thousands of Roman Catholic believers who have flocked to open-air and indoor masses and sometimes stood for hours in rain in Cologne, Mainz, and other West German cities. The Pontiff's five-day, seven-city tour is to end with a flourish in the Roman Catholic heartland of Bavaria.
West German television is devoting 14 hours of programming to the visit. Newspapers carry several pages each day of the happy news of the Pope blessing handicapped persons, kissing babies, or speaking to foreign workers or to fellow Poles gathered not only from West Germany, but also from the Netherlands and Poland itself.
For officials of the Evangelical (Lutheran) Church in Germany the focus of interest in John Paul's visit has been ecumenical rather than pastoral. Protestant expectations in this area were low prior to the visit; originally the Pope's schedule allotted no time to a separate meeting with Lutherans, and the West German Roman Catholic Bishops' Conference distributed a pamphlet prior to the Pope's arrival that attacked Martin Luther as a hothead who had only collected what the best Roman Catholic scholars were saying anyway, then let this polemic make him "blind to Catholic truth."
After vigorous Protestant complaints, however, the West German Bishops' Conference expressed regret about the offensive pamphlet, and time was found for a meeting of the Pope with the Evangelical Council that lasted over an hour.
At this meeting the Pope's words pleased the Lutherans in some ways and left them dissatisfied in others. On his arrival in West Germany John Paul noted that here where the Reformation began he wanted to redouble his efforts to fulfill the "heart's desire of Christ:" "that they may be one."
In Osnabruck he thanked the Lutheran community for its hospitality toward the Roman Catholic minority in north Germany and called on Roman Catholics to seek contact with their Protestant fellow Christians. And to feel how much they have in common.
In Mainz, as he met the Evangelical Council members, he told them he had come as a "pilgrim," and he apportioned some of the blame for the rift of the Reformation to the Roman Catholic Church. Each side addressed the other as fellow Christians and agreed to set up a commission to see how differences between the two churches might be bridged.
At the conclusion of the talks Evangelical Council chairman Eduard Lohse expressed appreciation for the "intensive atmosphere of listening to each other." He went on to note three points of continued dissension, however: exclusion of Protestants from Roman Catholic communion; the Roman Catholic ban on ecumenical Sunday services; and lack of Roman Catholic recognition and sufficient pastoral counseling of partners in mixed Protestant-Catholic marriages.
Everyone came away from the Lutheran- Roman Catholic exchange with warm feelings. But a number of West German observers doubted that there would be any practical results. "The atmospheric rapprochement doesn't make a theological and canonical rapprochement," concluded the Suddeutsche Zeitung. "Nobody understands as well as this Pope how to approach someone cordially, without coming closer to him in substance."
This same skepticism characterizes the evaluation of the Pope's trip by some prominent dissident Roman Catholic theologians here. Hans Kung, the Swiss theologian who in early 1980 was barred by the Vatican from teaching Roman Catholic theology, calls the present epoch in the Vatican one of "restoration" and even "repression." In the "ecumenical theology" he is now teaching at Tubingen University he looks back two decades to Pope John XXIII and the Vatican Council's espousal of ecumenism and church liberalization as a golden age.
Kung acknowledges the "personal charm, fascination, and public effectiveness" of John Paul II. He also approves the Pope's "social and humanitarian appeals to the first, second, and third worlds for peace, freedom, justice, and human rights." But he deplores what he sees as renewed emphasis on hierarchy, papal infallibility, "centralism," "clericalism," and a "narrow" perception of "Roman Catholic identity."