26 August 2015

Was Martin Luther "never allowed to return" to the Church?

In an article for the Religion News Service (which is not often reliable) about the possibility of naming a piazza in Rome after Martin Luther, Rosie Scammell makes this statement:
Luther was excommunicated in 1521 and was never allowed to return to the Catholic Church, but now the Vatican’s views have changed.
Before pointing out the error of her statement, we should acknowledge that part of it that is true: Pope Leo X did excommunicate Martin Luther in 1521, on January 3rd. The rest of the statement, however, is not so accurate.

In  point of fact, it is not true to say that Martin Luther "was never allowed to return to the Catholic Church." It would be correct to say, however, that Martin Luther himself never returned to the Catholic Church. The two statements are quite different.

To return to the Catholic Church, Martin Luther would have had to do just two things: recant the errors of his erroneous teachings and confess his sins. Had he done those two things, the Catholic Church would have received him back as a mother receives her wayward son, with tenderness and love.

It is also not quite correct to say that "the Vatican's views have changed" regarding the excommunication of Martin Luther. To my knowledge, the excommunication was never lifted and the accept the novelties of Luther's theological teachings. What has changed is how the Church dialogues with the various Luther ecclesial communities, but that is not what Scammell's statement implies.

More to the point, the basis for Scammell's claim are the words of the "deputy director of the Vatican press office," hardly a position synonymous with the Vatican or the Holy See.

Please, whenever reading media accounts of events touching on the life of the Church, be very skeptical and think critically.

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