Representatives of Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed churches have held a meeting in Rome to exchange views on the divisive issue of indulgences, the Vatican reports.

The Vatican said it was the first "ecumenical theological consultation on the theme of indulgences" since the birth of Protestantism in the Reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries.

The sale of indulgences by corrupt churchmen was one of the issues that Martin Luther protested in his theses of October 31, 1517, and which ultimately led to the Protestant breakaway from the Roman Catholic Church.

Catholics have continued to believe that an indulgence—remission of temporal punishment for sins—can be gained through penitence and contrition, while Protestants reject the concept. The granting of indulgences was a key feature of last year's Holy Year observances by Roman Catholics.

The Vatican said leaders of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the Lutheran World Federation, and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches met in Rome on February 9 and 10.

"The purpose was to clarify historical, theological, and pastoral issues related to indulgences in order to come to a better understanding of each other," the Vatican said. "[The meeting] did not aim at an agreement on indulgences."

While acknowledging "long-standing differences between the Roman Catholic Church and the churches of the Reformation" on the issue of indulgences, the Vatican said the consultation "took place in a positive atmosphere which lent itself to honest and constructive discussion."

The participants prayed together and discussed papers presented by six scholars. Gerhard L. Mueller of Munich and Jared Wicks, a Jesuit, presented the Roman Catholic understanding of indulgences.

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April 2, 2001

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