(St Augustine Monastery in Erfurt, 19 May 2011/Alupus)

Pope Benedict will honour the 16th century Protestant reformer Martin Luther on his state visit to Germany next month, but Roman Catholic officials are warning Lutherans not to expect breakthroughs on issues dividing them. During the Sept 22-25 visit, the German-born pontiff plans to stress ecumenical cooperation, meet Protestant leaders and tour a monastery in Erfurt where Luther once worked and prayed. He will also address the German parliament in Berlin.

The visit has prompted calls from Protestants for him to allow joint communion services and grant their churches full recognition. The tone is mostly positive — one theologian even suggested making him “honorary spokesman” for all Christianity. But senior Catholic clerics have begun warning Protestants not to get their hopes up too much.

“Hopes about this visit have gone wild,” Rev. Hans Langendoerfer, secretary of the German Bishops Conference, said in Monday’s edition of the weekly magazine Focus. “There’s talk Pope Benedict could grant the Protestants a new status or could just say ‘OK, let’s completely change those rules about communion services. It doesn’t work that way.”

Catholic Bishop Joachim Wanke of Erfurt said last week that Benedict’s meeting there with Protestant leaders in the St Augustine Monastery could foster closer ties, but also ruled out any breakthroughs on basic differences.

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