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Jewish Journal

Luther still not on pope’s good side

by Brad A. Greenberg

March 17, 2008 | 10:43 am

Was it rumor, innuendo, fabrication or simply sloppy journalism that laid the groundwork for the apparently erroneous article last week that reported Pope Benedict XVI was about to make nice with the long-dead troublemaker Martin Luther? Here’s what seems to have happened.

It all appears to have started on March 2, when ApCom, an Italian news agency, ran a three paragraph article, here in Italian , merely saying that the pope and some of his former PhD students (the so-called Ratzinger- Schlerkreis), would discuss Luther during their yearly summer encounter in August at the papal summer villa at Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome.

APcom, said the seminar would discuss whether Luther “wanted a rupture … or intended to reform the Church but without traumas”.

On March 5, two days after the APcom report, the Turin newspaper La Stampa ran a story with the headline “Ratzinger reforms Luther. ‘He had many Catholic ideas. The theologian pope summons his students for a seminar of study on the heretic.”The article, seen here in Italian,Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Council for Promoting Christian Unity, as saying the choice of topics was meant “to favour a climate of encounter with Protestants.”

The only problem? It’s a minor one in journalism, but the story’s not true.

The day after the article in La Stampa, the Times of London reported that “Pope BenedictXVI is set to rehabilitate Martin Luther, arguing that he did not intend to split Christianity, but only to purge the church of corrupt practices.”

From there, the story took off,was repeatedby some news organisations around the world, was the buzz on the blogs, and even prompted an editorial critical of the pope by the Financial Times, called “Papal Indulgence - Cosmetic changes cannot hide Benedict’s dogmatism”.

The Vatican itself finally weighed in on March 8, when Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s chief spokesman, told the Italian news agency Ansa, that the Financial Times editorial was “totally without foundation because no rehabilitation of Luther is foreseen.

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