Could the pope be the pope for Protestants, too, instead of just being the head of the Roman Catholic church?
At least one non-Catholic bishop thinks so—and not just any bishop, either. Karl-Hinrich Manzke, bishop of the German Lutheran Schaumburg-Lippe region with its 60,000 Lutheran members, told the German daily Die Welt (July 11, 2012) that he could picture the pope as the acknowledged leader of Christianity.
"The pope is viewed as a spokesman for Christianity when he works for peace and justice around the world," Manzke said. He added that the large denominations need to find ways to cooperate in a world that is becoming increasingly secular. Manzke's Lutheran colleague bishop Ulrich Fischer, representing the Baden region of the church, has voiced similar sentiments in the past.
But what about papal primacy? Wouldn't that be an issue?
It was the Catholic church itself that published the encyclical "Ut unum sint" ["May they be one"] in 1995, with Pope John Paul II inviting Christians from other denominations to participate in a "brotherly, patient dialogue" on the possibility of other ways that the Petrine office could be fulfilled. If that were to occur, "we [Lutherans] would be agreeing with [Martin Luther's coworker] Philipp Melanchton's call for recognition of the pope's authority," bishop Fisher told Die Welt.
At a time when the Lutheran church is debating how to approach the upcoming 500th anniversary of the reformation (in 2017) as part of the ecumenical movement, other Lutheran church leaders were surprised by the comments made by bishops Manzke and Fischer. When asked whether it might take a century for the papacy's position to be redefined, enabling the pope to have a leadership function for all of Christianity, Manzke referred to modern German history: "Tearing down walls happened much faster than was ever thought possible."
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