You have to wonder about the source and basis and quality of this article in Times Online “That Martin Luther? He wasn’t so bad, says Pope”. (See also the comment here that deals with Muslims, Galileo and Luther).
Not that it is implausible. It’s just that I can’t find anything to substantiate it at this point. There’s nothing on the Catholic News Channels (Cathnews, Zenit, CNS etc). They’re carrying the story about the meeting between the Pope and Patriarch (see here) and the plans for the Catholic Muslim dialogue (see here), but nothing about Luther. All the stories that I can find on the net are referencing the Times article as the source, so Richard Owen must know something the rest of us (including Vaticanista John L. Allen Jnr) don’t know.
Phil Lawler at Catholic World News has his theories about the reliability of the Times report. They generally seem sound. Certainly the quotes from Kasper appear to be patched together from things he has said and written often in the past on the subject. Note that the only quotation that pretends to be “direct” is the one ““We have much to learn from Luther, beginning with the importance he attached to the word of God.” Kasper has often said this of Protestantism in general when he speaks about an “exchange of gifts” in ecumenical dialogue. Could Owen simply be picking up one of those “commonplace” statements?
Of course, the story is about the Pope’s private “Schülerkreis”, not something on the official magisterial or curial agenda. And suggestions that this has anything to do with “a drive to soften Pope Benedict’s image as an arch conservative hardliner” leave me undecided about whether to laugh or groan. Some journalists STILL don’t get Raztinger, even after three years of constant public magisterium.
Bottom line? I find the possibility that Raztinger should chose Luther as the subject of one of his Schülerkreis meetings more than believable. Only a Times journalist would be surprised by this, given how liberally Ratzinger peppers his writings with asides about Martin Luther’s theology. They have a shared Augustinian basis, and a shared native language and culture. Benedict is perhaps the first pope in history to have studied and taught among and in dialogue with protestants. It makes perfect sense.
The pity of it is that the results of these nostalgic academic love-ins with his former students are rarely published (the Creation and Evolution meeting last year being an exception, but we still haven’t seen that in English). I, for one, would like to see ’em.