German Catholic bishops praise 'teacher of the faith' Martin Luther ahead of Reformation 500th anniversary

Catholic bishops in Germany have praised Martin Luther as a "gospel witness and teacher of the faith" ahead of the 500-year anniversary of the Protestant reformation next year.

Martin Luther is known for starting the Reformation by nailing his 95 theses to the Cathedral door in Wittenburg, according to legend

The bishops' conference published a 206-page report, "The Reformation in Ecumenical Perspective" last week, and called for close ties with Protestants as the country prepares to host the celebrations in 2017.

Bishop Gerhard Feige of Magdeburg, chair of the German bishops' ecumenical commission, admitted the "wounds are still felt to the present day" but said it was "gratifying that Catholic theology has succeeded, in the meantime, in soberly reconsidering the events of the 16th century".

The report, published on Tuesday, said Luther's emphasis on the importance of the Bible should be recognised by Catholics.

The "Catholic Church may recognise today what was important in the Reformation – namely, that Sacred Scripture is the centre and standard for all Christian life," it read.

"Connected with this is Martin Luther's fundamental insight that God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ for the salvation of the people is proclaimed in the Gospel – that Jesus Christ is the centre of Scripture and the only mediator."

But a spokesman for the Magdeburg diocese told the Catholic News Service (CNS) that the Reformation continues to cause tensions in Germany especially "in religiously separated families".

In Luther's day he was excommunicated by the then Pope Leo X in 1521 and outlawed by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. But the German bishops said in their report that Luther was a "a religious pathfinder, Gospel witness and teacher of the faith," whose "concern for renewal in repentance and conversion" had not been given an "adequate hearing" by the Church.

They added the polarising reformer's work offered a "theological and spiritual challenge" and had "ecclesial and political implications for understanding the Church and the Magisterium."

The ecumenical commission's deputy chair, Bishop Heinz Algermissen of Fulda told the CNS that although Catholic-Lutheran relations had improved in Germany, churches must work for "visible unity, not just reconciled diversity" off the back of the 500th anniversary.

"This means not only praying together, but meeting the challenge of speaking with one voice as Christians when we are all challenged by aggressive atheism and secularism, as well as by [radicalised] Islam. Otherwise we will lose more and more ground," he said.

"In commemorating the Reformation, we cannot just see it as a jubilee, but should also admit our guilt for past errors and repent on both sides for the past 500 years."