Rorate Caeli

Italian Lutherans

On Sunday, March 14, the Pope will be present at the evening worship service of the Lutheran church in Rome, during which he and the Lutheran pastor will preach.

Ecumenism presents some difficulty in Rome, due to the small number of Christians of other Churches and ecclesial communities with whom to hold joint services and organize conferences. But Roman priests and diocesan officials do manage to organize events with other Christians; one example is the ecumenical Stations of the Cross between the Lutheran parish and a Catholic parish.

The websites and bulletins of the tiny Italian Lutheran Church and its Rome parish are informative. As has been pointed out in the media, most of the Lutheran parishioners in Rome are Germans, but some are married to Italians, and Italian names can be found in the largely German-language parish bulletin read by this blogger. For example, some of the young people “confirmed” in 2009 have Italian names. One wonders how many children of mixed marriages, valid or invalid, have been lost to the Church by a parent transferring to the spouse’s Lutheran community. Also, at, the sidebar on the first page can direct you to the answer to your question whether a divorced person can get married in the Lutheran church. The link informs you that Yes, you as a divorced Catholic can marry the Lutheran whom you love in a Lutheran church. Apart from such “marriages”, one also wonders how many Italians have separated themselves from communion with the Church over the years by joining the Rome parish of the Lutheran denomination, small though the number may be. For even though the great majority of liturgies are in German, there are regularly scheduled services in Italian, including “la santa Cena” (“the Lord’s Supper”). The Catholic reader’s curiosity is piqued when he notices in a 2009 bulletin that one Anna Belli is presented as Gemeindevorsteher and Predikant in connection with the Italian-language Lord’s Supper. It is not clear to this reader whether she actually presides at the Lord’s Supper, since Gemeindevorsteher could be referring to her position on the parish council.

At any rate, one learns at and other sites that Anna Belli is well-known for her translations of classic Lutheran hymns and theology into Italian. She was born in 1960 in Italy and apparently raised as a Catholic, but became an agnostic in her teens. She was drawn to the Lutheran understanding of God and faith while studying in Germany and she joined Rome’s Lutheran church in 1983.

So Pope Benedict will be preaching to a Lutheran congregation which includes at least one ex-Catholic who it seems to this reader must be excommunicated. The Lutheran denomination of which she is a convinced member refuses obedience to the Pope, although it invites him to speak in its churches, and it denies various doctrines of the faith. One might ask, did she incur the penalty of excommunication latae sententiae in 1983 by joining the Lutheran denomination? This blogger’s limited knowledge of canon law would incline him to say Yes on the principle that all those baptized in the Catholic Church are subject to the laws of the Church, which include excommunication for heresy and schism. Although Belli had become agnostic prior to joining the Lutheran denomination, her published interview would seem to suggest that she had been baptized in the Catholic Church. Are there any canonist readers who can comment on this?

Anna Belli’s interview online shows her to be a cultivated person. One wishes that she had received a Catholic formation equal to the one she gave herself in Lutheranism. Perhaps the kindness and intelligence of Pope Benedict will inspire her, with the grace of God, to reconsider her positions. For they are classically Protestant: she wants to be an adult before God and the world, not subject to long lists of moral cases and solutions for every situation; every person in the Church must decide for himself how to apply his own faith to daily life, by a decision arrived at in personal prayer and by giving voice to one’s own conscience, with all the difficulty of harmonizing moral responsibility and freedom of conscience. She thinks God wants her to be adult, even when she makes a mistake, rather than tepid. The Lutheran Church allows some room for doubt, and only where there is room for doubt can one live without conflict with God, oneself and the rest of creation.

The online journal also gives an extract from the famous (or infamous) 1963 work of J.A.T. Robinson, Honest to God. We read that the teaching of Jesus on marriage does not mean that divorce is always the greater evil, only that love does not allow taking the easy way. Clearly an echo from the moral theologies of proportionalism and “What is the loving thing to do?” As Cardinal Kasper delicately puts it these days, ecumenical dialogue needs to consider the different approaches Catholics and Protestants have to ethics, or as a German author has put it, Catholics and Protestants do not have the same structures of moral conscience. In the meantime, all of this and more is on offer from the Lutheran Church in Italian to Italians.

In the next post: Pius IX on Protestantism in Rome after 1870, non-Catholic worship in the 1917 Code, the 1929 Church-State agreements with Italy under Pius XI, and the decrees regarding non-Catholics in Rome solemnly approved by Blessed John XXIII from the Roman Synod of 1960.