RIGA - The head of the Latvian Lutheran Church has been forced to retract statements about a possible joining of the Lutheran and Catholic churches following widespread outcry in the country.
In a recent interview with the Latvian television program "De Facto," Latvian Lutheran Church head Archbishop Janis Vanags said that he had already met with Catholic Church leaders several times and hoped to unite the churches.
Following the airing of the interview and the outcry that followed, however, Vanags retracted his statements.
"Never in the world, nor in Latvia, have there been talks about uniting the catholic and Lutheran churches or to any other church," said Vanags
The Archbishop said, however, that such an agreement could eventually be reached.
"In the case of Latvia, in my opinion, it would take several steps. First both churches have to recognize each other as the right church. This kind of agreement has been reached between the Catholics and Orthodox churches, but these churches have not united," said Vanags.
Vanags explained that such an agreement would allow a Lutheran who is working in Spain, where there are not any Lutheran parishes, to receive sacraments and blessings at a local Catholic Church.
Vanags said if these things are attained 's including an agreement on thought and theory 's then it would be possible to start talks on a structural unity, but it is too soon to start fantasizing about how that would be.
The meetings between church leaders were arranged to discuss theological differences and opportunities to find a way to connect with one another.
"The meetings in Rome involved starting a dialogue to begin talks with the local Catholic churches," said Latvian Roman-Catholic head Janis Pujats.
"One God, one belief, and somewhere we have to find that bridge between them," he said.
Pujats has responded to the idea of unity with skepticism, however, especially regarding a major difference in the rights allowed to church leaders. Lutheran ministers are allowed to have families, while Catholic priests are expected to remain celibate.
"The Reformation was not a mistake, but it was a very unsuccessful historical event that divided the church and shouldn't have happened. Luther's goal wasn't to start a new church," said Vanags.
Juris Calitis, a prominent minister and theologian, said that in reality the Lutheran and Catholic churches are very different from each other.
"Protestantism is directly connected to God and everyone is responsible for his or her own beliefs. Catholics believe that the church is responsible for the beliefs and is the bringer of the word of God," said Calitis.
If all of these matters of difference were settled, then only the question of status of the churches is left.
Both sides have questions for each other, to be discussed in later meetings, but the end result will depend on the Vatican 's should debates get that far.
Lutherans split from the Catholic Church in the 16th century during the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther's idea was to return Catholicism to its biblical foundations by changing the church. He was excommunicated for his beliefs.
Currently there are 294 Latvian Lutheran congregations in Latvia.