The Joint Declaration on Justification
The document that bishop Palmer is likely referring to is the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, created in 1999 by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church and joined by the World Methodist Council in 2006 and the World Communion of Reformed Churches in 2017. The Anglican Communion also "Welcomed and affirmed the substance of the Joint Declaration..." The document attempts to address the disagreements between Catholics and Lutherans on the topic of justification, which is generally seen as the root issue of the Reformation.
It is a step towards agreement on justification, though it isn't the completion of that agreement. The first reason for this is that not all Protestants agree with the document. Not even all Lutherans agree:
Support for the joint declaration was not universal among Lutherans. Of the 124 members of the Lutheran World Federation, 35 cast votes against JDDJ; these included many churches who are also members of the International Lutheran Council. Member churches of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference even stated that "JDDJ...should be repudiated by all Lutherans." (Wikipedia article on the document)
Cardinal Ratzinger--later Pope Benedict XVI--was one of the major players in the creation of the document. In an interview given during the period of theological dialogues and preparation, Cardinal Ratzinger answered a Lutheran journalist as follows:
After prayer, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger gave a brief overview of the work of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Questions followed. My question was this: Did he believe that it would be possible for Lutherans and Roman Catholics to develop a joint statement on the doctrine of justification? His response was immediate and emphatic: Yes, certainly. He said that the biblical work had been done on the topic. The theological work had been accomplished. As long as we clearly understood that such a statement would address only the specific doctrine of justification and would not resolve other issues, then the effort could proceed and be a fruitful one.The answer Cardinal Ratzinger gave during that meeting in February 1994 was a timely and encouraging one. We knew that any eventual success in approval of such a joint statement would depend on his willingness to support the project. (Joint Declaration on Justification: History Making or Precious Memory?)
The document is therefore very precisely about justification, not other theological topics. It achieved imperfect success, as Aidan Nichols, O.P. explains:
Preceded as it was by a lengthy theological dialogue between the Federation's members and representatives of the Catholic Church, notably in America and Germany, the Joint Declaration purported to express, in a carefully worded formula, 'a consensus on basic truths concerning the doctrine of justification'. This was a phrase which fell some way short of claiming full agreement on the doctrine itself, and that, as things transpired, was probably fortunate. The date for the solemn signing was chosen quite as deliberately as the place. Many Lutherans keep the last Sunday in October as 'Reformation Sunday', a day of thanksgiving for the blessings of the Reformation, while that year, 1999, the last Sunday of the month was also the last day of October and so kept in Catholic churches of the Latin rite as the Vigil of All the Saints. (The Lutheran-Catholic Agreement on Justification: Botch or Breakthrough?)
The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification was followed by two more joint documents: a Common Statement and an annex to the Common Statement. A fourth document "responding" to the Joint Declaration was then produced by the Catholic Church. These documents are as follows:
- Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification
- Official Common Statement
- Annex to the Official Common Statement
- Response of the Catholic Church to the Joint Declaration on Justification
Some secondary sources that may be of interest to those investigating this document are as follows:
- Wikipedia article on the Joint Declaration on Justification
- The Lutheran-Catholic Agreement on Justification: Botch or Breakthrough?
- Joint Declaration on Justification: History Making or Precious Memory?
- Lutheran Hailed Cardinal Ratzinger as Expert on Luther
- A Betrayal of the Gospel: The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification