VATICAN CITY, March 28 (RNS) -- The Vatican and the Presbyterian Church (USA) haveagreed to broaden their ecumenical dialogue by asking the Reformedtradition denomination to join in the recent consensus on the key issueof justification, seeking a "mutual recognition" of baptism andattempting to put aside five centuries of mutual hostility.

A statement dated March 24 but issued by the Vatican on Wednesdaysaid the agenda emerged from meetings in Rome last weekbetween a Presbyterian delegation and German Cardinal Walter Kasper, thenewly named president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting ChristianUnity.

Representatives of the Reformed Church in American and theEvangelical Lutheran Church in America also attended the meetings March20-21 as ecumenical observers.

"We agreed that the contemporary ecumenical spirit is part of a newsituation which enables us to address in new ways the issues which haveseparated us," the statement said.

The statement listed as first among "opportunities for furtherexploration" in dialogue at the international or national level "thepossibility of Reformed participation on the ecumenical consensus onbasic truths of the doctrine of justification, building on the recentCatholic-Lutheran agreement."

In what was considered a milestone in Lutheran-Catholic dialogue,leaders of the two faiths signed a "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine ofJustification" in Augsburg, Germany, on Oct. 31, 1999.

Justification is the doctrine that describes how people are saved.Lutherans have stressed that salvation comes from God's grace alonewhile Catholics have seen an important role for the acts, or works, thatpeople perform during their lives.

Surmounting differences that have lasted since the ProtestantReformation, the churches declared: "By grace alone, in faith inChrist's saving work, and not because of any merit on our part, we areaccepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts whileequipping and calling us to good works."

The Presbyterian-Vatican statement cited as other areas for dialoguethe possibility of "reaching a mutual recognition of the sacrament ofbaptism" and a joint study of the Reformation aimed at laying asidealmost 500 years of hostility.

By studying "the events in the 16th and 17th centuries which led toour divisions," the statement said, "we hope that it may become possibleto declare that the pejorative statements made against one another inthe past are not in keeping with our views of each other today."

During the meetings in the offices of the Council for PromotingChristian Unity located just outside the Vatican walls, the group alsoheld a second round of discussions on "The Successor to Peter," a paperby the Presbyterians on the papacy.

"Various aspects of the Petrine ministry were examined, includingprimacy and collegiality, which led us to broader questions ofecclesiology," the Vatican statement said.

Primacy is the Catholic belief that the pope is the supreme judge,legislator, ruler and teacher in the church on Earth, and collegialityrefers to the manner in which bishops exercise their authority togetherwith the pope. Ecclesiology is the study of the church's nature, missionand structures.

"From this discussion and other dialogues, we find that there aremany aspects of faith and practice which we share in common, such asbelief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Redeemer and in theTrinity," the statement said.

"We have also faced, with candor, the differences which stillremain, among others, in our understanding of the nature of the churchand the locus of its authority, the often negative judgments madeagainst one another in history and particularly the differences in ourunderstanding and practice of episcope (being a bishop)," it said.

The initial discussion on the papacy was held last Dec. 7-8 whenAustralian Cardinal Edward Cassidy, who was then in charge of overseeingCatholic relations with other faiths, visited the headquarters of thePCUSA in Louisville, Ky.

The statement said the Rome meetings "began with prayer and werecharacterized by a warm spirit of open sharing."