After CDF letter, German bishops’ next assembly to explore intercommunion

Cologne, Germany, Jun 27, 2018 / 05:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Following months of controversy, the German bishops’ conference have said they will further explore, in accordance with a letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the topic of whether to allow Protestant spouses of Catholics to receive Communion.

“We would like to offer the Holy Father and the Roman Curia our assistance in this matter,” the permanent council of the German bishops’ conference said June 27. The council added that the topic of intercommunion will be taken up again at the September 2018 autumn plenary assembly of the German bishops’ conference.

The CDF letter provides “indications and a framework for interpretation,” the permanent council said, characterizing the letter as “an aid to orientation” for individual bishops.

The council stressed the importance of being on “an ecumenical quest to achieve a more profound understanding and even greater unity among Christians,” adding, “we consider ourselves to be obliged to stride forward in this matter courageously.”

“Inter-denominational married couples and families are very close to our heart,” said the council. “We would like to emphasise that Eucharistic communion and church fellowship belong together.”

The council said the bishops want to provide “spiritual assistance” for those addressing questions of conscience for Catholic-Protestant married couples who have “a grave spiritual need to receive the Eucharist.”

“They have a very close mutual bond resulting from baptism, faith and the Sacrament of marriage, and they share their entire lives,” said the council about Catholic-Protestant married couples.

“It is important for us that we are on an ecumenical quest to achieve a more profound understanding and even greater unity among Christians, and we consider ourselves to be obliged to stride forward in this matter courageously.”

In February Cardinal Marx of Munich and Freising, president of the German bishops’ conference, had said the German bishops’ conference would publish a pastoral handout that allows Protestant spouses of Catholics “in individual cases” and “under certain conditions” to receive Holy Communion, provided they “affirm the Catholic faith in the Eucharist.”

Seven German bishops questioned the proposal and asked the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith whether a bishops’ conference may decide the question or whether the matter requires “a decision of the Universal Church.”

When several bishops from Germany visited Rome May 3, an inconclusive meeting ended with the Vatican sending the German bishops back, saying Pope Francis wanted the bishops to come to an agreement among themselves.

The pope later approved a May 25 letter from Archbishop Luis Ladaria S.J., prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to Cardinal Marx.

Admission to Holy Communion for Protestant spouses married to Catholics is “a topic that touches the faith of the Church and has relevance for the universal Church,” the prefect’s letter said. Allowing non-Catholics to receive Holy Communion, even in limited circumstances, would have an impact on ecumenical relations with other Churches and ecclesial communities “which should not be understated.”

Archbishop Ladaria’s letter to Cardinal Max noted that while there are “open questions” regarding the admission of Protestants to Communion, “the competent dicasteries of the Holy See have already been charged with producing a timely clarification of these questions at the level of the universal Church.” It would be left up to diocesan bishops to judge when there is a “grave impending need” regarding the reception of the sacraments.

In a June 21 interview on the papal flight from Geneva to Rome, Pope Francis discussed the topic of intercommunion, saying the matter should be decided by diocesan bishops, rather than bishops’ conferences. Approval by a bishops’ conference would make the matter “universal,” he said.

“The conference can study and give direction and opinions to help the bishops to manage the particular cases,” he added, saying that communion for Protestant spouses of Catholics “in special cases” is not a “novelty.”

The Code of Canon Law provides that in the danger of death “or if, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops, some other grave necessity urges it,” Catholic ministers may licitly administer penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick to Protestants “who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who seek such on their own accord, provided that they manifest Catholic faith in respect to these sacraments and are properly disposed.”

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1 Comment

  1. The Pontiff’s rejection of the German Bishops original request for intercommunion referred to lack of maturity cited by Ladaria Ferrer. Prefect CDF Ladaria Ferrer’s official rejection upheld Church doctrine as universal. There appeared as some noted an opening for what seemed a biding of time for a later sanction in favor. That unofficial non magisterial remark that the matter should remain with the local ordinary on grounds that the German letter implied an unacceptable universality is exactly what this unofficial delegation of his authority to the local ordinary does. Local ordinaries worldwide will be free to adopt a policy of what will become indiscriminate communion not simply for Protestants who don’t hold our beliefs in the Eucharist, on moral matters, or confess serious sin – which will remove any justification for refusing Catholics who are D&R. And perhaps those practicing sexually deviate behavior. It goes to the Pontiff’s interpretation of canon 844 which per se is discriminate in its application only under extreme and rare conditions whereas he perceives a wider understanding of the canon. This has been throughout Francis’ pontificate the means to implement doctrinal change while avoiding actual magisterial pronouncement and grounds for heresy. Yet error exists in implementation and difficult to identify. It leaves faithful clergy with one option. Resist and teach the truth.
    Although the revised Handout is narrowed not “general” it’s what we expected following the Pontiff’s remark en flight favoring a bishop’s individual policy rather than universal implied by the initial document of the German Bishops Conference. And we can presume that this is simply a moment in a general movement of Catholicism toward integration with non Catholic Christianity. “Generally I can’t change anything but speak to the Lord and go forward” at least suggests that. He admits permanence saying “I can’t change anything” acknowledging the permanence of essential doctrine then suggesting that permanence can be bypassed. That of course depends on which Lord we are speaking to.

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