German Catholic-Lutheran couple say some in mixed marriages feel rebuffed

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy courtesy of Herbert and Ines Heinecke

By Zita Ballinger Fletcher

heated Communion debate continues in Germany, an interchurch couple directly
affected by the Catholic Church’s decisions shared their story with Catholic
News Service.

and Ines Heinecke have been married since 1994. They live in a small town in northern
Germany and have three daughters. Herbert Heinecke is Catholic, and Ines Heinecke
is Lutheran.

both of us, our faith was already an important element in our lives before our
marriage,” the Heineckes told CNS in a written interview, submitting
answers to questions as a couple. “As we got to know and love each other,
we wanted also to shape this dimension of our life together.”

first step was to get to know each other’s beliefs. They each learned about the
core teachings of the other’s denomination and formed an in-depth
understanding. The Heineckes say this strengthened not only their relationship,
but “deepened our individual faith, because we had to reflect on and
discuss many things which are self-evident within our own denomination.”

said they formed a relationship that values both denominations. They baptized
their daughters in the Catholic Church and raised them Christian. The children
participated in activities in both parents’ churches. All three girls were
altar servers in the Catholic Church, but also sang in Protestant youth choirs.

the husband and wife participated in their own church communities, while
working actively to support each other’s faith. Ines Heinecke is a member of
her Protestant church council and sings in the choir. Herbert Heinecke is a
member of his Catholic parish council and part of an ecumenical working group.
The group organizes a monthly ecumenical service for families, in which Ines
plays guitar in the Catholic church and Herbert participates in the celebration
with the Protestant men’s group.

Heineckes volunteer as leaders in Network Ecumenism, a nationwide
support group for couples of different denominations. They said despite the high number
of interfaith couples in Germany, many encounter a lack of pastoral care from
their denominations in response to their unique needs.

interchurch couples “have experienced rebuffs and coldheartedness from the
churches, which has strained their marriage and led to estrangement from
church,” said the Heineckes.

to living in complete unity, the Heineckes also live by their convictions with
regard to receiving Communion. They go together to the Lutheran Lord’s Supper
and the Catholic Eucharist.

would be totally unimaginable to us to be separated from each other at the
table of the Lord, when we share our whole life together in everything else,”
they said.

said they have never encountered a pastor who has refused this to them,
although some priests have been hesitant. Other interchurch couples have more difficulty.

sometimes experience rejection and find this very painful,” the Heineckes said.
“Some pairs withdraw from shared participation in order not to cause
difficulties for the respective pastor.”

Heineckes’ beliefs about why they should share Communion are shared by
many interchurch couples in Germany.

as we as a married couple share together all beautiful and difficult moments,
it is self-evident to us that we should practice our faith together — the
shared participation in the Lord’s Supper and the Eucharist is therefore an
absolutely elementary part of this.”

Heineckes have been closely following the debate within the Catholic bishops’
conference of Germany regarding the sharing of Communion and view the bishops’ discord
as “tragic.”

early June, Pope Francis asked the bishops not to publish nationwide guidelines
for allowing Protestants married to Catholics to receive Communion at Mass, but
to continue having diocesan bishops judge specific situations. The text of the
German guidelines was never made public, but it was widely assumed to foresee
situations in which a Lutheran married to a Catholic and regularly attending
Mass with the Catholic spouse could receive the Eucharist on a regular basis.

an inflight news conference June 21, the pope was asked about the decision. He
said the guidelines went beyond what is foreseen by the Code of Canon Law “and
there is the problem.” The code does not provide for nationwide policies,
he said, but “provides for the bishop of the diocese (to make a decision
on each case), not the bishops’ conference.”

was the difficulty of the debate. Not the content,” he said.

document divided the German bishops.

Catholic Church in Germany has been damaged by this conflict,” the Heineckes
said, noting that “for many people, it is incomprehensible that the
bishops are at odds” over this “instead of reacting together to the
great challenges of our time.”

a published letter criticizing his fellow bishops, Bishop Gerhard Feige of
Magdeburg said the original intent of the bishops’ conference was to develop
pastoral guidelines for individual cases, and he claimed that certain bishops
portrayed it as an attempt to create a global church ruling. Citing evidence of
media leaks, Bishop Feige supported his statements by exposing inconsistencies
in the behavior of seven bishops who secretly contacted Rome.

this deepening division between Catholics; not only faith or intellectual
spheres are clashing, but material interests and unsightly methods are also in
play here,” Bishop Feige said, noting that the “victims of all this
are the affected” married couples and families.

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