Pope asks German bishops to try to find unanimity on Communion question

IMAGE: CNS photo/Thomas Frey, EPA

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis asked the bishops of
Germany to continue working together to find broader consensus on guidelines
for allowing a Protestant married to a Catholic to receive the Eucharist.

“Pope Francis appreciates the ecumenical commitment of
the German bishops and asks them to find, in a spirit of ecclesial communion, a
result as unanimously as possible,” the German bishops were told,
according to a Vatican statement.

The pope had invited six German bishops and the general secretary
of the bishops’ conference to Rome for a May 3 meeting with top officials from
the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Pontifical Council for
Promoting Christian Unity and the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.

In February, the Vatican statement said, “more than
three-quarters of the members” of the German bishops’ conference approved
a “pastoral handbook titled, ‘Walking with Christ — In the Footsteps of
Unity: Mixed Marriages and Common Participation in the Eucharist.'”

However, the Vatican said, “a not insignificant
number” of bishops, including seven who head dioceses, could not give
their assent to the document. “These seven turned to the Congregation for
the Doctrine of the Faith, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
and the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.”

Pope Francis invited leaders of the bishops’
conference and some of the bishops opposed to the guidelines to come to the Vatican
for a discussion with officials from the three offices.

“Various points of view were discussed; for example, how the question relates to the
faith and to pastoral care, its relevance for the universal church and
its juridical dimension,” the Vatican statement said, without providing
further details.

Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne, one of the seven German bishops who
objected to the conference guidelines, participated in the meeting at the
Vatican May 3. In his letter to the Vatican, which prompted the meeting, he had
asked whether the guidelines were not simply pastoral, but went to the heart of
Catholic faith and practice, and whether the German guidelines could have a
wider impact on the question of eucharistic hospitality in countries around the

The text of the German guidelines has not been made public,
but it is widely assumed to foresee situations in which a Lutheran married to a
Roman Catholic and regularly attending Mass with the Catholic spouse could
receive the Eucharist and not only on special occasions like the baptism or
first Communion of their child.

The council for Christian unity’s 1993 “Directory for the Application of Principles
and Norms on Ecumenism” said, the Catholic Church “recognizes that
in certain circumstances, by way of exception, and under certain conditions,
access to these sacraments may be permitted, or even commended, for Christians
of other churches and ecclesial communities.”

At the urging of the council, many bishops’ conferences
around the world have published pastoral guidelines that list the occasions on
which such eucharistic sharing would be acceptable.

Visiting a Lutheran
parish in Rome in November 2015, a Lutheran woman married to a Catholic
asked Pope Francis why she could not receive Communion when she went to Mass
with her husband.

The pope responded that he could not issue a general rule on
shared Communion, but the couple should pray, study and then act according to
their consciences.

For the Catholic Church, he said, “it is true that
sharing (the Eucharist) is saying that there are no differences between us,
that we have the same doctrine,” which the official Catholic-Lutheran
dialogue has yet to prove. “But I ask myself, ‘Don’t we have the same
baptism?’ And if we have the same baptism, then we must walk together.”

“Always refer to your baptism — one faith, one
baptism, one Lord, as St. Paul tells us — and take the consequences from
that,” the pope told the woman. “Speak with the Lord and move
forward. I won’t say anything more.”

At the end of the evening, the Lutheran community gave Pope
Francis an Advent wreath and Pope Francis gave the community a gold chalice,
similar to the chalices he gives when visiting Catholic dioceses and parishes.

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