MUNICH, Germany — Several German bishops have reacted with surprise, consternation and criticism to the Vatican’s rejection of a proposal to allow Protestants married to Catholics to receive the Eucharist in certain circumstances. One prominent cardinal has said he is “furious” with how the Communion debate is playing out.
In a May 25 letter, Cardinal-elect Luis Ladaria, the Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, raised “a series of problems of considerable importance” with the German proposal and declares it not mature enough for publication.
The letter was published on June 4 by Vatican journalist Sandro Magister.
On the same day, the head of the German bishops’ conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx released a statement saying he was “surprised” at the letter.
In his June 4 statement, Marx noted that at a gathering in Rome on May 3, 2018, “the bishops participating in the meeting were told that they ‘should find a solution that is as unanimous as possible in the spirit of ecclesial communion,'” and he was therefore surprised to receive the letter “before such a unanimous settlement had been reached.”
Marx said that he sees a “further need for discussion within the German bishops’ conference…but also with the corresponding Roman dicasteries and the Holy Father himself.”
On June 6, the Chairman of the Ecumenical Commission of the German Bishops’ Conference (DBK), Bishop Gerhard Feige of Magdeburg, published an editorial on katholisch.de, a DBK website, in which he expressed disappointment at the response from Rome, and sharply criticized the “moral double standards” of bishops raising concerns over the proposal to the Vatican while allowing Protestants to receive Communion in their own diocese for pastoral reasons.
The Bishop of Magdeburg drew a connection between allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion in some circumstances, which the German Bishops Conference, amongst others, introduced in guidelines issued in the wake of Amoris Laetitia.
“A similar conflict, on the grounds that this was a topic that ‘pertains to the faith of the Church and is of relevance to the universal Church’, could have been triggered by the wording of the German Bishops’ [Conference guidelines] on marriage and family ministry, given the statements about the possibility for individuals who remarried after a divorce to receive the sacraments. Why, then, has there been an escalation when it comes to interdenominational differences?”
One day after Feige’s remarks, Cardinal Walter Kasper also went public with an editorial published by the German bishops’ conference website.
After writing that he is “furious” that the letter to Marx apparently was leaked to the press before even reaching its destination, Kasper expressed “puzzlement” at “the impression that even those who should know better should claim that non-Catholic Christians are fundamentally excluded from communion, or that this should at least first be clarified by the Universal Church.”
Kasper, who is the emeritus Archbishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, also flatly rejected concerns that the German proposal constitutes a Sonderweg, i.e. a form of German exceptionalism.
Furthermore, Cardinal Kasper wrote that he is “all the more surprised” since in German dioceses “there already is a widespread practice of non-Catholic spouses, who consider themselves serious Christians, stepping up to [receive] Communion, without any bishops, who after all know of this practice, thus far voicing concerns.”
In his comments, Kasper also rejected concerns – raised by several other cardinals and bishops – that the German “pastoral handout” would constitute a normalization of Protestants receiving Holy Communion in general, explaining that proposal’s approach pertained to an “individual decision of conscience and pastoral counseling.”