ROME— Commenting on a recent proposal by German bishops to permit inter-communion for the Protestant spouses of Catholics, the Vatican’s doctrinal czar stressed on Tuesday that the debate doesn’t affect one country but the entire Church, and therefore requires a “universal” solution.
“These questions don’t affect only one county but the entire Church,” said Spanish Cardinal-designate Luis Ladaria. “And that is the pope’s intention.”
“A solution for the entire Church must be reached,” he added, noting that “We are not against ecumenism, no. [But] we have to seek a relation with not only the Protestants but also the Orthodox and the other ecclesial communities, and not only in Germany.
Ladaria, who will become a cardinal during a consistory ceremony on Thursday, also said that a study commission created by Pope Francis to examine female deacons was not about a “yes” or “no” to ordination today, but rather the role that female deacons played in the early Church.
“[Pope Francis] asked us to try to identify what were the problems, situations, present in the early Church on the issue of the female deaconate,” he said. “We know that there were female deacons in the early Church, but what did this mean? Did they have the same task as [male] deacons?”
Though refusing to preview its contents, the cardinal-designate did say that the commission had presented its conclusions to the pope.
Ladaria spoke with journalists on Tuesday in a session organized by the Vatican Press Office.
The head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith entered the debate over the German inter-communion proposal when he sent a May 25 letter to the country’s bishops, at the request of Pope Francis.
The letter was addressed to Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich and president of the German bishops’ conference. In it, Ladaria said the German proposal “raises a series of problems of considerable importance.”
“As you know, in the German bishops’ conference there are different opinions [on Communion for non-Catholics who are married to a Catholic], but the Holy Father felt he had to give a word of clarification and clarity in this matter,” Ladaria told journalists on Tuesday.
Seven bishops who were against the initiative had written to the Vatican asking for the pope to intervene, which he did, by summoning a group of Germans to come to Rome and talk with Ladaria. He told reporters Tuesday that the debate “is not closed, [the issue] will continue to be studied and deepened.”
Ladaria’s letter was taken by some as a rejection of the German proposal, but he defined it as a call to reflection due to the seriousness and universality of the matter, that affects the Church as a whole and not only one diocese or one country.
On women deacons, the Spanish cardinal-elect also referred to a commission set up in 2016 to study not the ordination of women to the diaconate today, but the situation of female deacons in the early Church.
“It wasn’t our task to say, ‘Holy Father, you can ordain female deacons or you can’t ordain female deacons’,” the prelate said.
Meeting with the International Union of Superior Generals back in May of 2016, the pontiff said that while his understanding was that the women described as deacons in the New Testament were not ordained as male deacons are today, “it would be useful for the Church to clarify this question.”
Speaking about the “red hat” that he will receive on Thursday, Ladaria was asked about an expression he’s used before, that says it’s “at the service of the common faithful.”
“It’s not my idea, but one I picked up from [Pope emeritus] Benedict XVI from when he was prefect of the congregation. He said that we have the duty to defend and protect the faith of those people who didn’t have a great theological formation,” he said, so that their faith remains strong.
“We must promote and protect the faith, this is our program,” he said, after noting with a laugh that “the inquisition has come to an end, it no longer exists.”