A German archbishop has said he believes Pope Francis has indicated approval of a controversial initiative by the bishops’ conference that allows some Protestant spouses of Catholics to receive Holy Communion.
The initiative has caused division in the conference and the wider Church, prompting the visit of a German bishops’ delegation to Rome last week to seek guidance from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).
Conference president Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who supported the initiative along with two thirds of the bishops, and Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne, who queried the authority of the conference to take the initiative in a letter to the CDF signed by himself and six other bishops, met with CDF prefect Archbishop Luis Ladaria, and Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
After that meeting the Pope asked the bishops “in a spirit of ecclesial communion” to come to “a unanimous result, if possible”. However, on Tuesday this week Archbishop Stefan Hesse of Hamburg said it was already possible to discern the Pope’s mind on the question.
In an interview reported by the KNA news agency, he said Francis had already given a “Richtungswink” on the matter. In other words, the Pope had hinted at the direction he would like the conference to take. In Archbishop Hesse’s view, the Pope’s “wink” was “clear”. He supported the conference’s right to decide on the question exactly as they had already done, by the majority vote that had already been delivered.
Archbishop Hesse’s position is in line with remarks made by Cardinal Marx when the controversy broke in March, one month after the February plenary that voted in favour of the initiative. Marx said then that the conference majority was clearly in line with statements and hints already given by Pope Francis.
However, the views of Archbishop Hesse and Cardinal Marx are at variance with recent statements of two leading cardinals. Cardinal Gerhard Muller, the former CDF prefect who was not reappointed by Pope Francis when his term came to its end in July last year, said Francis’ request for a “unanimous result, if possible” was “very poor”.
Speaking to the National Catholic Register on 4 May, the day after the bishops met the CDF, he said the reason that the Pope’s request was “poor” was that it was not possible for a person to be in “sacramental communion” if they were not in “ecclesial communion”.
Cardinal Willem Eijk, the Archbishop of Utrecht, writing in the National Catholic Register in an article dated 5 May, described the Pope’s statements as “completely incomprehensible”. He said the Pope should simply have referred the German bishops to Canon Law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which was “perfectly clear” on the matter.
Both said that Communion for Protestants is only possible in emergencies, such as where there is risk of death. He wondered whether Article 675 of the Catechism might be coming in to play.
Article 675 reads: “Before Christ's second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the ‘mystery of iniquity’ in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.”
Pic: Germany, Luebeck: Kirsten Fehrs, of the parishes of Hamburg and Luebeck of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Northern Germany, Lutz Jedeck (l), pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran parish St. Jakobi Luebeck, and stand together for an ecumenical Good Friday procession in March this year. Photo: Malte Christians/dpa/PA Images