German Bishops Begin Civil War Over Intercommunion for Protestant Spouses

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Photo: Cardinals Schönborn and Marx converse in the Synod Hall.Patrick Craine / LifeSiteNews

By Dorothy Cummings McLean, LifeSiteNews, April 4, 2018

Dorothy Cummings McLeanCOLOGNE, Germany, April 4, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – The German hierarchy has become divided by a proposal to allow Protestant spouses of Catholics to receive Holy Communion.

Seven German bishops have broken ranks with their brother bishops and asked the Vatican to judge the matter, the UK’s Catholic Herald reported.

The guidelines for this proposed intercommunion were approved by the German Bishops’ Conference on February 20 of this year,  but the proposal has “deeply divided” the German hierarchy. Although the president of the German Bishops Conference, Reinhard Marx, promised that this was not an attempt to change Church doctrine, Cardinal Gerhard Müller denounced the proposal as a “rhetorical trick.”

The circumstances under which a Protestant spouse of a German Catholic could receive communion under the proposal involve having made an examination of conscience, affirming the faith of the Catholic Church, wishing to end “serious spiritual distress” and “longing to satisfy hunger for the Eucharist.”

The Catholic Church teaches that the Eucharist is the literal body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus. One must be in full communion with the Catholic Church to receive the Eucharist. Catholics must also be free from mortal sin to receive.​

Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship, has emphasized that intercommunion with Protestants is impossible. In a preface to a new book on the Eucharist, the cardinal describes Communion by those who do not profess Catholic faith as “sacrilegious” and an “outrage” against the sacrament.

Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, one of the two living dubia cardinals, criticized in March his fellow German bishops’ “wholly dishonest ploy” of allowing Protestant spouses of Catholics to receive Holy Communion. He called normalizing “emergency” exceptions allowed in Canon Law a “wicked trick.”

Seven German bishops, led by the Cardinal Archbishop of Cologne, Rainer Woelki, wrote an open letter to the Vatican about their concerns, saying that they consider the proposal “unlawful” and in violation of Catholic doctrine and the unity of the Church.

The three-page letter was published in the Cologne newspaper Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger.  It was sent also to the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Luis Ladaria, and to Cardinal Kurt Koch, the Swiss president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Besides Cardinal Woelki, the letter was signed by Archbishop Ludwig Schick and bishops Konrad Zdarsa (Augsburg), Gregory Maria Hanke (Eichstätt), Wolfgang Ipolt (Görlitz), Rudolf Voderholzer (Regensburg) and Stefan Oster (Passau).

The Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger reports that Cardinal Marx has criticized the seven bishops’ approach to the controversy and sent them a reply today.