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German bishops asked to set aside plans for inter-Communion

VATICAN (CNS/UCAN): “The Holy Father has reached the conclusion that the document has not matured enough to be published,” said a letter signed by Archbishop Luis Ladaria, cardinal-designate and prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in which the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Germany was asked not to publish nationwide guidelines for allowing Protestants married to Catholics to receive Communion at Mass, but to continue having diocesan bishops judge specific situations.
Greg Burke, director of the Vatican press office, confirmed the authenticity of the letter, published on June 4 on the Italian blog, Settimo Cielo.
Archbishop Ladaria had hosted a meeting on May 3 with a group of German bishops, including supporters and opponents of the document, and with officials from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.
A Vatican statement issued at the end of the meeting said, “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.”
Archbishop Ladaria’s letter said he spoke to Pope Francis specifically about the proposed guidelines and the early May meeting on two occasions and mentioned how the German proposal raises “a series of problems of notable importance” listing three main issues:
• “The question of the admission to Communion of Lutheran Christians in interconfessional marriages is a theme that touches on the faith of the Church and has relevance for the universal Church.”
• “Such a question has effects on ecumenical relations with other Churches and other ecclesial communities that cannot be undervalued.”
• “The matter also involves Church law, particularly the interpretation of canon 844 of the Code of Canon Law, which says: “If the danger of death is present or if, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops, some other grave necessity urges it, Catholic ministers administer these same sacraments licitly also to other Christians not having full communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who seek such on their own accord, provided that they manifest Catholic faith in respect to these sacraments and are properly disposed.”
The text of the German guidelines was never made public, but it was 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 on a regular basis. 
In many dioceses around the world, bishops already permit such Eucharistic hospitality on special occasions like the baptism or first Communion of their child.
Archbishop Ladaria’s letter said that because of varying interpretations of the canon, “the competent dicasteries of the Holy See already have been charged with producing a timely clarification of such questions on the level of the universal Church.”
“In particular,” he said, “it appears opportune to leave to the diocesan bishop the judgment about the existence of a ‘grave necessity’” that would permit Christians of other denominations to receive the Eucharist at a Catholic Mass.
Matthias Kopp, spokesperson of the German Bishops’ Conference, said that Reinhard Cardinal Marx of Munich and Freising, head of the conference, received the letter June on 4.
He said that, given the pope’s encouragement in early May to try to find a unanimous position, the cardinal “is therefore surprised” by the doctrinal congregation’s letter.
Kopp said that Cardinal Marx will need to discuss the letter with the other German bishops and, eventually, he hopes also to discuss it with Vatican officials and Pope Francis himself.
The same day the letter was leaked, Pope Francis met at the Vatican with a delegation from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany.
“Let us support one another in the journey, including by continuing the theological dialogue,” the pope told them.
“No ecumenical dialogue can advance if we remain stationary,” the pope said. “We must walk, progress—not impetuously running ahead to reach a hoped-for finish line, but walking together with patience under the gaze of God.”
In related news, Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck, the bishop of Essen, the sister diocese of Hong Kong, voiced support for allowing a Protestant married to a Catholic to receive Communion during his diocese’s annual Corpus Christi procession on May 31.
“Because we as baptised and believers accompany Christ, we are always on the path of unity,” he said.
“Already in 2003, Pope John Paul II spoke of accommodating a grave spiritual need of individual believers with regard to eternal salvation, if a believer’s deep longing to receive the Eucharist is not satisfied and thus their faith becomes endangered,” Bishop Overbeck noted.
Calling for unity withing the German Church, he said, “On our path to unity, we proceed and celebrate today’s Eucharist with this request: that unity grows between all Christians.” 
He added, “We respect what makes us different. We are never searching for cheap solutions, but bind ourselves in those already possible for us today, more than ever when it is about theologically responsible help in pastorally difficult situations, such as those in marriages between different denominations.”

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