Maike Hickson

Featured Image
Shutterstock.com

Blogs

Cdl. Müller: Priests ‘rightly disobey’ bishops who order them to give Protestants Communion

Maike Hickson Maike Hickson Follow Maike
Cardinal Gerhard Muller
Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Diane Montagna/LifeSiteNews
Image
Bishop Felix Genn BistumMuenster / Youtube screen grab

December 11, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Recently, when supportively presenting to his diocese the new German guidelines concerning Communion for some Protestants, the German Bishop Felix Genn of Münster has claimed that “As pastoral caretakers, we do not have the right to allow or to deny access to the Eucharist. It is irreconcilable, strictly, to deny Holy Communion.”

As a direct response, Cardinal Gerhard Müller rejects this statement, saying that “it can also not be left up to the conscience of the Catholic or of the non-Catholic Christian to decide whether he wishes to receive Holy Communion.”

Cardinal Müller points out that in these cases, a priest might very well have to disobey an order of his bishop.

As LifeSiteNews reported on 21 November, Bishop Genn had published for his diocese a booklet on the pastoral care for marriages, in which he included the controversial German handout concerning Holy Communion for Protestant spouses as it had been published this June. Introducing the handout, Genn writes that he supports this approach and claims (on p. 24): “As pastoral caretakers, we do not have the right to allow or to deny access to the Eucharist. It is irreconcilable, strictly, to deny Holy Communion.”

LifeSiteNews reached out to Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who has repeatedly opposed the idea of giving Communion to Protestant spouses of Catholics. In a recent interview in Germany, the prelate had even criticized the fact that Cardinal Reinhard Marx, in his private conversation, had received from Pope Francis a signature with which he gave approval for the publication of the controversial Communion handout of the German bishops. Müller then said: “For example, the reception of Holy Communion requires a full membership in the Catholic Church, but, nevertheless, someone has asked the Pope – so as to promote intercommunion – to sign a slip with theologically blurred assertions which contradict Catholic doctrine and the clear instruction of the Congregation for the Faith and which has led to a chaotic practice, with a great damage to the Church.” 

In his response to LifeSiteNews, Cardinal Müller corrects Bishop Genn's assertion that a pastor may not “deny access to the Holy Eucharist.” 

“Bishops would undermine their authority, were they to demand obedience to violations against the natural moral law and false teachings in doctrinal and moral questions,” the German Cardinal told LifeSiteNews. He furthermore points out that there are cases where a priest has to resist his bishop, just as St. Paul resisted St. Peter: “In this case, each Catholic, and especially each pastor, is duty-bound – as St. Paul  toward St. Peter – to openly 'withstand him to the face, because he was to be blamed' (Gal 2:11). Unfortunately, we do not only have 'pastors' of the likes of St. Paul.”

Cardinal Müller makes it clear that a priest is not obliged to give Holy Communion to a non-Catholic. On the contrary, he is obliged not to violate “the sacramentality of the Church.”

“However,” the prelate says concerning the priest's duties, “he is not bound by Divine Law to administer Holy Communion to a non-Catholic, and in any case, he certainly cannot be bound, per episcopal order and purely according to Church law, to commit an act which violates and obfuscates the sacramentality of the Church.”

***

Cardinal Müller's full statement on Bishop Genn's published words about Communion for non-Catholics: 

Bishops would undermine their authority, were they to demand obedience to violations against the natural moral law and false teachings in doctrinal and moral questions. Obviously, the former Archbishop of Washington, McCarrick, demanded from seminarians and priests immoral acts by abusing his power in order to reward or punish people. This is only one facet of the abuse scandal. There is also a fundamental incapability of dealing with it, such that one does not want to see its source in the decline of sexual morality, and that one refuses then to dry up this swamp.

It would be just as bad if a bishop, by appealing to “religious obedience,” which the priests and faithful of his diocese owe him (Lumen gentium 25), were to demand from them a proclamation and pastoral care that deviates from the “truth of the Gospels” (Gal 2:14). 

In this case, each Catholic, and especially each pastor, is duty-bound – as St. Paul was toward St. Peter – to openly “withstand him to the face, because he was to be blamed” (Gal 2:11). Unfortunately, we do not only have “pastors” of the likes of St. Paul. Some bishops are liberal, that is to say, lenient and indifferent in the doctrine, yes, nearly relativistic, while they at the same time act in a hyper-authoritarian manner toward orthodox Catholics and can only implement threats and punishments.

The source of this is the secularization of the Church. Here, the political-ideological categories of “modern” and “conservative” are distorting the view upon the differentiation of orthodox and heretical alternatives when presenting and defending the Catholic Faith.

Holy Communion may only be worthily received by a baptized Christian who stands in full communion with the Catholic Church in her Creed (= doctrine), her Sacraments, and the Pope and bishops. Then added is also the reconciliation with God and the Church in case of a serious guilt, with the help of the Sacrament of Penance, or with the help of a perfect repentance with the resolution to confess one's sin to a priest on the nearest possible occasion.

The German bishops, with their handout concerning Communion for Protestant spouses – which has been worked up in a theologically defective manner – clearly overstepped their magisterial competence, as the Congregation for the Faith with the approval of Pope Francis has stated. It cannot be left up to the conscience of the Catholic faithful or non-Catholic Christian whether he wishes to receive Holy Communion in the Catholic sense or whether, rather, he gives Holy Communion a Lutheran meaning or a humanistic (that is to say that which fosters a sense of community) meaning. Ecclesial and sacramental communion are inseparable, unless the bishops wish to de-sacramentalize the Church. In a cultural Christendom devoid of the historic Revelation, however, all these conditions are canceled. The Church becomes a humanistic association with sentimentalist-religious traits and a social outreach; dogmas become metaphors of content-free transcendence, the Sacraments become symbols of the inclusion of everybody into one's own sentimentality.

[However,] the servants of Christ, as it is with bishops and priests, are merely administrators of God's mysteries (1 Cor. 4:1). To them is “given the service of reconciliation, and it is Christ who acts through them” (2 Cor 5:20). To him who is properly prepared and understands the Sacraments in the Catholic sense and wishes to receive them, one may not deny the Sacraments. But they also have to check whether the full ecclesial communion of the recipient is given, as well as the readiness to ask for them according to the Catholic Faith.

The individual person may also not come up to the Communion rail in a provocative manner, without asking himself first whether he has the right disposition and whether he accepts the Faith of the Church concerning the ecclesial and sacramental communion. Simply the sense of decency and the respect for the faith of others should restrain each man from adapting the rites of another religion without accepting the meaning of these rites and what they express, that is to say, without fully joining that community.

A good pastor will try to avoid a scandal during Holy Communion, and he may not use his knowledge from the Sacrament of Penance, either, in order to publicly show a person's grave sin. But he will explain, in a benevolent and firm manner, the doctrine of the Church. However, he is not bound by Divine Law to administer Holy Communion to a non-Catholic, and in any case, he certainly cannot be bound by any episcopal order – purely according to Church law – to commit an act which violates and obfuscates the sacramentality of the Church.

A bishop who imposes penalties against priests who rightly disobey him in this case thereby abuses his apostolic authority in a grave manner and has to answer for it before a higher ecclesial court of the Pope. But here, objective criteria have to be applied. Even if subjective agreements behind the scenes give for a moment an advantage to individual players desiring to gain power, the authority of the Magisterium and especially of the Pope is thereby being permanently undermined.

Note: Follow LifeSite's new Catholic twitter account to stay up to date on all Church-related news. Click here: @LSNCatholic

Get FREE pro-life and pro-family news. Sign up today!

Stay up-to-date on the issues you care about the most.

Select Your Edition:

Finished reading? Want to make an impact?

Your donation today helps bring the truth to MILLIONS.


Share this article

Maike Hickson

Dr. Maike Hickson was born and raised in Germany. She holds a PhD from the University of Hannover, Germany, after having written in Switzerland her doctoral dissertation on the history of Swiss intellectuals before and during World War II. She now lives in the U.S. and is married to Dr. Robert Hickson, and they have been blessed with two beautiful children. She is a happy housewife who likes to write articles when time permits.

Dr. Hickson published in 2014 a Festschrift, a collection of some thirty essays written by thoughtful authors in honor of her husband upon his 70th birthday, which is entitled A Catholic Witness in Our Time.

Hickson has closely followed the papacy of Pope Francis and the developments in the Catholic Church in Germany, and she has been writing articles on religion and politics for U.S. and European publications and websites such as LifeSiteNews, OnePeterFive, The Wanderer, Rorate Caeli, Catholicism.org, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Notizie Pro-Vita, Corrispondenza Romana, Katholisches.info, Der Dreizehnte,  Zeit-Fragen, and Westfalen-Blatt.