Maike Hickson

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Bishop Felix Genn Menschen in Münster / Youtube screen grab

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German bishop: ‘Pastoral caretakers do not have the right to allow or deny access to the Eucharist’

Maike Hickson Maike Hickson Follow Maike

November 21, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Bishop Felix Genn of Münster, Germany has published a guide about the pastoral care for married couples called “I walk with you,” which contains both the German bishops' statements about Amoris Laetitia and their controversial handout allowing some Protestant spouses of Catholics to receive Holy Communion on a regular basis. Genn states that it is not up to priests to “deny or allow access to the Eucharist.”

As the German bishops' news website Katholisch.de reported on November 20, Bishop Genn just published his own guide about marriage on his diocesan website. In his comments in the guide concerning Communion for Protestant spouses of Catholics, he makes it clear that “from the beginning, I have supported it [the German bishops' handout] and...I shall continue to do so.”

While he also admits “full Eucharistic communion is only possible by means of ecclesial communion,” Genn still endorses the idea of giving Holy Communion to some Protestant spouses of Catholics on a regular basis. He comments: “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.”

In October, another German bishop, Gerhard Fürst of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, sent out a letter to his pastoral caretakers in which he instructed them to allow Protestant spouses of Catholics – in individual cases and after a decision of conscience – to receive Holy Communion. In the letter dated October 1, a copy of which LifeSiteNews obtained, he also admits that he knows that Communion for Protestant spouses has already been practiced in his diocese for quite some time, and he adds that those couples still could receive some additional accompaniment.

At the end of this pastoral process with Protestant spouses, Fürst explains, stands “the individual decision of conscience of the partners of a mixed marriage which, in each case, is to be respected.” The German bishop attached to his letter a flyer containing the essential guidelines for Communion for Protestant spouses, explaining, “I firmly ask you to advertise the possibilities that are to be found in it [the flyer] (conversation, and the possibility to receive Communion after a decision of conscience).”

The German Catholic website Katholisches.info published a report on the October 1 letter. The author of the article, a Catholic laywoman, comments on the fact that the bishop even asked his employees to advertise the possibility of Communion for Protestant spouses, and she says that this is “an affront and a call to undermine the Catholic doctrine.” She adds that, with this letter, Bishop Fürst puts pressure on diocesan employees who in their consciences cannot support such a directive, which represents a “sell-out of the Most Blessed Sacrament.”

As a counterpoint, Cardinal Rainer Woelki, archbishop of Cologne, just made a statement to his pastoral coworkers in which he reaffirmed the traditional discipline of only permitting Communion for Protestants in cases of emergency. If a couple in a mixed marriage would receive Holy Communion together, that would merely “liturgically simulate the ecclesial communion which does not yet exist,” Woelki explained. The situation of a mixed marriage, he added, is not a case of emergency, such as imminent death, imprisonment, or war.

“The mixed marriage is not part of it,” he said.

Cardinal Woelki also explained that the Vatican had announced that it would work out some further guidelines and explanations concerning this controversial matter of Communion for Protestant spouses, adding, “up to then, the previous regulation which has validity world-wide, is still valid.”

Additionally, the German priest and theology professor Manfred Hauke published a booklet in defense of the traditional Catholic discipline with regard to the reception of Holy Communion. This booklet is an excellent summary of the controversy over the February 2018 handout of the German bishops allowing Communion for Protestant spouses without a previous conversion to the Catholic faith. Hauke shows that this German handout contradicts canon law. He also shows that the rule of Communion for Protestants in emergency situations is not applicable for Germany because Protestant ministers are available far and wide. Since this text gives an excellent overview of the discussion and presents the major objections to the German handout, it would be a gift if some publishing house were soon to publish it in English.

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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.