January 27, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Cardinal Kurt Koch, the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, gave an interview to Vatican News in which he in part contradicts a German ecumenical document calling for intercommunion.
While also seeing the good parts of the German document, Koch says that the document is based on an “assumption” which he cannot share, “namely: that the Catholic Eucharistic celebration and the Protestant Last Supper are identical.” According to the Austrian website Kath.net, Vatican News, in its report on the interview, first called this statement by Koch a mere “thesis,” but it later changed its wording.
Speaking to Vatican News after Holy Mass in Manoppello, Italy, Cardinal Koch was asked about the German Ecumenical Working Group of Protestant and Catholic Theologians (Ökumenischer Arbeitskreis evangelischer und katholischer Theologen) which published, in September of 2019, a paper calling for intercommunion. The journalist requested from Koch that he comment on the statement of the Protestant theologian Professor Volker Leppin who argues that this September 2019 paper has such broad biblical and academic foundations that “he who wishes to argue against intercommunion, is in need of very strong arguments.”
While Koch praises some parts of the paper that deal with the “history of the development,” he objects to another part of it. He says that the paper is based on one “assumption, which I cannot share this way, namely: that the Catholic Eucharistic celebration and the Protestant Last Supper are identical.” He goes on to explain that this document always “speaks of Last Supper/Eucharist,” which implies that “everything is already clear. And that I cannot share.”
“There are many open questions with regard to the understanding of the Eucharist,” the Swiss cardinal continues, “for example, the thought of the Sacrifice does not even occur.” He also mentions that the “question of the office [ministry]” has not been clarified, since he sees a “contradiction” between that which is written in the text and the “practice” of the Evangelical Church itself.
“In Germany, for example,” Koch continues, “in the text which the EKD [Evangelical Church of Germany] issued on the occasion of the remembrance of the Reformation [in 2017], it says: the Reformation has introduced a completely new understanding of church. The new aspect is that now every baptized person can administer the sacraments. He is to be ordained only for the sake of external order.” Koch sees here a difference as to what this new September 2019 theological paper states and means. “I believe we still have to discuss these open questions.”
The September 2019 paper of the ecumenical working group – which is titled “Gemeinsam am Tisch des Herrn” (“Together at the Lord's Table”) – claims that, in the theological debates of the last decades, the differences of opinion that stem from the 16th century have been sufficiently discussed and clarified and that there is now “agreement” with regard to the “theological meaning of the Eucharist/Last Supper,” and that, “on that foundation, the diversity of liturgical traditions is being valued.” Therefore, the authors explain, the goal of this document is “to recognize and support all efforts which strengthen the theological meaning and which, on this basis, share the intention to celebrate the Last Supper/Eucharist together.” At the end, they conclude, “there is a vote for an opening of the different confessional celebrations of the Last Supper for Christians (male and female) of other traditions.”
The head of the German section of the official Vatican news service Vatican News, Stefan von Kempis, praised this 57-page-long document, pointing out that the document does not omit to mention the differences – such as the question of the “mutual acceptance of the offices [ministries]” – but adding that an agreement on the understanding of Baptism is already now “stronger than the differences with regard to the question of the office,” in the specific words of the document. Von Kempis also stressed the argument presented in the paper that Jesus had “promised to be present” among those who come “together in His name.” For this, there is no need to create a unified ceremony or liturgy, but, rather, it is important in the eyes of the ecumenical theologians to accept that the “fullness” of what Jesus has “instituted” is not to be found only “in one single form.”
Concludes von Kempis: “This is a sentence at which a Catholic first has to gulp. Nevertheless: an inspiring paper that leads us to further considerations! It has the potential to lead us to a closer unity. The Vatican will take attentive note of it, even if it might well abstain from making public comments.”
While the Vatican might not officially issue a commentary, the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Koch, has now commented on this new document of last September.
But the comments by von Kempis might actually lie closer to the heart of Pope Francis who recently met with the Lutheran pastor of the Evangelical Church in Rome, Reverend Michael Jonas. At that meeting, Pope Francis has told Jonas, according to comments made by Jonas to LifeSiteNews, that “Catholics and Protestants are very close to one another in what they do in their public worship [Gottesdienst].” Pope Francis is also said to have mentioned that he knew of a case where a Catholic priest helped out a Protestant minister when he could not himself preside over his Lutheran liturgy of the word.
Moreover, in 2015, Pope Francis made comments to a Protestant wife of a Catholic, which appeared to “suggest,” in the words of National Catholic Register Rome correspondent Edward Pentin, “that a Lutheran wife of a Catholic husband could receive Holy Communion based on the fact that she is baptized and in accordance with her conscience.”
This ecumenical working group which issued the September 2019 document on intercommunion was jointly founded in 1946 by a Protestant and a Catholic bishop. Today, the group is presided over by Catholic Bishop Georg Bätzing (Limburg) and the Protestant former Bishop Martin Hein.
One of the two academic leaders of this Ecumenical Working Group of Protestant and Catholic Theologians who are calling for intercommunion is the Catholic theologian Professor Dorothea Sattler who has been appointed to be the head of the “Synodal Path's” discussion forum on women's access to Church ministries as organized by the German Bishops’ Conference. The second academic leader is the above-mentioned Protestant theologian Professor Volker Leppin.