June 6, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the president of the German bishops' conference, says he is “surprised” at Pope Francis' decision that the German bishops should not yet publish their pastoral handout allowing some Protestant spouses of Catholics to receive Holy Communion. The cardinal, a major advocate for the handout, says he regrets that the Vatican has thus cut short a pending debate among the German bishops.
On June 4, a letter was leaked that had been written on May 25 and sent to Germany by Archbishop Luis Ladaria, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), to Cardinal Reinhard Marx and to some of his fellow German bishops. In that letter, Ladaria told the German bishops that Pope Francis thought it best that the German intercommunion handout not be published since it was not “mature” or “ripe” enough.
Consequently, Cardinal Marx published a June 4 statement on the German bishops' website. It says that at the May 3 meeting in Rome between a German delegation and the CDF, “the participating bishops had been told that they should find, 'if possible, a unanimous solution in the spirit of ecclesial communion.'” Cardinal Marx “is therefore surprised that now this letter from Rome has come before that search for a unanimous solution [happened].” Furthermore, the statement insists that “that there is a further need for discussion within the German bishops' conference,” to include the permanent council of the German bishops and at the fall general assembly, “but also with the corresponding Roman dicasteries and with the Holy Father himself.”
Cardinal Marx also tells the public that he received that CDF letter only in the evening of June 4, that is to say after certain German media started to leak that letter. While Marx now shows himself to be surprised and somewhat embarrassed about this new letter from Rome, the interpretations of that letter go into different directions.
For Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the former Prefect of the CDF, this papal decision is “a victory for the truth.” As reported by Katholisch.de, the cardinal adds: “Here, the emergency brake was pulled only just ahead of the abyss.” Cardinal Müller openly criticizes Pope Francis when he says: “the train nevertheless got off the rails, because Rome reacted too late and too hesitantly. Now it is important to set the train back onto the rails.” He then adds another strong criticism, saying: “The idea to negotiate on questions of faith covertly and privately with the pope and someone of his confidants reveals a shocking exaggeration of the Roman Primacy.”
On another note, for the prominent German newspaper Die Süddeutsche, this new CDF letter to the German bishops means that “the pope positioned himself against Cardinal Marx.” The newspaper adds that this new event is a “rough defeat” for the President of the German bishops' conference. Professor Thomas Schüller, a German canon law specialist, argues that Cardinal Marx' position, in light of Church politics, has been damaged by the recent papal move. He interprets Pope Francis' decision as a message sent to the German bishops which says: “Permit much – but do not ask me! Because then we have to do it officially.” Such a comment would imply that Pope Francis might like the German intercommunion initiative itself, but not that it has been made so public and with such a prominence.
The official Vatican news website entitled its report on the CDF letter with the words “Pope: Communion for Protestants married to Catholics requires further study,” thus implying that in the future, such an intercommunion handout still might be published. With the same encouraging direction, the article also states:
Pope Francis has invited German bishops to await legislation that is applicable to the whole universal Church on the delicate question of allowing Protestants who are married to Catholics to receive Communion in Catholic Churches.
On the other hand, progressivist voices in Germany are indignant over this papal decision to halt – or delay – the German advance in favor of intercommunion, and they do not see any further encouragement for it. The German Catholic grassroot movement We Are Church (“Wir Sind Kirche”) posted a comment on June 5. “Many Catholics are very irritated” about this new CDF letter, they state, adding that the letter of the seven German bishops openly opposing the German intercommunion handout “was not a good sign.” The group regrets that “a minority of German bishops” still “so vehemently resists further visible signs of ecumenism,” and this in spite of the fact “that the Vatican had signaled, a year ago, that it would accept an opening with regard to the question of the last supper [sic], if the German bishops' conference would make concrete proposals.”
This last comment might be especially significant now because it was certainly not made public at the time that the Vatican had made such encouraging gestures toward a possible German intercommunion handout. LifeSiteNews reached out to We Are Church, requesting more information on this earlier encouragement from the Vatican. In a response to our request, the group said that it was Cardinal Walter Kasper who during the Luther Year 2017 signaled that he expected with regard to intercommunion some “concrete steps forward,” adding that “the decision is now up to the German bishops.” Since Cardinal Kasper works closely together with Pope Francis, his words might very well have been taken by some German bishops as a hint to move forward in this matter.
Lastly, some traditionalist and conservative commentators are more hesitant to be at all joyful about this recent papal hesitation and decision with regard to the German intercommunion handout. Steve Skojec, founder and editor of OnePeterFive, entitled his own 5 June commentary with the words: “Celebration of Vatican’s Intercommunion Rejection is Premature.” For him, the objection against the handout given by Archbishop Ladaria “isn’t that the document is simply theologically incorrect — it’s that it’s not quite ready for prime time.” Even as it concerns the more “prohibitive” restrictions on intercommunion in canon 844 of the Code of Canon Law, Skojec notes that Ladaria merely says that there are still “open questions.”
Additionally, Skojec quotes conservative German theologian and book author Dr. Markus Büning, who wrote in an article that this new CDF letter is “not a reason to jubilate.” In his view, “there exists no reason at all for jubilation. Because the reasons given by the Rome letter are really theologically nearly without any clear statement, since it is written in the form of vague allusions,” as this the theologian and lawyer explains. For him, the Vatican seems to withdraw “into mere formal and purely canonical reasons and lines of arguments.” Büning says that it obvious that “one tries now – on the level of the Universal Church – to set up respective rules [concerning Communion for Protestant spouses]. Therefore, there remains much insecurity!”
Commenting from Great Britain, the Catholic author Deacon Nick Donnelly sees this new Vatican move also in a negative light. He says on Twitter:
Francis' “no” to the German Bishops was not really a no, but a “not yet.” Instead of limiting this schismatic wound to [the] German Church, Francis looks set to inflict this schismatic act on the universal Church.
As can be seen, not all observers agree upon how to interpret this recent 25 May CDF letter. The future will perhaps tell us who is the closest to reality here.