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Update May 2, 2018: An earlier version of this report stated that the German bishops would be meeting with Pope Francis. They will, in fact, be meeting with officials of various Congregations. The Pope may or may not be be present at some of the meetings. 

May 2, 2018 ( – Representatives of the German Episcopal Conference are scheduled to meet with Vatican officials this Thursday in an attempt to resolve another controversial issue of the Francis pontificate: will Protestants be permitted to receive Holy Communion in Germany, in accordance with a plan published recently by the country’s national bishops’ conference?

After siding with the German bishops’ relentless push to give Holy Communion to divorced and invalidly “remarried” Catholics, Pope Francis finds himself in a difficult position: he is now confronting a plan approved by German bishops to apply similar reasoning to communion for the Protestant spouses of Catholics. 

Although Francis reportedly initially sided with a minority of German bishops who protested the plan and received support from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the German Episcopal conference publicly denied that the plan had been rejected. The Holy See then agreed to a meeting with the German bishops supporting the proposal, who constitute the majority of the German Episcopal Conference. 

The German delegation includes Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of München and Freising and president of the German Episcopal Conference,  Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, archbishop of Cologne, and four other German bishops including Karl-Heinz Wiesemann, president of the Doctrinal Commission of the German Episcopal Conference, Rudolf Voderholzer, vice president of the Doctrinal Commission of the German Episcopal Conference, and Gerhard Feige, president of the Commission for Ecumenism of the German Episcopal Conference. Fr. Hans Langendörfer, S.J., secretary general of the German Episcopal Conference, will also be present.

They will meet with officials from the Holy See's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.

The decision made by the Holy See may provide an indication of how strongly the ultraliberal German bishops, whose views are contrary to Catholic doctrine and current Eucharistic practice, continue to hold sway over the pope.  

Francis’ past behavior indicates sympathy for intercommunion with Lutherans

Although it is impossible to predict Pope Francis’ response to the bishops’ push, his actions in recent years suggest that he is quite amenable to the idea that non-Catholic Christians, particularly Lutherans, should be permitted to receive the Eucharist. 

In 2015, a Lutheran woman married to a Catholic asked Pope Francis in a public audience about the possibility of receiving Holy Communion with her husband. The pope gave an uncertain answer, advising her to “Always refer back to your baptism: ‘One faith, one baptism, one Lord.’ This is what Paul tells us, and then take the consequences from there. I wouldn’t ever dare to allow this, because it’s not my competence. One baptism, one Lord, one faith.”

However, he then famously added, “Talk to the Lord and go forward,” apparently allowing the woman to decide the matter according to her own private conscience.

The pope’s statement led to a thinly-veiled rebuke by the Vatican’s liturgy chief, Cardinal Robert Sarah. 

“We cannot do this. It’s not that I have to talk to the Lord in order to know if I should go to Communion. No, I have to know if I’m in accord with the rule of the Church. It’s my conscience that says: ‘Go.’ My conscience must be enlightened by the rule of the Church, which says that in order to communicate, I need to be in the state of grace, without sin, and have the faith of the Catholic Church,” Sarah commented at the time.

In 2016, a group of Finnish Lutherans visiting Rome were given Holy Communion following an audience with the pope, despite the fact that they showed respect for the Church’s law prohibiting intercommunion, approaching the communion rail while giving a sign that they were only to receive a blessing and not the Eucharist.

Lutheran bishop Samuel Salmi said at the time, “I myself accepted it [Holy Communion].” He added that “this was not a coincidence,” and nor was it a coincidence when last year the pope seemed to accept the notion of a Lutheran woman receiving communion with her Catholic husband. 

Although the Catholic diocese of Helsinki, Finland, publicly repudiated the giving of communion to the Lutheran delegation and called it an “error,” the Holy See never confirmed the claim that the intercommunion was an error.


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