Noted theologian: Pope cannot abdicate his duty to teach clearly on intercommunion

Respected theologian and former consulter to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Benedict XVI responds to latest Kasper interview.
Tue May 15, 2018 - 11:16 am EST
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ROME, May 15, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — The Pope cannot abdicate the Petrine Ministry in favor of a synodal method of Church governance on questions such as intercommunion, a respected theologian and former consulter to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during Benedict XVI’s pontificate has said.

Writing yesterday in La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana, Italian Monsignor Nicola Bux said the Catholic Church is “hierarchical, not synodal” and “pastoral issues are resolved only if the ‘meal’ is made of true doctrine.”

Msgr. Bux’s comments come in response to a recent interview with Cardinal Walter Kasper on intercommunion and the German bishops’ controversial proposal to allow a Protestant who is married to a Catholic to receive the Holy Eucharist in some cases.

In February the bishops of Germany overwhelmingly voted that permission could be granted to a Protestant spouse if, after having made a “serious examination” of conscience with a priest or another person with pastoral responsibilities, he or she “affirms the faith of the Catholic Church,” wishes to end “serious spiritual distress,” and has a “longing to satisfy a hunger for the Eucharist.”

At the time, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German bishops’ conference, made clear that the proposal did not require the Protestant spouse to convert to Catholicism.

The bishops intended to publish the proposal as a “pastoral handout,” but were blocked when seven German bishops sent a letter to the Vatican expressing their opposition. 

In an interview with La Stampa, published on May 13, Cardinal Walter Kasper argued that the Second Vatican Council’s decree on ecumenism, Unitatis redintegratio, provides magisterial support for admitting Protestants to Communion in some cases. He said the Vatican II decree also allows local bishops’ conferences “prudently” to decide on the matter. 

Kasper also praised the German bishops’ controversial draft proposal, saying it finds further magisterial backing in two encyclicals of Pope John Paul II: Ut unum sint (1995) on the commitment to ecumenism, and  Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003) on the relationship of the Eucharist to the Church.

“The two encyclicals insist very much on adherence by Protestants to the Catholic doctrine on the Eucharist, that is, on manifesting ‘the faith that the Catholic Church confesses,’ to quote John Paul II,” Kasper said. “For a true Lutheran,” he continued, “the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is obvious.”

“Certainly you cannot require as much from a Protestant as you normally would from a Catholic,” he added. “It’s enough to believe: ‘This is the body of Christ, given for you.’ Luther also very much insisted on this,” adding that “even a ‘normal’ faithful Catholic doesn’t know the more developed doctrines of transubstantiation or consubstantiation.” 

Asked about the letter of opposition from the seven bishops, Kasper quipped, “I’m not their schoolmaster,” but said he believes their problem can be resolved by considering his position. 

Kasper said Pope Francis’ decision to return the question of Communion for Protestants to the German bishops’ conference was “very wise,” explaining that the Pope was “in full harmony with the idea of the synodality of the Church.” With his decision, Pope Francis has signaled that, on fundamental questions, “a majority is not enough ... unanimity is needed,” Kasper said.

Recalling his tenure as bishop in the diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, Kasper explained that although he never issued “an official statement” allowing Protestants to receive the Holy Eucharist when attending Mass with their Catholic spouse, he “like all the other bishops” knew that Protestants who were “truly interested” went to Communion.

Kasper also said that, in his experience, many Protestants have more respect and love for current Pope than “some Catholic critics.”

The “more theological issues” of universal jurisdiction, the fullness of jurisdictions etc, aren’t really issues for “the normal laity,” Kasper said, adding that Protestants who “live in ecumenical friendship” are happy to “leave the accusation that the Pope is the anti-Christ to secularists and the masons.”

Cardinal Kasper concluded that while theological principles “always have value,” they should not be “mechanically” applied to concrete situations. “Were we to do this, it would be the heresy of gnosis, which Pope Francis has rightly denounced,” he said.

Responding to Kasper’s claims in his article on La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana, Msgr. Bux shows how Cardinal Kasper “stretches” magisterial texts and “jumps over” key passages, in a kind of theological and ecclesial obstacle course aimed at gaining the prize of intercommunion.

Bux also said he believes the growing opposition between bishops, as most recently evidenced in the debate between the German episcopacy, points to a disturbing truth about the present pontificate.

Here below we publish an English translation of the article by Msgr. Nicola Bux, with the kind permission of La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana.


Gregory of Nyssa, one of the Cappadocian fathers, recalls that Jesus Christ “admonishes his disciples always to be united in solutions to questions and in their assessment of the good to be done; to be of one heart and one spirit and to esteem this unity as the one and only good” (Homily on the Canticle of Canticles”; Homily 15; PG 44, 1115-1118).

With this premise, one ought to look at the debate on so-called “intercommunion,” raised by the guidelines of the German bishops who mean to admit to Holy Communion Protestant spouses of Catholics, against whom seven other German bishops have aligned. Incidentally, the term “intercommunion” seems incomprehensible at the very least, because Communion is in itself the union of persons. In order for this union to exist, people must adhere — with regard to Eucharistic Communion — to the faith which the Catholic Church professes. For the Orthodox, Eucharistic Communion among Christians is possible only if they also share the same idea of the Church. For this reason, they cannot conceive of intercommunion.

Cardinal Walter Kasper has weighed in on the subject in an interview with Vatican Insider, arguing that Communion with the Protestants is already provided for in one Vatican II document and in two documents by St. John Paul II.  This is an obvious and unacceptable stretch. Let us look, for example, at the Council decree on ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio, paragraph 8. Kasper applies to “intercommunion” (a term which Kasper also considers misleading), “common worship [communicatio in sacris],” which the paragraph applies to a union in prayer, as the very title  suggests.

Communication in sacred things in fact has different degrees, and it does not seem that here the decree on ecumenism intends to refer to the sacraments, but only to the union in prayer that, after Vatican II, spread particularly among separated Christians. Indeed, the same paragraph, shortly before, mentions prescribed prayers for Christian unity together with separate brethren. And these are considered to be a very effective means — says the paragraph — of imploring the grace of unity and of manifesting the bonds by which Christians are united among themselves. The paragraph therefore does not speak of the sacraments but only of a union in prayer.

After all, the Acts of the Apostles, in the famous passage 2:42, distinguishes the communion of prayers from communion in the breaking of bread, i.e. the Eucharist. Therefore the expression “communication in sacred things,” rightly does not here concern the sacraments, as the paragraph says. The extension the the cardinal makes is therefore out of context.

The reason why the Council decree cannot pertain to the sacraments is also tied to the fact that, in determinate cases, Catholics can received the Sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, only from non-catholic ministers whose Church has valid sacraments. In essence, this only involves the Orthodox, and certainly not the Protestants (cf. can. 804 par. 2). It is understandable why the local episcopal authority can have competence at this level of a communicatio in sacris — that is, ecumenical prayer — but not at that sacramental dogmatic level, for which the universal Church has competence. Thus the theory of the particular case doesn’t stand up either — a theory which, according to Kasper, is guided by the principle of the salvation of souls insofar as it pertains to the sacraments. 

Regarding n. 46 — not 24, as erroneously stated in the interview — of the encyclical Ut Unum Sint, the context is given by the subheading: “Approaching one another through the Word of God and through divine worship.” The part quoted by Kasper does no more than repeat what has already been said in the aforementioned paragraph. 8 of the decree on ecumenism. Here too, John Paul II reaffirms that Sacraments of the Eucharist, Penance and Anointing of the Sick to Christians can be administered by Catholic ministers, in certain cases, to those Christians who manifest the faith that the Catholic Church professes in these sacraments. It is obvious that a Protestant who manifests the Catholic faith in the sacrament is no longer a Protestant.

As for paragraph 45 of the other encyclical Ecclesia de Eucaristia, the complete quotation from the concluding part is: “In this case, in fact, the intention is to meet a grave spiritual need for the eternal salvation of an individual believer, not to bring about an intercommunion which remains impossible until the visible bonds of ecclesial communion are fully re-established.” Why did Cardinal Kasper skip over this last part? And yet John Paul II, in the previous paragraph, n. 44, insists precisely on the integrity of the bonds so that there may be complete ecclesial communion. This is precisely what manifests the desire of Catholics to arrive at true communion.

Then in his next answer, the cardinal takes for granted that Lutherans believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Until now, we knew that they do not believe in transubstantiation. Nor can it be advanced as a mitigating factor that there are also Catholics who do not know what the latter is, because this depends ignorance of basic catechism. Instead, one must ask a Protestant what is normally asked of a Catholic, otherwise on what real basis would the union of Christians be built? It should be mentioned in this regard that, during his visit to Germany in November 1980, John Paul II reminded Christian leaders of what separates Catholics and Protestants: “what is of Christ…,” particularly “the sacraments.”

The cardinal then admits that, in Germany, the problem is religious indifference, while interest in religious questions is greatly diminished. So why has the German Bishops’ Conference given such importance to intercommunion? Why not address secularization by promoting a new evangelization? In this way even those who are not Catholics but have a desire to share in the Eucharist would be helped first of all to know the Catholic Eucharistic faith. That would remove the impediment that currently remains.

Regarding the outcome of the consultation between German bishops and the Vatican dicasteries, it must be remembered that the Catholic Church is not a synodal church where the collegial consent of the bishops is sufficient — as in the Orthodox churches — because the exercise of the Petrine Ministry, which indicates the course to the whole church, is indispensable; the Pope cannot abdicate this task. For the Catholic Church is hierarchical, not synodal. Pastoral problems are resolved only if the “meal” is made of true doctrine, as St Paul recalls in his second letter to Timothy 4:2 — truly a pastoral letter, which is the same as saying doctrinal — where the apostle invites the disciple to work with all patience and doctrine (in Greek: didaché).

In conclusion Cardinal Kasper appeals to concrete life, in my opinion exchanging the Catholic faith in the Petrine primacy, which is objective — that is, it prescinds from the man who sits on the Chair of Peter — with the esteem and love that subjectively “many Protestants have.” For the Catholic faith, however, “the Roman Pontiff, as the successor of Peter, is the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity of both the bishops and of the faithful.” (Lumen Gentium, 23).

It is precisely the growing opposition, first between the bishops and consequently between the faithful, that shows that this proposition, today, is no longer evident.

  catholic, intercommunion, nicola bux, pope francis, walter kasper

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