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Pope Francis with Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German bishops conference.

ROME, May 7, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — Pope Francis’ failure last week to give the German bishops clear directives on intercommunion with Protestants, based on Catholic teaching and practice, points to a drift toward apostasy from the truth, a prominent cardinal has said. 

On Thursday, Pope Francis directed the German bishops to reach a “unanimous” decision “if possible” on whether a Protestant spouse who is married to a Catholic may receive the Holy Eucharist. The Pope delivered the directive through Archbishop Luis Ladaria, SJ, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, during a meeting in Rome between Vatican officials and a delegation of German bishops. The meeting was called after seven German bishops sent a letter to the Vatican expressing their opposition to a Feb. 20 vote by the local bishops’ conference to allow intercommunion for Protestants under some circumstances. 

In comments published today at the National Catholic Register, Cardinal Willem Jacobus Eijk of Holland called Pope Francis’ directive “completely incomprehensible.”

“The Church’s doctrine and practice regarding the administration of the Sacrament of the Eucharist to Protestants is perfectly clear,” Cardinal Eijk said, citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Code of Canon Law.

He explained that intercommunion is only possible, in principle, with Orthodox Christians because, while not sharing full communion with the Catholic Church, they do have valid sacraments and “above all, by virtue of their apostolic succession, a valid priesthood and a valid Eucharist (CCC no 1400, C.I.C./1983 can. 844, § 3).”

RELATED: Pope Francis asks German bishops for ‘unanimous’ decision on intercommunion with Protestants

Protestants, on the other hand, have neither apostolic succession, nor a valid priesthood, nor faith in the Eucharist, the Dutch cardinal continued. Most German Protestants are Lutherans, he explained, and Lutherans believe in consubstantiation, i.e. that in addition to the Body and Blood of Christ, bread and wine are also truly present when someone receives communion. Lutherans also believe that one’s faith makes Christ present, so that if someone receives the bread and wine without believing this, the Body and Blood of Christ are not really present.  

The Lutheran doctrine of consubstantiation differs essentially from the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, Cardinal Eijk explained, since the latter “implies faith that what is received under the figures of bread and wine, even if administered to someone who does not believe in transubstantiation and even outside the moment of administration, remains the Body or Blood of Christ and that it is no longer the substances of bread and wine.”

Given these essential differences, he said, a Protestant does not live in full communion with the Catholic Church and so cannot receive the Holy Eucharist, even if he or she is married to a Catholic.

The differences between faith in consubstantiation and in transubstantiation are so great that the Church must demand that anyone who wishes to receive the Holy Eucharist “explicitly and formally” enter into full communion with the Catholic Church (except in case of danger of death), by converting to Catholicism, the cardinal explained. 

He further noted that the German Bishops’ draft directives on intercommunion allow a Protestant spouse to receive Communion after a  “private examination of conscience with a priest or with another person with pastoral responsibilities.” But he said this does not sufficiently guarantee that a person truly accepts the faith of the Church.

If someone truly accepts the Catholic Church’s teaching on the Eucharist — and therefore the priesthood and apostolic succession — his only option is to become a Catholic, the cardinal said.

Despite the German bishops’ assurances that the cases of Protestants who would like to receive Communion with their spouses is rare, Eijk said he believes cracking the door open to intercommunion will almost inevitably lead to it becoming widespread.

“Protestants who are married to Catholics and see other Protestants married to Catholics receiving Communion will think they can do the same. And in the end even Protestants unmarried to Catholics will want to receive it. The general experience with this type of adjustment is that the criteria are quickly extended,” he said.

Recalling Pope Francis’ directive last week to German bishops — to revisit the proposal and try to find unanimity if possible — Eijk asked: “Unanimity about what?” 

“The practice of the Catholic Church, based on her faith, is not determined and does not change when the majority of an episcopal conference votes in favor of it, not even if unanimously,” he said. 

As “the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity of both the bishops and of the faithful” (Lumen Gentium no. 23), Eijk said, the Holy Father should have given the German bishops clear directives based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Code of Canon Law.  

Pope Francis’ lack of clarity on the issue of intercommunion is having the opposite effect, creating “great confusion” among the faithful and “endangering” the unity of the Church, he said. The same is true for cardinals who propose blessing homosexual marriages — which is “diametrically” opposed to the teaching of the Catholic Church, he added. 

Cardinal Eijk concluded: “Observing that the bishops and, above all, the Successor of Peter fail to maintain and transmit faithfully and in unity the deposit of faith contained in Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, I cannot help but think of Article 675 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.”

The article of the Catechism, titled “The Church’s ultimate trial,” states:

Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the ‘mystery of iniquity’ in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is also known to oppose the German bishops’ intercommunion proposal and to support the seven bishops’ initiative. 

Read Cardinal Eijk’s full commentary here.