A new guest article from Cardinal Willem Jacobus Eijk, Archbishop of Utrecht, Netherlands, was published today on Edward Pentin’s blog at the National Catholic Register. The topic of the cardinal’s essay is the issue of intercommunion for Protestant spouses of Catholics in Germany, which has just escalated after a delegation from the German bishops — of whom a minority oppose such a change in Eucharistic practice — was sent home by Pope Francis and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith without an answer about their concerns or whether they could proceed with their plan to allow intercommunion in some cases after an ill-defined process of “discernment”.
The response of the Holy Father, given through the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to the delegation of the German Conference, that the Conference should discuss the drafts again and try to achieve a unanimous result, if possible, is completely incomprehensible. The Church’s doctrine and practice regarding the administration of the Sacrament of the Eucharist to Protestants is perfectly clear.
Eijk then refers to canon 844 of the 1983 code of canon law, which states:
“If the danger of death is present or if, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops, some other grave necessity urges it, Catholic ministers administer these same sacraments licitly also to other Christians not having full communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who seek such on their own accord, provided that they manifest Catholic faith in respect to these sacraments and are properly disposed.” C.I.C./1983, can. 844 § 4 (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) no. 1400).
Eijk goes on to note an important distinction — rarely brought up in discussions of this issue — about just who, precisely, this canon is targeting:
Intercommunion is, in principle, only possible with Orthodox Christians, because the Eastern Churches, although not in full communion with the Catholic Church, have true 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). Their faith in the priesthood, in the Eucharist and also in the Sacrament of Penance is equal to that of the Catholic Church.
Obviously, the Lutheran doctrine of consubstantiation differs essentially from the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, which implies the 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.
Because of these essential differences, communion should not be administered to a Protestant, even if married to a Catholic, because the Protestant does not live in full communion with the Catholic Church and, therefore, does not explicitly share faith in her Eucharist.
Eijk’s re-iteration of this theological difference in Lutheran and Catholic belief between transubstantiation and consubstantiation is important and timely. So too is his recognition that canon 844 is designed to allow communion to members of the Eastern Orthodox churches — and even then, only in extenuating circumstances such as danger of death — because of their shared belief that the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Eijk insists that “what the Code of Canon Law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church say should have been the reaction of the Holy Father” who “should have given the delegation of the German episcopal conference clear directives, based on the clear doctrine and practice of the Church”.
“By failing to create clarity,” he writes, “great confusion is created among the faithful and the unity of the Church is endangered.”
Some Catholic commentators have objected that Francis is always clear; that he makes known what he wants, even if what he wants is total abdication of his duty: “I’m not going to make a decision so you all have to figure it out for yourselves.”
But as the Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas, Rene Henry Gracida, noted in a recent interview, what we have is anything but but clarity:
Even though Francis has made heretical statements, he has cleverly also made orthodox statements on the same subject thereby making it virtually impossible to define him as a heretic.
For Gracida, this means that we’re faced with another question: was Francis ever validly elected at all? This is, of course, a potentially dangerous rabbit hole, because conclaves are governed by secrecy, and there is almost no way to prove such a thing, but Gracida raises what all of us — those on every side of the papal validity debate — can see with our own eyes:
Claiming heresy on the part of a man who is a supposed Pope, charging material error in statements about faith or morals by a putative Roman Pontiff, suggests and presents an intervening prior question about his authenticity in that August office of Successor of Peter as Chief of The Apostles, i.e., was this man the subject of a valid election by an authentic Conclave of The Holy Roman Church? This is so because each Successor of Saint Peter enjoys the Gift of Infallibility.
So, before one even begins to talk about excommunicating such a prelate, one must logically examine whether this person exhibits the uniformly good and safe fruit of Infallibility. If he seems repeatedly to engage in material error, that first raises the question of the validity of his election because one expects an authentically-elected Roman Pontiff miraculously and uniformly to be entirely incapable of stating error in matters of faith or morals.
I am not, as I’ve said before, persuaded by the arguments for the invalidity of the election of Francis based on intepretations of Universi Dominic Gregis that are less-than-certain. That said, it would be a mistake, I think, to rule them out entirely — particularly after research in The Dictator Pope indicated that Cardinal Bergoglio may have been more complicit in the conspiracy that led to his election than was originally clear. And as Bishop Gracida notes, the inconsistency between the protections of the papal office as we understand them and the reality of the lived pontificate of Francis raise questions for which we do not have satisfactory answers.
Whatever the truth of it is — and we may yet have quite a while before we know it — what all Catholics are forced to contend with is the utter seriousness of this situation. A seriousness driven home by Cardinal Eijk in the conclusion to his piece:
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 Church’s ultimate trial
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.”
Although Eijk doesn’t unpack the deeper meaning of this passage, a glimpse at the Catechism itself shows us that #675 has one final sentence of serious import – a sentence that ties together the part the cardinal quoted: “The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.”
675 is, therefore, footnoted with multiple scriptural references to end times persecution, apostasy, and the coming of the Antichrist – eight of them, to be precise. Here they are, in order of appearance:
- Luke 18:8 – I say to you, that he will quickly revenge them. But yet the Son of man, when he cometh, shall he find, think you, faith on earth?
- Matthew 24:12 – And because iniquity hath abounded, the charity of many shall grow cold
- Luke 21:12 – But before all these things, they will lay their hands upon you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and into prisons, dragging you before kings and governors, for my name’s sake.
- John 15:19-20 – If you had been of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember my word that I said to you: The servant is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you: if they have kept my word, they will keep yours also.
- 2 Thessalonians 2:4-12 – Who opposeth, and is lifted up above all that is called God, or that is worshipped, so that he sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself as if he were God. Remember you not, that when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now you know what withholdeth, that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity already worketh; only that he who now holdeth, do hold, until he be taken out of the way. And then that wicked one shall be revealed whom the Lord Jesus shall kill with the spirit of his mouth; and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming, him, Whose coming is according to the working of Satan, in all power, and signs, and lying wonders, And in all seduction of iniquity to them that perish; because they receive not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. Therefore God shall send them the operation of error, to believe lying: That all may be judged who have not believed the truth, but have consented to iniquity. But we ought to give thanks to God always for you, brethren, beloved of God, for that God hath chosen you firstfruits unto salvation, in sanctification of the spirit, and faith of the truth:
- 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3 – For yourselves know perfectly, that the day of the Lord shall so come, as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, peace and security; then shall sudden destruction come upon them, as the pains upon her that is with child, and they shall not escape.
- 2 John 7 – For many seducers are gone out into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh: this is a seducer and an antichrist.
- 1 John 2:18 – Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that Antichrist cometh, even now there are become many Antichrists: whereby we know that it is the last hour.
These are not lightweight passages. And if the current situation is making a cardinal think about these realities so much that he’s going so far as to write about them in public, things are getting very serious indeed.
Please continue your prayers for Pope Francis, for his conversion to the fullness of the Catholic faith, for his successor, and for the restoration of the Church.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.