Image: Herforder Münster (Germany), formerly Marienkirche
Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the head of the German bishops, is now opening up to the idea of different German dioceses having different rules concerning the possible admittance of Protestant spouses of Catholics to Holy Communion. Another bishop just said, moreover, that Pope Francis seems not to see in the new German intercommunion guidelines a “threat to the Faith.”
Last Saturday, the German Katholikentag (a national Catholic gathering with some 50,000 participants) in Münster came to an end. Now, at the beginning of this week, the statements of the participating German bishops concerning the ongoing intercommunion debate are being widely reported in the German press.
One of the most prominent figures is, of course, Cardinal Marx. During events of the Katholikentag, he said two important things that deserve to be reported. First, he claimed in an interview with the German bishops’ news website Katholisch.de (around minute 8 of the video) that Pope Francis does not wish us “to stand still and to look back” with regard to ecumenism. Rather, the pope wishes us “to go forward, avanti, and to see what possibilities [for a greater ecumenical community] we have.” So says Cardinal Marx. This of course implies that the pope himself wishes us to “move forward” with the intercommunion issue.
The second claim that is now being widely reported is that Marx, when asked about the possibility of having different intercommunion rules set up by German dioceses, replied: “Yes, that is already now the case.” According to Marx, the German Bishops’ Conference “cannot take legislative measures for the individual dioceses,” since the “bishop is in the individual diocese the legislator.” Thus, explains the German cardinal, the bishops’ conference itself “has no competence to give orders” with regard to individual bishops. The Austrian Catholic website Kath.net explains these words as follows: “The struggle among German bishops about the distribution of the Holy Eucharist to Protestants might lead to the result that German dioceses receive [and abide by] different rules.”
This of course is a preparation for the progressivist wing’s decision in Germany to push ahead with their relativizing agenda with regard to Communion for Protestant spouses. As another German bishop, Peter Kohlgraf – the successor of Cardinal Karl Lehmann in Mainz – proposed at the Katholikentag that the pope himself had given the message that he does not think that the recent February 2018 intercommunion guidelines are a “threat to the Faith.” Explaining the papal words which proposed and encouraged a “possibly unanimous agreement” among the German bishops, Kohlgraf said that they do not mean a full unanimous consent among all bishops, but, rather, “that we once more discuss our handout in such a way that the minority does not lose face, but also, that nobody is put into question concerning his own Catholicicity.”
This kind of interpretation seems to prepare the way for the progressivist camp in Germany to have one additional meeting with the opposing bishops, among them Cardinal Rainer Woelki and Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer, and then to implement the pastoral guidelines essentially as they had been approved already with a two-thirds majority in February.
Moreover, Kohlgraf insists that the pope does not think that this majority decision is putting the faith and the unity of the Church into danger. As the Katholisch.de report says:
He feels himself “personally wounded,” says Kohlgraf, “when the letter of the seven bishops to Rome warns and claims that through my vote – together with the majority of my fellow bishops – the substance of the Faith and the unity of the Church are in danger. If I understand correctly the pope, then he does not see that danger.”
If it should not come to an agreement between both camps, explains the prelate, then each bishop would be free to establish his own rules for his own diocese. However, he adds that “I would find it interesting [sic] to see what happens when in Cologne, there is another rule than in Aachen.” There would surely “be an increased lack of understanding and an increase of indignation” among the faithful, warns the bishop.
Both statements taken together – the one by Marx and the one by Kohlgraf – it might well thus be safe to predict that the progressivists – seeing that the conservative bishops are not inclined to relent, in spite of Pope Francis’ own lack of doctrinal correction – will implement their own revolutionary intercommunion guidelines and explain that those resisting bishops are free not to implement them in their own dioceses. In this context, Cardinal Marx’s own words at the Katholikentag also make now more sense: “We wish to seek the biggest possible unanimity, but one cannot keep seeking and discussing until unanimity is found.”
By way of contrast, Bishop Stefan Oster – one of the seven opposing bishops – warned during the Katholikentag against a “wishy-washy ecumenism,” whereby the question of truth is being eliminated. “Whoever receives Holy Communion,” explains the Bavarian bishop of Passau, “also says ‘Amen’ to the Catholic understanding of the Church, thus with a pope and bishops.”
In this context, it might be worthwhile to remember that, during the two controversial family synods, there were essentially the same conservative bishops – six at that time – who had opposed the idea of admitting the “remarried” divorcees to Holy Communion. Bishop Oster, who was among them, later established his own pastoral guidelines with regard to Amoris Laetitia, with a more restricted understanding of that papal document. It is very well possible that that is what will now again happen with regard to intercommunion. Of course, in either case, this manner of individual approach is not a solution for the grave papally promoted doctrinal and pastoral attenuation of the unique Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.