In light of the 21 June remarks by Pope Francis concerning the German intercommunion handout allowing some Protestant spouses of Catholics to receive Holy Communion, Cardinal Brandmüller reminds Catholics now of the fundamental principles involved in this matter. He reminds us that there are only few cases of dire emergency where Christians of the Eastern Orthodox Church may receive Holy Communion. He also says: “Only the truth makes us free.”
On 21 June, Pope Francis gave yet another in-flight interview to some journalists on his flight back from Geneva to Rome. In this new interview, he came out suddenly defending the controversial German intercommunion handout, calling it “well done” and “well thought out, with an ecclesial [sic] spirit.” He now also claims that the German intercommunion handout is in accord with to the 1983 Code of Canon Law (CIC), saying: “what the [German] bishops wanted was to say clearly what is in the Code.” The Pope adds that what was wrong with the German handout is that it was done by the German bishops’ conference itself, further stating that in the CIC it is not foreseen that the bishops’ conference rules over such matters. Francis states: “The thing slipped there, that is, saying that it is for the German Episcopal Conference. And there’s a problem there, because the Code doesn’t provide for that. It provides for the diocesan bishop, but not for the episcopal conference.” [emphasis added] It was “not so much the content” that was the problem, the pontiff states. He now seems to announce that the German handout will be maturely published after all: “I believe that this [German handout] will be a guiding document,” thereby implying that it will soon come out, and more or less as it is. The goal is “that each of the diocesan bishops can handle what is already permitted under Canon Law.”
As we shall see, Cardinal Walter Brandmüller sets the record straight with regard to several statements made by the Pope, even though he does not mention him by name in his commentary. In Brandmüller’s statement, which is entitled “Holy Communion for Non-Catholics Spouses in Mixed Marriages?” and which has been published today by the Austrian Catholic news website Kath.net, he clarifies three important points:
The Code of Canon Law 844§4 CIC foresees that a non-Catholic Christian may receive Holy Communion in “danger of death” or in a similar “situation of danger” under the condition that he “freely requests the Holy Eucharist,” “shares the Catholic belief in the Holy Eucharist” and that he “cannot reach his own minister” and that “he is in the state of grace.” As Brandmüller reminds us, this “situation of danger” has to be assessed “according to the judgment of the local bishop or the bishops’ conference [sic].”
The Catholic Church had here in mind “Orthodox and ancient Near Eastern Christians, who anyway already share the Catholic Eucharistic belief” and who live often in situations of a diaspora where they seldom even meet one of their own priests.
This Canon cannot be applied to Protestant spouses of Catholics in situations of daily life: “It is evident that the preconditions for the application of can. 844§4 are not at all given for the specific case of non-Catholic spouses of Catholics.”
Cardinal Brandmüller then returns to the fact that the canon applies to “extreme situations” (such as war, persecution, natural disasters) and that either the local bishop or the bishops’ conference may make a judgment about the nature of these situations. He then adds that such an “emergency situation” “does not apply in the case of the German intercommunion handout and its claim to admit non-Catholic spouses of Catholics to Holy Communion with some reference to their spiritual distress.”
Moreover, the German cardinal also raises the question as to why those non-Catholic spouses do not simply ask to be properly admitted to the Catholic Church. “One is either fully Catholic or not at all; an “à la carte” [Catholicism] is not possible.” In the eyes of Cardinal Brandmüller, however, there are many Christians for whom “the question of truth does not play any role, or, if so, then merely a secondary role.” “The mere glue of a pragmatism that has forgotten truth cannot restore the broken unity in the Faith. Only the truth makes us free,” he concludes [emphasis added].
With his polite comments, Cardinal Brandmüller thus corrects the Pope’s claim that, according to Canon Law, the bishops’ conference is not to be involved in this matter of Holy Communion for non-Catholics. He also corrects the papal claim that the German handout is in accordance with Canon Law. And, finally, he makes it once more clear that a habitual reception of Holy Communion by a non-Catholic is not at all foreseen or permitted by this particular Church law.
Importantly, even the German bishops’ website Katholisch.de today raises the question of the accuracy and consistency of the recent papal words concerning the German intercommunion handout. Roland Juchem – the very journalist who had asked the Pope, during the flight back from Geneva, about the German intercommunion question – indulgently comments on this papal interview, pointing out that such spontaneous comments of the Pope are not as well prepared as his official statements. Afterwards, Juchem points out some mistakes made by the Pope, for example that the Pope said confusingly “Because something approved in an episcopal conference immediately becomes universal [Italian: universale].” Juchem comments: “Implicitly, this means that it is ‘relevant for the Universal Church’. Because one decision by a larger bishops’ conference has another effect on the Universal Church, more than the one made by a single bishop.”
The “second difficulty” caused by Pope Francis is in Juchem’s eyes that the Pope claimed that a bishops’ conference could not, according to Canon Law, make such a judgment as to what those “emergency situations” are. “The case is clear,” however, Juchem concludes: “a bishops’ conference, according to Canon Law, can also regulate such questions.”
As we reported earlier, the German Catholic newspaper Die Tagespost recently gave an overview over how many national bishops’ conferences have already issued such specific pastoral guidelines with regard to the nature of those “emergency situations.” There are twenty-one of them. As Die Tagespost then made clear: none of these guidelines have given permission for Protestant spouses of Catholics to receive Holy Communion.
When considering this question of Holy Communion for non-Catholics, it might be worth considering the ethos and doctrine of Tradition in this matter. Rome Correspondent Edward Pentin has just published on his twitter account a comparison between the 1917 Code of Canon Law and the 1983 new Code of Canon Law (can 844). The 1917 Code of Canon Law (731) stated clearly that “It is forbidden to minister the Sacraments of the Church to heretics and to schismatics, even though they are in good faith and ask for them, unless they have first renounced their errors and have been reconciled to the Church.” (We remind our readers here that Bishop Athanasius Schneider, in a recent OnePeterFive interview, criticized canon 844 when speaking about the “problematic and contradictory principle of canon 844 of the Code of the Canon Law.”)
In view of Pope Francis’ own new claims about the German intercommunion handout, one justly wonders what, then, all these recent CDF letters and Rome meetings were about?
OnePeterFive reached out to Christian Weisner, the press speaker of the German progressivist group Wir sind Kirche (“We are Church”), asking him for a comment on the recent papal statement. He now says that, “even though the oral statements of the Pope on the flight back [to Rome] are not absolutely clear,” they still make it clear that Pope Francis “fundamentally approves of the initiative for a regulation of Holy Communion for couples in mixed marriages.” Weisner says this “pleases me” and he sees that in the future, “instead of a handout for all dioceses,” “there will be a common guideline which then has to be enforced and put into practice by each local bishop.” In conclusion, Weisner states that “many irritations of the last weeks could have been avoided if the internal letter of the Prefect for the Faith [Archbishop Ladaria] would have been formulated differently and especially if it had not been put into the hands of certain media circles [which published the letter].” He now hopes that the German bishops “if possible immediately” come to an “unanimous action, if they do not wish to lose more of their reputation.”
The German bishops will meet, on Monday and Tuesday next week, for their regular meeting of the Permanent Council. We shall then hear what they themselves have to say about the future and nature of their own purportedly pastoral intercommunion handout.
So, in light of all these confusing messages coming to us from the Pope, we will now have to wait for another clarification from the Vatican as to what the Pope really meant to say and what Canon Law – in the view of Tradition – really has to say.
This post has been updated by adding the comments of Christian Weisner.
Dr. Maike Hickson, born and raised in Germany, studied History and French Literature at the University of Hannover and lived for several years in Switzerland where she wrote her doctoral dissertation. She is married to Dr. Robert Hickson, and they have been blessed with two beautiful children. She is a happy housewife who likes to write articles when time permits.
Her articles have appeared in American and European journals such as Catholicism.org, LifeSiteNews, The Wanderer, Culture Wars, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Apropos, and Zeit-Fragen.