On 25 May, Archbishop Luis Ladaria, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), wrote a letter to Cardinal Reinhard Marx and the German bishops. He told the German bishops’ conference not to publish their pastoral handout allowing some Protestant spouses of Catholics to receive Holy Communion under certain conditions.
Today, the Austrian Catholic website Kath.net reported on this new CDF letter, which had been sent on 25 May and addressed to Cardinal Marx, with copies sent to Cardinal Rainer Woelki, Bishop Felix Glenn, Bishop Voderholzer, and two other German bishops.
Onepeterfive obtained a copy of that letter. Archbishop Ladaria now relates to Cardinal Marx that he has spoken “extensively” on two occasions (on 11 and 24 May) with Pope Francis about the 3 May meeting that took place in Rome between Archbishop Ladaria and a German delegation under Cardinal Marx. The reason for that 3 May meeting was the ongoing conflict concerning the 20 February pastoral intercommunion handout. The following points are given to the German bishops “with explicit approval of the pope,” as Ladaria explains it. Here is the most important quote from the letter:
Our conversation on 3 May 2018 made it clear that the text of the [German pastoral] handout raises a set of questions which are of eminent importance. The Holy Father therefore has come to the conclusion that this document is not ripe for publication.
Archbishop Ladaria names three reasons as to why this pastoral handout is not ready for publication. He says that this topic of Communion for Protestant spouses is a question “that touches upon the faith of the Church and is relevant for the Universal Church.” Second, this topic also “has an effect upon the ecumenical relationships with other churches which cannot be underestimated.” As a third reason, Ladaria says that it is also about the “law of the Church, especially the interpretation of can. 844 CIC.” Since there are still, “in some parts of the Church, open questions,” several dicasteries have thus now been given “the task to clarify soon these questions on the level of the Universal Church.” Finally, the prelate points out that “it seems especially appropriate to leave it up to the local bishop to assess the question as to whether there exists a ‘urgent case of necessity.'”
Moreover, the head of the CDF reassures the German bishops that the “manifold ecumenical efforts” of the German bishops and especially the “collaboration with the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) deserve recognition and appreciation.” The Luther year 2017, adds the prefect, has shown that there exists “a basis” which “makes it possible to give witness together to Jesus Christ, the savior of mankind.” The goal is to “continue to walk on the path toward an ever more deepening unity.”
Archbishop Ladaria ends his relatively short letter with the words that Pope Francis wishes that the German bishops maintain “the spirit of episcopal collegiality.”
As Kath.net points out, this is the second time that Rome has ruled against the controversial German pastoral handout concerning Communion for Protestant spouses. It was Kath.net which first broke the story in April that the CDF then had sent a letter to the German bishops telling them to halt the publication of their handout. Onepeterfive reported on this piece of news here.
The German initiative for a liberalizing of the rules concerning Protestant spouses and their possible access to Holy Communion has received international attention and provoked criticism from many high-ranking prelates, among them Cardinal Willem Eijk, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, and Archbishop Charles Chaput. Professor Karl-Heinz Menke, a member of the International Theological Commission, recently issued a strong rebuke of the German bishops and called this handout “defective” and “unlawful.”
Update, 4 June: As Kath.net reports, Cardinal Marx has now released a statement on the German bishops’ website. He says that he just received, this evening, the letter and that he is “surprised” at the Vatican’s decision to reject the German Communion proposal, even though the encouraged discussion within the German episcopacy had not yet taken place. He also announces that he still intends to discuss the issue with his fellow bishops, with Roman dicasteries and the Holy Father himself.
Additionally, reports about words spoken today by Pope Francis to a Protestant delegation seem to indicate that the pope is cautioning Christians not to move forward too fast with ecumenical initiatives. These words are now being interpreted as a hint for the German bishops.