In an unusual move, seven German bishops have now protested against the 22 February decision of the German Bishops’ Conference to allow, in some cases, Protestant spouses of Catholics to receive Holy Communion. This move comes without previously informing Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the head of the German bishops in Germany.
As the German newspaper Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger reports today, the seven signatories of a letter addressed to the Vatican – most of them from the Bavaria region – turned to the Vatican because they consider “the pastoral handout for mixed marriages as approved by a two-third majority to be unlawful since it violates in their view Catholic doctrine and the unity of the Church,” in the words of the newspaper.
On 22 February, the German bishops had approved of a handout which allows a Protestant spouse to receive Holy Communion, “after a deep discernment in a spiritual conversation with the priest or another pastoral worker” and after a “decision of conscience to affirm the Faith of the Catholic Church,” as well as in order “to end a serious spiritual emergency situation.”
The letter written by the seven bishops is addressed to Archbishop Luis Ladaria, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as well as to Cardinal Kurt Koch, the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. In it, the seven German bishops ask the Vatican for help and clarification of the matter at stake and insist that the German Bishops’ Conference stepped over its competence when allowing Protestant spouses to receive Holy Communion. They also point out that there are several open dogmatic and canonical questions involved.
The Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger obtained both the letter of the seven bishops, as well as Cardinal Marx’ own 4 April response to it. In his own letter, Cardinal Marx shows himself to be surprised, rejected the seven bishops’ claims and states that the 22 February pastoral handout was merely a draft and not yet the final document.
Signatories of the three-page-long Seven Bishops’ Letter are: Cardinal Rainer Woelki (Köln), Archbishop Ludwig Schick (Bamberg), Bishop Konrad Zdarsa (Augsburg), Bishops Gregor Maria Hanke (Eichstätt), Bishop Wolfgang Ipolt (Görlitz), Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer (Regensburg), as well as Bishop Stefan Oster (Passau).
It is significant to note that this resistance had not been expected in February when Cardinal Marx presented the new pastoral handout. At the time, it was said that the discussion about the handout was “lively,” but it was stressed that a majority approved of the document. Only now it becomes clearer that it was merely a two-third majority of the German bishops who at the time approved of this new ecumenical move of the German Bishops’ Conference.
Thus, it is good to see that at least some German bishops are still resisting some of the progressivist agenda in Germany. It is noteworthy that they did not take similar steps when the German bishops published, on 1 February 2017, their pastoral guidelines with regard to Amoris Laetitia, allowing divorced and “remarried” couples to receive Holy Communion – of course again in individual cases and after a decision of conscience.