Theologian: Seven German Bishops Show Mistrust Against Cardinal Marx and the Pope

In the wake of the 4 April revelation that seven German bishops have turned to the Vatican in protest against the recent decision of the German Bishops’ Conference in favor of intercommunion for Protestant spouses of Catholics, Ulrich Ruh, a German Catholic theologian, now claims that this move is also a vote of mistrust, not only against Cardinal Reinhard Marx, but also against Pope Francis himself.

As the German magazine FOCUS reports, there is, after five years of Pope Francis’ reign, a growing resistance among some German bishops who do not “wish to go along quietly any longer with the new agenda.” “Their urgent letter to the Vatican indicates how big their frustration must be,” adds the magazine. The fundamental question, as raised by the German Bishops’ Conference’s recent decision to allow, in individual cases, Protestant spouses of Catholics to receive Holy Communion, is: “Shall the Church open herself further to the world, or not?” explains FOCUS.

It is in this context that FOCUS magazine quotes Ulrich Ruh, a German Catholic theologian and former long-term editor of the Catholic journal Herder Korrespondenz. Ruh, according to FOCUS, says that “the [seven bishops’] letter is a clear vote of mistrust against Cardinal Marx, and also against Pope Francis.” Because, explains the magazine, “the admission of Protestants to Communion corresponds exactly to the course taken by the pope: mercy instead of dogmatic rigidity, decisions on a case-by-case basis instead of rigid interdictions.”

As the FOCUS further reports, this same approach was likewise used by Pope Francis with regard to the “remarried” divorcees, and it found the resistance of Cardinal Joachim Meisner, among others, who was the predecessor of Cardinal Rainer Woelki in Cologne who himself now leads the opposition against the reformers with regard to the question of intercommunion.

FOCUS also points out that Cardinal Marx himself seems now to be isolated in Bavaria. He is not only the President of the German Bishops’ Conference, but also of the regional Bavarian Bishops’ Conference. There, he finds now the opposition of all of his Bavarian colleagues, except for the diocese of Würzburg where a new bishop – Franz Jung – will soon be installed. Says FOCUS: “For Marx, who also leads the Freising [Bavarian] Bishops’ Conference, this means: he is there nearly isolated.”

A sign of Cardinal Marx’ larger isolation within the whole German Bishops’ Conference might be seen in the fact that he is growing increasingly close to Heinrich Bedford-Strohn, who is the head of the Evangelical Church of Germany (EKD) and the Protestant Bishop of Bavaria, as the German magazine adds. It continues, as follows:

Is the prize for this the estrangement from his own fellow bishops? In any event, conservative critics warn against a protestantization of the Catholic Church; they see a danger for the continuity of doctrine.

According to Cardinal Woelki’s own archdiosese in Cologne, the seven protesting bishops intend “to avoid a national exceptionalism and to come, in an ecumenical discussion, to a world-wide sustainable solution.”

As the FOCUS also points out, Cardinal Marx is, of all German bishops, the one closest to the pope, since he is a member of the pope’s Council of Nine Cardinals. This close connection between Marx and Francis has also just now been discussed by Edward Pentin, the National Catholic Register‘s Rome Correspondent. He reports:

Cardinal Marx, who according to a prelate invariably invokes the Pope [in discussions with fellow German bishops] to justify his positions, also said it [the German decision for intercommunion] was the result of “the encouragement of Pope Francis to take further steps in ecumenism.”

Thus, this new conflict within the German Catholic Church might very well also affect Pope Francis’s own reform agenda.

In addition to critical voices coming out of Germany, Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes – the former President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum – has now also raised his voice of resistance. In a statement published by Edward Pentin, Cordes rejects the initial German move by the bishops’ conference in favor of intercommunion, saying that the reception of Holy Communion has always been the strongest “visible sign for ecclesial communion.” He continues, saying that the Eucharist “not only expresses our personal communion with Jesus Christ, but also includes full communion with the Church.” “We believe,” Cordes adds, “that Eucharistic communion and ecclesial communion belong so closely together that it is generally impossible for non-Catholic Christians to receive the sacrament of Communion without sharing [ecclesiastical] communion.” Cardinal Cordes – a German prelate who now resides in Rome – concludes: “The proposal of the bishops’ conference cannot claim to be theologically sound.”

Earlier in March of this year, Cardinal Walter Brandmüller had already expressed his public opposition to the new German move toward intercommunion, calling its line of argument a “wicked trick.”

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