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German bishops deny that Vatican has rejected Protestant Communion plan

Cardinal Marx and Cardinal Woelki celebrate Mass at a gathering of German bishops last year (CNS)

Reports that the Vatican has rejected the German bishops’ guidance on Communion for Protestants are false, the Bishops’ Conference has said.

Several Catholic outlets have reported claims from various sources that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) had, with Pope Francis’s approval, rejected a draft plan to allow Protestants who are married to Catholics to receive Communion in certain circumstances.

However, the German Bishops’ Conference has now issued a statement saying the reports are “false”. They added that the Pope has agreed to meet Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the conference’s president, in Rome.

The German bishops voted in February to approve a draft plan to allow Protestant spouses of Catholics to receive Holy Communion after making a “serious examination of conscience” with a priest or other person with pastoral responsibilities. They must also “affirm the faith of the Catholic Church”, and wish to end “serious spiritual distress” and a “longing to satisfy hunger for the Eucharist”.

A group of seven bishops led by Cardinal Rainer Woelki, the Archbishop of Cologne, dissented from the plan and asked the Vatican to rule on whether it was permissible.

Austrian Catholic news site Kath.net reported on Wednesday that “well-informed Vatican sources” said the CDF had rejected the plan. National Catholic Register later said that Pope Francis had backed the CDF’s rejection, but asked for the letter not to be made public.

The plan was previously criticised by several prelates, including Cardinal Gerhard Müller, former Prefect of the CDF, who said it was a “rhetorical trick”.

“Neither the Pope nor we bishops can redefine the sacraments as a means of alleviating mental distress and satisfying spiritual needs,” the cardinal said. “They are effective signs of the grace of God.”