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Vatican rejects German proposal for Communion for Protestants

At odds on Communion: Cardinal Reinhard Marx and Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki (CNS)

The Vatican has rejected the German Bishops’ Conference’s (GBK) proposal to allow Protestant spouses to partake of Communion in the Catholic Church.

This decision was announced in an official letter by Archbishop Luis Ladaria, Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, after a conversation between the German bishops and the Vatican.

Ladaria made it clear that this was discussed with the Pope and that the Pope agreed with the decision, stating that the document is not ready for publication due to the number of issues that it raises.

Canon 844 §4 allows Protestants to receive Communion in “grave circumstances.” The German Church had proposed that this applies to those in “serious spiritual distress” with a “longing to satisfy a hunger for the Eucharist” if they affirm “the faith of the Catholic Church.”

In recent months, there has been much debate over the meaning of these phrases, and although many people accuse the German bishops of attempting to change church doctrine, the authors of the document stated it was solely a guide for local clergy. Those against the proposal said it was too vague, giving individual church leaders the ability to decide who can receive communion.

“The theme concerns the law of the church, especially the interpretation of can. 844 CIC,” Ladaria wrote. “Because there are unanswered questions in some parts of the Church, the competent dicastery of the Holy See has already been commissioned to clarify these issues promptly at the world church level. In particular, it seems appropriate to leave the verdict on the existence of an ‘urgent and serious plight’ to the diocesan bishop.”

Such a proposal has an impact on relations between churches of varying denominations.

In the letter rejecting the proposal, it was acknowledged that the question of Protestant Communion is of great importance on a world scale, and that this decision would reach much farther than the churches of Germany.

Cardinal Rainer Woelki and six other bishops brought the proposal to the Vatican’s attention in April, asking it to rule on whether it contradicts Church teaching.