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Pope Francis stirs debate on Lutheran spouses of Catholics receiving Communion

Pope Francis prays with the Rev Jens-Martin Kruse during a visit to the Lutheran church (Photo: AP)

Pope Francis has suggested a Lutheran spouse of a Catholic should “talk to the Lord” in discerning whether or not to receive Holy Communion with her husband.

Francis made the remark during a Q&A at a visit to Rome’s Evangelical Lutheran church on Sunday.

During the visit he presented the church’s pastor with the same chalice he had given the Archbishops of Washington, New York and Philadelphia while in the United States.

The Pope was asked whether a Lutheran and Catholic married couple might “finally participate together in Communion”. The questioner referred to “the hurt we’ve felt together due to [our] difference of faith”.

Francis said it was “not my competence” to give permission to do this, and admitted: “I ask myself and don’t know how to respond – what you’re asking me, I ask myself the [same] question.”

The Pope then stressed the role of personal discernment rather than repeating Church teaching that Protestant spouses can only receive Holy Communion if they do not “have recourse for the sacrament” at their own church.

He said: “There are questions that only if one is sincere with oneself and the little theological light one has, must be responded to on one’s own.”

The Pope referred to a bishop, Bishop Jerónimo Podestá, who “went a little wrong – 48 years old, he married, [and then had] two children”. Francis suggested that the bishop had been helped in his moral journey by accompanying his family to Mass.

Rocco Palmo, on his blog Whispers in the Loggia, said the Pope’s remarks “quite possibly show his hand on his intended course” on his post-synod document.

A proposal to allow Anglican spouses of Catholics to receive Holy Communion had been included in the Instrumentum Laboris of the synod.

Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham, co-chairman of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), set up to further unity, said the idea did not meet the demands of the Code of Canon Law or the Ecumenical Directory.

He said: “Such a proposal would tend to establish a category of Christians not in full communion with the Catholic Church yet distinguished from other Christians by a ‘right’ to receive Holy Communion at a Catholic Mass on any occasion. Nor can I imagine that the usual and recurring demands of a hectic family life could be regarded as constituting a long-term situation where a person would ‘be unable to have recourse for the sacrament desired to a minister of his or her own Church or ecclesial community’.”

Tony Blair was famously criticised by Cardinal Basil Hume after he presented himself repeatedly for Communion while attending Mass with his wife, Cherie, and their children, before he became a Catholic.

The full text of the Pope’s remarks are available at Whispers in the Loggia.