Cardinal Gerhard Müller has criticised the German bishops’ document that opens Communion to Protestant spouses in certain situations.
In an interview with Die Tagespost, the cardinal said the bishops had interpreted canon law incorrectly, and warned them against making vague statements when the full document is published.
Canon 844 §4 allows Protestants to receive Holy Communion under very specific “grave circumstances”. The German bishops said that this can apply to Protestant spouses of Catholics who wish to end “serious spiritual distress” and a “longing to satisfy a hunger for the Eucharist”. They must also affirm “the faith of the Catholic Church”.
However, Cardinal Müller said an interdenominational marriage is “not an emergency situation”.
“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.”
“We respect the goodwill and beliefs of our fellow Christians in other denominations, but we also expect our faith to be recognised as an expression of our convictions and not defamed as a product of stubbornness or a ‘conservative’ sentiment.”
Cardinal Müller also said that talking about individual cases was a ‘rhetorical trick’. “Most believers are not theologians who have an overview of the subject,” he said.
“For this reason, papal and episcopal statements about receiving the sacrament must be so clearly prepared that they serve the salvation of humanity. Christ did not institute the Magisterium to initiate processes that lead to confusion.”
If bishops deal “too loosely” with the theological principles behind the Eucharist, they may find “other undesired consequences”, he warned.
Speaking last week, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German bishops’ conference, admitted the document could not change Catholic doctrine, but instead would act as a guide for local bishops.