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German President: Catholic Church should ‘share’ Communion with Protestants

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier at a dinner in honour of his predecessor, Horst Koehler (Getty Images)

The President of Germany has called for the Catholic Church to allow Protestants to receive Communion.

Speaking at Katholikentag, a major conference for German-speaking Catholics in Münster, Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: “Let us seek ways of expressing the common Christian faith by sharing in the Last Supper and Communion. I am sure: Thousands of Christians in interdenominational marriages are hoping for this.”

Steinmeier said he was speaking “not as Federal President, but as an avowed Evangelical Christian who lives in an interdenominational marriage.”

He also criticised the Bavarian government’s decision to hang crosses in public buildings, saying the state should not “patronise” religion.

His words came after the Vatican failed to rule on whether a proposal by German bishops to allow Protestants married to Catholics to receive Communion under certain circumstances violated Church teaching. Seven German bishops, including Cardinal Rainer Woelki of Cologne, had challenged the proposal and asked the Vatican to intervene, but Pope Francis urged the bishops to come to an agreement amongst themselves.

CNA Deutsch reports that the debate subsequently dominated the Katholikentag conference, at which Cardinal Woelki also spoke along with Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the main proponent of the plan.

Cardinal Marx echoed the words of the German President, saying: “When someone is hungry and has faith, they must have access to the Eucharist. That must be our passion, and I will not let up on this.”

Protestant German comedian Eckart von Hirschhausen caused particular controversy by demanding to be “handed that wafer” because, since he is married to a Catholic, he pays his Church tax.

“I don’t see the point of a public debate about wafers,” he said, referring to the Blessed Sacrament. He added that climate change is a “far more serious” issue. The crowd, which was mainly Catholic, applauded him as he said that, since he paid his Church tax, the Church had “better happily hand out a wafer for it, or give me back my money!”

Cardinal Woelki, who was speaking alongside the comedian, firmly disagreed. “As a Catholic, I would never speak of a wafer,” he said. “Using this concept alone demonstrates that we have a very different understanding” of the Blessed Sacrament, in which “Catholics encounter Christ Himself”.

Von Hirschhausen later apologised after his comments caused outrage on social media.

The debates over Communion for Protestants also prompted Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg to criticise the tone of the conference, saying it was in danger of being “intrumentalised” by supporters of the proposal.

Public pressure that does not appreciate the depth of the doctrinal issues at stake is very unhelpful, he said.