This comes less than a month after he proposed 'blessing' gay unions
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MUNICH (ChurchMilitant.com) - Cardinal Reinhard Marx, head of the German Bishops' Conference, is proposing intercommunion for Lutheran and Catholic spouses.
During a press conference Thursday following a four-day bishops' meeting, Marx announced the publishing of a pastoral handout allowing Protestant partners to receive Holy Communion after a "serious examination" of conscience with a priest, an "affirm[ation] of the Catholic [faith]," a desire to end "serious spiritual distress" and a spiritual "longing to satisfy a hunger for the Eucharist."
The archbishop of Munich and Freising, Marx commented that the document is for individual decisions based on "pastoral help," after an "intense debate" during which "serious concerns" were raised. As justification, he argued that if couples can't receive Communion together and face a "serious spiritual emergency," it could jeopardize the marriage, affecting their faith and damaging the children.
He emphasized that the bishops "don't want to change any doctrine." They believe the handout is in line with canon 844 in canon law, which allows a non-Catholic to receive Holy Communion in cases of danger of death or "some other grave necessity."
The document was prepared by the Religious Affairs and Ecumenical Commission without Rome's approval and will be published in the coming weeks. The Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) responded to Marx's decision as "an important step on the path of ecumenism."
"For people who not only share their faith in Jesus Christ, but also their lives, this is a real relief," commented EKD Council President Heinrich Bedford-Strohm on Thursday. "Today's directional decision is — for all the points still to be clarified — first and foremost an encouragement to many millions of Christians who are ecumenically closely connected in their life relationships."
It's not a personal desire or a personal dialogue with Jesus that determines if I can receive Communion in the Catholic Church. No.
Marx denied the handout is suggesting Protestants can only receive the Eucharist after converting to Catholicism, referred to as "ecumenism of return or conversion."
The leading German prelate's announcement comes after the issue was discussed during past bishops' conferences. He is allowing local bishops to unpack the document and implement it within their own dioceses. This comes less than a month after Marx proposed "blessing" gay unions, which he backtracked on later, claiming he was misquoted.
He has declared in the past those in adulterous marriages should be permitted to receive Holy Communion. In the 2015 Synod of Bishops in Rome, Marx spoke of the Church "seriously consider[ing] the possibility — based on each individual case and not in a generalizing way — to admit civilly divorced and remarried believers to the sacrament of Penance and Holy Communion."
A month after the Synod, Pope Francis issued confusing comments suggesting non-Catholics can discern with their "conscience" whether to receive the Eucharist. The Holy Father told a Lutheran woman who asked about receiving Holy Communion with her Catholic husband to "go forward" through the guidance of individual conscience, saying, "One baptism, one Lord, one Faith. ... I don't dare to say anything more."
Two high-ranking prelates, Cdl. Robert Sarah and Bp. Athanasius Schneider, have defended the Church's teaching that only Catholics in a state of grace can receive Holy Communion. Cdl. Sarah, head of the Congregation for Divine Worship, rejected the notion of non-Catholics receiving the Eucharist according to one's individual conscience: "It's not a personal desire or a personal dialogue with Jesus that determines if I can receive Communion in the Catholic Church. No."
Bishop Schneider of Kazakhstan has expressed the need for clarity regarding the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism, cautioning bishops to be "very careful" in their public statements to avoid suggesting "Catholic and Protestant doctrine are basically the same, with only minor differences." He continued, "This is not true. All the truths of the Catholic Church are the truths of the Gospel. And those Catholic doctrines which Protestants deny are against the Gospel. We have to speak clearly."