AUGSBURG, Germany (ChurchMilitant.com) - Cardinal Reinhard Marx is sharing an award for ecumenism with a German Lutheran clergyman.
Marx and Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria, were awarded the Augsburg High Peace Festival Prize last weekend. The city of Augsburg and the Lutheran Church present the triennial award to "individuals who have rendered outstanding services to a tolerant and peaceful coexistence of cultures and religion."
Marx explained what the award meant to him.
"Christianity in Germany and Europe will only have a future if we strongly work together and stay together ecumenically. That is important, and that is where I see the prize as encouragement," remarked the cardinal.
The two clerics were chosen because, in 2017, they jointly presided over a service of repentance and reconciliation commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. At that time, Marx was president of the German Bishops' Conference and Bedford-Strohm was chairperson of the Council of the Protestant Church in Germany.
In his remarks, Bedford-Strohm took the opportunity to state what the prize signifies for him.
He said he hopes "we will also make progress regarding joint Holy Communion. I see this prize as a public sign that this is expected of us and as a strong encouragement to continue the path of ecumenism. That is why I am also pleased to receive this prize together with Cdl. Marx."
Marx has long been pushing for a broad reception of Holy Communion.
In 2015, while still acknowledging the Church's teaching that the divorced and civilly remarried are "objectively in a state of continuing adultery," Marx nevertheless argued this should not exclude them from the sacramental life of the Church.
In February 2018, Marx was at it again. This time Marx announced a proposal to allow Lutheran spouses of Catholics to receive the Eucharist while remaining Protestant.
At first, it appeared the Vatican would junk the idea. In a letter dated May 25, Vatican doctrine chief Luis Ladaria Ferrer, at that time an archbishop, revealed Pope Francis was curbing Marx's proposal. But then, in one of the Pope's infamous in-flight press conferences, he told reporters the decision to admit Protestant spouses of Catholics to Holy Communion should rest with individual bishops, not with national episcopal conferences.
But according to established Catholic teaching, Protestants and other non-Catholics cannot receive the Eucharist. Responding to Marx's intercommunion push, in 2018 Communio Veritatis, an association of faithful German Catholic priests, issued a statement reiterating that "to receive Holy Communion, one must be fully integrated into the Catholic Church and be in the state of grace."
Quoting Pope John Paul II, the association reiterated Church teaching on intercommunion: "The rejection of one or more of the truths of the Faith about these sacraments ... means that the petitioner is not disposed for its rightful reception."
Again in 2018, Msgr. Nicola Bux, a former adviser to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, declared that admitting Protestants to Holy Communion would "go against Revelation and the Magisterium," leading Christians to "commit blasphemy and sacrilege."
Likewise, Dutch Cdl. Willem Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht, has written that "Communion should not be administered to a Protestant, even if married to a Catholic, because the Protestant does not live in full communion with the Catholic Church and, therefore, does not explicitly share faith in the Eucharist."
The pope's suggestion that such weighty issues be left up to individual bishops gave support to yet another of Marx's favorite causes — synodality. This concept allows local hierarchies to address so-called regional issues that wind up affecting Universal Church teaching and practice. The idea has recently been leveraged by German bishops to promote heterodoxy.
The concept was gaining wider acceptance until the U.S. bishops wanted to apply the idea to the crisis created by the so-called "Summer of Shame" in 2018. At their November conference in Baltimore, the bishops proposed they and a select group of informed laity be allowed to:
The Vatican, however, disallowed the bishops' proposal. With zero discussion allowed, Chicago's Cdl. Blase Cupich urged prelates to follow the Vatican's directive. The Vatican promised it would handle the investigation. Church officials claim the investigation has been completed but as yet, no report has been made public.
Since 2013, Marx has served on an eight-member council that advises Pope Francis on the governance of the Universal Church. He also chaired the German Bishops' Conference from 2014–2020.