ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (ChurchMilitant.com) - During an in-flight press conference Thursday, Pope Francis appeared to greenlight intercommunion.
Returning to Rome from a World Council of Churches meeting in Geneva, Francis told reporters the decision to admit Protestant spouses of Catholics to Holy Communion should rest with individual bishops, not with national episcopal conferences.
The Pontiff's statement was in reference to a German intercommunion plan. In February, Cdl. Reinhard Marx, president of the German Bishops' Conference, announced a proposal to allow Lutheran spouses of Catholics to receive the Eucharist while remaining Protestant.
Marx claimed the plan was based on canon 844, which allows for the possibility of non-Catholics receiving Holy Communion in cases of emergency. By not being able to receive the Eucharist together, Marx argued, mixed couples might suffer a "serious spiritual emergency" that could undermine their marriage.
The German proposal was slammed by a host of faithful clerics and bishops.
In May, Msgr. Nicola Bux, a former adviser to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, warned that admitting Protestants to Holy Communion would "go against Revelation and the Magisterium," leading Christians to "commit blasphemy and sacrilege."
Dutch Cdl. Willem Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht, wrote 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."
Cardinal Francis Arinze, the Vatican's former liturgy chief, said that if Protestants want to receive Holy Communion, then they must enter into full communion with the Catholic Church.
"Come, be received into the Church, and then you can receive Holy Communion seven times a week. Otherwise, no," he said.
Even in Germany, support for the proposal was not monolithic. In April, seven German prelates — among them, Cdl. Gerhard Müller, the Vatican's former doctrine chief — broke ranks with their brother bishops, asking the Vatican to intervene.
Müller insisted that only those in full communion with the Catholic Church may receive the Eucharist, adding: "Anyone who questions this revealed truth in theory or overrides it in practice enters into open contrast with the Catholic faith."
The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith answered these concerns last month. In a letter dated May 25, Vatican doctrine chief, Cardinal-Designate Luis Ladaria revealed that Pope Francis was curbing the German intercommunion proposal.
"The Holy Father has reached the conclusion that the document has not matured enough to be published," Ladaria explained.
On Thursday, Pope Francis reiterated Ladaria's statement. The German guidelines exceeded what the Code of Canon Law permits. "And there is the problem," the Pope said. The code doesn't allow for national policies but, he added, it "provides for the bishop of the diocese" to decide intercommunion policy.
"This was the difficulty of the debate" over intercommunion, explained Francis. "Not the content."
The Vatican, he said, had not "put the brakes on" the possibility of intercommunion.