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VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Vatican has categorically reiterated its rejection of German-Catholic demands for intercommunion, asserting that "significant doctrinal differences" with Protestants "are still so great that they currently exclude reciprocal participation" in the Eucharist.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) on Friday wrote to Bp. Georg Bätzing, chairman of the German Bishops' Conference (DBK), re-emphasizing the Real Presence, Eucharist as sacrifice and apostolic succession, which Catholics do not share with Lutherans.
These "truths of faith" cannot be treated as "adiaphora" ("matters indifferent") in ecumenical relations and impinge directly on the Deposit of Faith, the letter signed by CDF prefect Cdl. Luis Ladaria and Secretary Giacomo Morandi stated.
The CDF also noted that opening eucharistic communion with Lutherans "would necessarily open up new rifts in the ecumenical dialogue with the Orthodox Churches, not only in Germany," which is significant because the number of oriental Christians in Germany is increasing.
The CDF letter, accompanied by a four-page doctrinal explanation, refutes theological arguments in favor of intercommunion proposed by the DBK in an ecumenical declaration titled "Together at the Lord's Table: Ecumenical Perspectives in the Celebration of the Lord's Supper and Eucharist."
The 57-page declaration, authored by the Ecumenical Working Group of Protestant and Catholic Theologians (ÖAK) and voted on in Sep. 2019, was sent to the Vatican for approval in May 2020.
Church Militant earlier examined the German document. Its fundamental flaws include the devaluing of apostolic succession as indispensable for the priesthood and its reductionism to a community meal by downgrading the doctrine of transubstantiation.
Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, had already rejected the conclusions of the group in January, arguing that the Catholic Eucharist and Protestant Lord's Supper are not identical.
Canon lawyer Bp. Markus Graulich SDB, under-secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legal Texts, had also slammed the document for "continuously masking out or questioning of the sacrificial character of the Holy Mass."
The CDF letter also insists that the German document on reciprocal eucharistic hospitality "undervalues" the inextricable link between the Eucharist and Church, "in which the Eucharist presupposes and brings about unity with the communion of the Church and her faith with the pope and the bishops."
However, the German bishops are understood to have been emboldened by Pope Francis' ambiguity on intercommunion during his ecumenical visit to the Evangelical Lutheran Community of Rome in 2015.
When Anke de Bernardinis, the wife of a Roman Catholic, expressed sorrow at "not being able to partake together in the Lord's Supper," the pontiff replied that it was a question left for one's conscience to decide.
"Is sharing the Lord's Supper the end of a journey or is it the sacrament for walking together? I leave the question to the theologians, to those who understand," Francis replied. "It is a problem to which each person must respond."
The pope went on to suggest that because all Christians shared the same baptism, they could also share the same Eucharist, and Holy Communion was a "sacrament which helps us to journey."
Francis gave the example of a pastor who told him that Protestants also believe the Lord "is present" in the Eucharist. "Well, there are explanations, interpretations," Francis told the pastor. But, he added, "Life is greater than explanations and interpretations."
In his homily at the ecumenical event, Pope Francis stressed, "It is important that the Catholic Church courageously carry forward a careful and honest re-evaluation of the intentions of the Reformation and of the figure of Martin Luther, in the sense of 'Ecclesia semper reformanda'" — a key slogan of the Protestant revolt, which Francis has quoted on other occasions.
However, on Tuesday, Cdl. Koch said Pope Francis himself had stepped into the fray backing the CDF's position on intercommunion.
Koch told German journal Herder Korrespondenz he could not imagine Cdl. Ladaria "would do anything that Pope Francis would not approve of."
"But I have also heard from other sources that the pope has expressed his concern in personal conversations," Koch added.
Meanwhile, Bp. Bätzing is also leading the German rebellion on women's ordination.
"I consider the diaconate for women to be very legitimate," he said Monday, insisting that the question of women clergy "is not closed, but it is an open question in the Church and must be treated as such."