A co-author of a German paper on shared Communion with Protestants has rejected the Vatican criticism of the document, saying that “the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is one voice among many in theological discourse”.

– “It is not the unity of the Churches that needs to be justified, but their separation”

Between Catholics and Protestants, “fundamental convergences have emerged in questions of ecclesiology, the Eucharist and the question of ministry” such that “the differences can no longer be regarded as separating the Church”, Eichstätt theologian Christoph Böttigheimer told katholisch.de in an interview September 23.

Böttigheimer was defending the paper “Together at the Lord’s Table” published in September 2019 by the German Ecumenical Study Group of Protestant and Catholic Theologians (ÖAK).

The ÖAK document – which argues for “reciprocal Eucharistic hospitality” between Catholics and Protestants – has come in for sharp criticism from the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), which considers that the idea of shared Communion with Protestants ignores the “basic understanding of Church, Eucharist and ordained ministry” in Catholicism and runs the risk of opening up “new rifts” with the Orthodox Churches.

Böttigheimer, however, rejected the concerns of the CDF. Pointing out that the ÖAK did not argue for a joint Catholic-Protestant Lord’s Supper or for intercommunion, but rather for the “intermediate step” of the “mutual opening and participation” in each denomination’s respective Eucharistic celebrations, he said it is important “to take into account the progress that has been made ecumenically in recent years and decades”.

The theologian stressed that it is a “fundamental maxim of ecumenism” that “it is not the unity of the Churches that needs to be justified, but their separation”.

“Those who vote against a mutual invitation to the meal must be able to give theological reasons for this step and explain why these reasons are so important that the step that the Ecumenical Working Group has presented with good and theologically sound reasons cannot yet be justified”, Böttigheimer appealed to the CDF.

– In light of latest ‘no’, Vatican must “explain precisely what would be necessary” to achieve shared Eucharistic hospitality

In his desire for clarification of the latest Vatican ‘no’ to shared Eucharistic hospitality, Böttigheimer criticised the fact that the CDF has not yet published in full its verdict on the ÖAK proposal.

To simply say ‘no’ without giving a detailed theological justification for that position “is an ecumenical knockout argument” killing all hope for further rapprochement between the Churches, the theologian lamented.

“I do think that there can be mutual participation in the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper and that this step is theologically very well-founded”, Böttigheimer continued. explaining that the members of the ÖAK “have pointed out that now the fruits of ecumenism, so to speak, are being reaped and consequences must be drawn”.

“Anyone who argues against this and thinks that the approximations are still not sufficient to allow concrete steps to be taken with regard to the practice of the Eucharist must, for their part, explain precisely what would be necessary” in order to achieve shared Eucharistic hospitality, Böttigheimer emphasised.

– “It cannot be that a letter from the Vatican makes decision-making in the bishops’ conferences unnecessary!”

The German Bishops are currently discussing the ÖAK paper, and the Vatican refusal of it, at their autumn plenary assembly. The prelates, too, are also considering whether to carry out with German Bishops’ chair Bishop Georg Bätzing’s plans to implement the ÖAK recommendations at the Ecumenical Church Day in Frankfurt in 2021 – an idea Böttigheimer backed enthusiastically.

“It cannot be that a letter from the Vatican makes decision-making in the bishops’ conferences unnecessary!”, the theologian exclaimed, adding that among the prelates “there must be a serious discussion of the objections contained in the [Vatican] letter. And with the question of whether these objections are so valid that they make what is voted for in the paper of the ÖAK impossible”.

– “That the Churches celebrate separately is a scandal”

Böttigheimer stressed his conviction “that we celebrate together is the basic idea of the gospel; that we celebrate separately is what should not be, the scandal”.

He added that “the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is one voice among many in theological discourse”, and insisted that “what the ÖAK has presented is in the air and will not simply be made obsolete by a negative reception”.

The Vatican criticism of the ÖAK proposal will only convince to the extent that it is theologically well-founded, the theologian explained, insisting “it depends on what is ultimately convincing in the exchange of theological arguments”.

“The search for truth, the content of the gospel can in principle only be brought to bear within the Church in a dialogical way, and dialogue also means transparency”, Böttigheimer concluded. insisting that in the Church “there is no alternative” apart from dialogue, “because it is demanded by the gospel”.

“Revelation has been given to us through dialogue and can therefore only be opened up in this way”, the theologian highlighted.

More on Novena on the debate over shared Communion with Protestants:

German Bishops defiant in wake of Vatican refusal of shared Communion with Protestants

German Catholic bishop resists new Vatican prohibition on shared Communion with Protestants

Theologian questions Catholic veto on shared Communion: “If we talk about unity, but do not eat together, we are not being truly human”

Theologian, on shared Communion: “Can we say the Eucharist is a meal of welcome and then not share it with all the baptised?”

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.