The German Bishops are remaining defiant in the wake of the Vatican refusal of a proposal for Catholic intercommunion with Protestants.
– Vatican veto not “a slap in the face”: some criticisms “wide of the mark”
Some of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) criticisms of the shared Eucharistic hospitality proposal are appropriate, while others “are wide of the mark”, German Bishops’ chair Bishop Georg Bätzing said September 22 at the start of the Bishops’ autumn plenary assembly in Fulda.
Bätzing, the Bishop of Limburg, admitted that he knows of some in the Church who see the ‘no’ from Rome on intercommunion as a “resounding slap in the face”, not only for the German Bishops in general but also for him personally, as chair of the Episcopal Conference and as co-episcopal chair of the Ecumenical Study Group of Protestant and Catholic Theologians (ÖAK) that produced the intercommunion proposal, “Together at the Lord’s Table”.
However, Bätzing said he does not see the Vatican veto in that way.
Rather, he said that the September 2019 ÖAK document – which advocated for “reciprocal Eucharistic hospitality” between Catholics and Protestants – was part of a wider ecumenical discussion in the context of which the CDF document must now be received by the Churches.
The bishop said it was first of all up to the ÖAK to respond to the Vatican concerns, and that likewise the German Bishops would study the Roman document in their assembly discussions taking place until Thursday.
However, despite acknowledging the “weighty” Vatican objections to the shared Eucharistic hospitality proposal, Bätzing said he saw no reason to revise his plan to put the proposal into practice at Germany’s Ecumenical Church Day in 2021 in Frankfurt.
– Cardinal: Bishops can’t rank working group proposal higher than CDF letter
News broke on Sunday that CDF Prefect Cardinal Luis Ladaria and Secretary Giacomo Morandi had written a 57-page letter to the German Bishops setting out a series of theological objections to the ÖAK intercommunion proposal.
The CDF warned that “the question of the unity of the Eucharist and the 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, is undervalued” in the ÖAK document.
The Vatican officials also signalled that “the doctrinal differences” between Catholics and Protestants “are still so important that they currently rule out reciprocal participation in the Lord’s Supper and the Eucharist”.
“The document cannot therefore serve as a guide for an individual decision of conscience about approaching the Eucharist”, Ladaria and Morandi wrote, cautioning too that “an opening of the Catholic Church towards Eucharistic meal fellowship [with Protestants]… would necessarily open new rifts in ecumenical dialogue with the Orthodox Churches, not only in Germany”.
Prior to the German Bishops meeting in Fulda, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity Cardinal Kurt Koch warned the German Bishops against going it alone as a national Church on the question of shared Communion after the CDF letter.
“If the German bishops were to rate such a letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith less highly than a document from an ecumenical working group, then something would no longer be right in the hierarchy of criteria among the bishops”, cautioned Koch.
The cardinal – who was involved in the drafting of the CDF letter – said the Vatican doctrinal body timed the missive to coincide with the German Bishops’ plenary assembly, to remind the country’s episcopate that it did not have the authority to decide for itself on such a weighty universal Church matter as the shared Eucharist.
– Theologian defends ecumenical progress
For her part, theologian Dorothea Sattler – co-author of the ÖAK paper and head of the Ecumenical Institute at the Catholic Theological Faculty of the University of Münster – defended the intercommunion proposal and rejected the CDF accusation that the group had separated Christ and the Church.
With regard to ecumenism “we can’t start all over again every time; there are already so many studies that are not recognised”, Sattler added, underlining the fact in the light of the Vatican objections “we are certainly ready to examine our paper theologically and to develop it further, but only if there is at least the prospect that something will change in practice”.