The president of the German Bishops is standing tall against the Vatican, promising “every effort” to bring about shared Communion with Protestants.

– Ecumenism aims at nothing less than unity around the Lord’s Table

Bishop Georg Bätzing of the Limburg diocese made the undertaking November 8 in a video message to the Synod of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD).

“The community in faith, which is already ecumenically visible in many ways, aims at a unity that will also be able to be experienced as a communion in the Eucharist and the Lord’s Supper”, Bätzing said in his message.

The Bishop of Limburg alluded to a September 2019 document of the German Ecumenical Study Group of Protestant and Catholic Theologians (ÖAK), “Together at the Lord’s Table”, which concluded that the ecumenical advances of recent years warrant “reciprocal Eucharistic hospitality” between Catholics and Protestants.

The ÖAK document came under heavy criticism from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in September this year, when the CDF warned in a doctrinal note that “essential theological and indispensable insights of the Eucharistic theology of the Second Vatican Council, which are widely shared with the Orthodox tradition, have unfortunately not been adequately reflected” in the ÖAK text.

“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 CDF further cautioned.

The Vatican doctrinal office added that for that reason the ÖAK text “cannot therefore serve” even as “a guide for an individual decision of conscience about approaching the Eucharist”, beyond collective Church policy on shared Communion.

– “Good” that document criticised by Vatican has “rekindled the debate”

In his message to the EKD Synod, however, Bätzing rejected the Vatican’s doctrinal assessment of the ÖAK shared Eucharistic hospitality proposal, and said that it was “good” that the ÖAK had “rekindled the debate on the remaining open questions on the way” to visible communion at the Lord’s Table.

“In the Bishops’ Conference and also in talks with Rome, I will make every effort to ensure that there is an intensive discourse on these issues and that the results of the ecumenical dialogues are examined and acted upon”, Bätzing promised.

Also in his message, the German Bishops’ president recognised that “the crisis triggered by the coronavirus is causing a great deal of uncertainty, doubt and fear”.

“It is good that we stand together as Churches in Germany in this situation and that we give support, comfort and hope”, he said, paying tribute to the “strong ecumenical perspective” of the EKD.

“God is with us, even in times of crisis. We move on good and reliable ground. This certainty does not take away all our worries and fears. But it does make us freer to face them and to dare to venture out again and again”, said Bätzing, adding that “this applies to every individual. But it is equally true for the Church in its search for a contemporary proclamation of the faith and for structures which serve this goal”.

“The question of what substantive and structural impulses are needed to ensure that future generations also experience and accept the Christian faith as life-enhancing is a matter of the greatest urgency today”, Bätzing also observed.

He expressed his hope “that the Churches will remain in a lively exchange about these developments, accompanying and strengthening one another, and also experiencing in this the solidarity in the one Church of Jesus Christ”.

– EKD regional president expresses “deep regret” at Vatican veto

Also on the issue of shared Communion, the president of Evangelical Church of the Palatinate, Christian Schad, lamented that the CDF doctrinal note had placed a “heavy burden” on the Catholic Church and the ecumenical movement in Germany.

At the EKD Synod Monday, Schad expressed his “surprise” and “disappointment” at the Vatican rejection of shared Communion. He added that he felt “deep regret” over the CDF refusal of the ÖAK proposal, not just in terms of it being a setback for ecumenism but “also with regard to the missionary challenges that the proclamation of the Gospel is facing in Germany and other European countries”, that the Churches are kept from another way of working together.

More on Novena on the debate over shared Communion:

German bishop accuses Vatican of raising ever-higher “dogmatic and canonical walls” to shared Communion with Protestants

One third of Germans want union of Catholic, Protestant Churches as desire for shared Communion persists despite Vatican objections

German cardinal, Protestant head pledge “we will not give up” on search for shared Communion

Author of paper on shared Communion with Protestants rejects Vatican criticism: “The CDF is one voice among many in theology”

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