One third of Germans want a union of the Catholic and Protestant Churches in a sign that the desire for shared Communion persists despite Vatican objections.
– 42% of Catholics in favour of full Christian unity: newspaper survey
A survey by the Erfurt market and social research institute INSA-Consulere on behalf of the news agency idea revealed October 13 that 31% of German citizens are in favour of uniting the Catholic and Protestant denominations in a single Church.
For the survey, 2,084 adults were interviewed between October 9 and 12. 28% of respondents said they were against a union of the Churches, while 31% said they didn’t know one way or the other.
Among people self-identifying as Christians, Catholics were the most likely to agree with the prospect of full Christian unity, at 42% of respondents.
Among Protestants, support for a union of the Churches dropped to 27%, and among members of the Evangelical Free Churches backing for the idea descended to 15%.
Outside of the Christian communities, 25% of self-identified ‘nones’ said they thought the union of the Churches was a good idea.
The INSA-Consulere survey also revealed that support for the amalgamation of the Churches was significantly higher among people over 60, with 40% of respondents expressing their support for the proposal. In the 18-29-year-old age bracket, however, support slipped to 23%.
The findings of the German survey on Church unity come almost a month after the Vatican rejected the 2019 proposal of an Ecumenical Working Group of German Catholic and Protestant theologians who supported the idea of “reciprocal Eucharistic hospitality”.
In a September 18 letter and four-page doctrinal note to Georg Bätzing, the president of the German Bishops’ Conference, Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) prefect Cardinal Luis Ladaria and secretary Archbishop Giacomo Morandi said the theologians’ proposal – entitled “Together at the Lord’s Table” – was not consistent with Catholic understanding of the Church, the Eucharist and Holy Orders.
For that reason, the Vatican officials ruled out even a conscience decision on the part of individual Catholics and Protestants thinking about participating in Eucharistic celebrations of the other denomination.
Individual bishops and theologians criticised that new Vatican ‘no’ to shared communion, but the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference as a whole recognised “the open questions” around ecumenism still “are so weighty that it does not feel able to allow mutual participation [in the Eucharist] in general before they are clarified, especially since the question of the unity of the Catholic Church is affected here as well”.
However, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of the Munich-Freising archdiocese and Lutheran Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm – the chair of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) – also pledged that “we will not give up” in the quest for shared Eucharistic hospitality.
Now, in a new sign that many Catholics and Protestants in Germany still desire to share in celebrations around the Lord’s Table in spite of the Vatican scepticism, the organisers of the German Ecumenical Church Day – the next edition of which will be held in Frankfurt in May 2021 – have talked up their desire to take “a big step in practical, lived ecumenism and in the visibility of our common ground”.
Protestant co-organiser Bettina Limperg told the epd news agency that “it was always clear to us that these are issues [around shared Communion] that have perhaps not yet been fully discussed theologically. But we are also not ‘the’ Church, we are above all lay movements. And: we focus on an examination of conscience, which should always be an important authority for all Christians”.
Catholic co-organiser Thomas Sternberg – the president of the lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) – insisted that despite the Vatican rejection of shared Communion “we will of course stick to our concept” of leaving participation in Eucharistic celebrations at the Church Day to the consciences of individual believers.
Declining to reveal for the moment whether he personally would participate in a Protestant Lord’s Supper at the Church Day, Sternberg acknowledged that the open questions around shared Communion “are by no means small”.
“But every Sunday, thousands of interdenominational families have to make decisions about which services to attend. It is very difficult for them to understand the subtleties of the Catholic and Protestant understanding of ministry”, the ZdK head lamented.