Bishop Gerhard Feige of Magdeburg, chair of the German bishops’ ecumenism commission, has sharp words in response to yesterday’s letter from the Vatican to the German bishops contradicting the Vatican’s earlier instruction that the bishops themselves should deal with the question of intercommunion for non-Catholic spouses of Catholics. Here is his response from the bishops’ web site.
It is completely incomprehensible to me how on May 3, 2018, one still heard from Rome that the German bishops should find “a directive as close to unanimous as possible” in the question of Communion for Protestant Christians in tradition-uniting marriages, and this mandate is now – one month later – obviously revoked by Pope Francis himself. The disappointment is great for many people, the damage cannot yet be foreseen. Wounds are newly ripped open. Bitterness and resignation spread widely. While up until yesterday some individuals were pondering how we could arrive at greater unanimity, others rather have repeatedly manipulated the public and made accusations that put the contents and character of the drafted orientation guidelines in a false light. Forming an accurate impression remained out of reach for the ones most concerned, because up until now it is not permitted to see the text. But it appears that the text was leaked to certain journalists for various motives.
The pastoral guidelines, which more than three-fourths of the German bishops voted for, were perhaps the last attempt to bring about some order in this question. Perhaps the massive resistance against this had made abundantly clear, that in fact many of the people concerned have long since been practicing without further ado that which the Wurzburg Synod already 42 years ago raised in its request to the bishops for clarification and was now to be recommended: in individual cases under certain conditions, after spiritual counsel and individual decision of conscience, to receive Communion.
Even Cardinal Woelki can live with this pastoral praxis – as one heard repeatedly from him. But he fights – this makes no sense to me – against putting this possibility into words. It would definitely be more honest than more or less holding to a double standard: setting the highest possible standards for reception of Communion, or maintaining the impossibility of receiving, but at the same time knowing of numerous exceptions and freely tolerating them. Because for decades the bishops have not been capable, or – as once again now – have been prevented from finding helpful and responsible solutions, obviously a paradigm shift has come about. It seems that the days are gone in which one still understood and observed rules, for many are no more included to act thus, but seek out their own solutions. But for this one needs, instead of prohibitions, leadership, recommendations, and orientation helps that point out paths and form consciences. When even this is prevented, there remains only the encouragement of Pope Francis in this connection: “Talk to the Lord and go forward.”
Why was there no contradiction from the Vatican for those remarried?
With the text of the German bishops on pastoral care for marriage and family including the statement on possible sacramental reception of individual persons who are divorced and remarried, a conflict of this sort could have ignited, based on the claim that it is a topic “that concerns the faith of the church and is of relevance for the universal church.” But amazingly, in this case it did not arise. Just how then did it come to an escalation in the case of difference of denominational tradition?
Obviously, Catholic principles of ecumenism, with their inclusive ecclesiology and the conviction of gradated levels of belong to the church, even 50 years after the Second Vatican Council, are unknown to some people. Furthermore, individual Christians from another church are repeatedly viewed as “pars pro toto,” and they are burdened with everything that one is able to bring up against their church. With such black-and-white thinking, individual solutions are also impossible. What’s more, stipulations for sacramental reception were suddenly set up that certainly could no longer be implemented with respect to our own faithful. Finally, one can assume in this intra-Catholic dispute not only that worldviews and faith convictions collide, but also that tangible interests and dirty methods were at play. Victims of all this are the affected tradition-uniting marriages and families. I feel especially bound to you: Don’t be discouraged! Keep up your love and loyalty! Entrust yourself to the mercy of God and walk on the path which Christ shows you!
Bishop Gerhard Feige