✣ German row over Communion goes global

What happened?

Several senior churchmen in North America and Africa weighed in on a dispute among German bishops about Communion for Protestants. A majority of Germany’s bishops support proposed guidelines allowing Protestant spouses of Catholics to receive Holy Communion under certain conditions – most notably, that they “affirm the Catholic faith in the Eucharist”. Critics in the German episcopacy appealed to the Vatican, which asked the bishops to reach a consensus.

What Church leaders are saying

Until last week the public dispute between Church leaders had been confined to Europe. The most dramatic intervention came from Dutch Cardinal Willem Eijk, who called the Vatican’s response “incomprehensible”. But now the controversy has crossed the Atlantic. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, writing in First Things, pointed to the “global prominence” of the debate and its “doctrinal substance”. Citing Martin Luther, he said: “What happens in Germany will not stay in Germany. History has already taught us that lesson once.”

The essence of the German proposal, he said, was that there would be a “sharing in Holy Communion even when there is not true Church unity”, thus inserting a “falsehood” into the encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist. The proposal would “redefine who and what the Church is”, as Communion is the “sign and instrument of ecclesial unity”, and would serve to Protestantise Catholic identity by reducing it to “simple baptism and a belief in Christ”. On the same day Canada’s Catholic Register published comments by Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa, who said such “open Communion” envisaged by the Germans was “against Church teaching”.

Former Vatican liturgical chief Cardinal Francis Arinze added a Nigerian voice to the debate. During a visit to Buckfast Abbey he told a reporter that you could not share Communion as you might beer or cake. “After Mass, you can go to the refectory and have a cup of tea and even a glass of beer and a bit of cake. That’s OK … [but] the Holy Eucharist is not our private possession.”

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