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The Germans on intercommunion: Joke, or mere absurdity?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Jun 29, 2018

The story we picked up from OnePeterFive on the new German “guidelines” for intercommunion reads like a parody. Frankly, I’m wondering if it is.

If you click through our summary to the story on which it is based, you’ll see what seems to be a very dodgy effort by the German bishops to implement their policy on admitting Protestant spouses to Communion despite the fact that Pope Francis told them not to do so. According to an earlier report (substantiated by an actual letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), Pope Francis did not want the German bishops to go ahead with their policy because it touched on serious questions of doctrine, law and practice which applied to the universal Church.

But a month later we have the One Peter Five report which states the following:

  • The German bishops decided to issue their ideas about intercommunion with Protestants as “guidelines” for individual bishops, since the Pope did not want the German Episcopal Conference to act officially in the matter.
  • But even as guidelines, the handout supplied to the local bishops is not designated as coming from the Conference or from any individual or body whatsoever.
  • The theory behind the decision to issue the guidelines is that the Pope’s concern was to properly recognize each local bishop, and not the Conference, as the canonical authority in each diocese (after all, episcopal conferences are conveniences, not part of the sacred constitution of the Church).
  • The guidelines are supposed to apply to exceptional cases only, where there is an intense desire for the Eucharist, thereby requiring special discernment.
  • And amazingly, Bishop Gerhard Feige of Magdeburg justified the guidelines by citing a private statement of the Holy Father (“Generally, I cannot change anything, but speak with the Lord and move forward”) and concluding: “With our handout, we only took the Pope at his words.”

Now, really, doesn’t this sound like an April Fool’s story—a story spun out of thin air as a practical joke?

If we are to assume this story is in fact a joke, then we must admit it is a very good one, barely believable because German Church leadership has fallen so low in its desperation to retain numbers (for the tax benefits?) and accommodate secular attitudes.

But if the story is accurate, the absurdity of this action by the German bishops very nearly beggars belief. For example:

  • The action is a fairly clear violation, on clearly specious grounds, of the obvious intent of the official Vatican communication on this subject from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
  • The muting of the role of the Conference (or indeed of any ecclesiastical authority) strongly suggests both a deliberate desire to deceive while hoping that intercommunion will, in some form, become a widespread diocesan norm irrespective of the universal Church.
  • Coupled with the emphasis on the “exceptional” character of intercommunion, the guidelines seem to be based on the well-known principle that what is allowed for some will quickly become the norm.
  • The connections to both Amoris Laetitia and the private sentiments of the Holy Father suggest an attempt to initiate (or continue) a pattern of governance in which churchmen feel free to violate Catholic doctrine and Canon Law as long as they claim no authority to change either.

In other words, this whole charade is based on a self-contradictory and absurd conception of Church governance. It is also based on a psychological and even theological absurdity. For why would any mentally sound person who understands the nature of the Catholic Eucharist, and intensely desires to receive it for the right reasons, refuse to profess their faith and enter the Church?

Let me conclude by stating one more obvious point. Taking any pope at his personal word has never been a sound basis for the disruption of Catholic doctrine, Catholic law, or even traditional Catholic practice. It is a particularly weak justification under the present pontificate, because Pope Francis—despite his inspiring qualities—is a man of personal words as volatile as they are imprecise.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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