Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

On German bishops’ proposal, the Pope’s non-decision is revealing

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | May 04, 2018

A few weeks ago we were told—by usually reliable sources—that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had rejected the German bishops’ proposal for administering Communion to the non-Catholic spouses of Catholics. We were further informed that Pope Francis had approved the CDF decision.

Evidently that report was inaccurate. Or if it was accurate at the time, the decision has been rescinded.

Now the Pope has instructed the German bishops to seek consensus—ideally, unanimity—on the hotly disputed question, for the sake of “ecclesial communion.”

Three observations here:

1) The role of the Roman Pontiff is to resolve disputes among the world’s bishops. Here is a dispute. The Pope has not resolved it; he’s told the bishops involved to try to resolve it by themselves.

2) In their plea to the Vatican, the minority of German bishops who opposed the new policy did not argue that it was imprudent; they argued that it was impossible because it would be incompatible with Church teaching. (Would you blame me for suspecting that the CDF sided with the minority, and the Pope chose to overrule—or at least suspend—the decision?) If the issue is framed as a question of whether or not the policy can possibly be reconciled with Church teaching, it makes little sense to send the German bishops back home with a mandate to find unanimity; they can’t reconcile the irreconcilable. On the other hand, if this is only a question of prudence, then compromise makes sense. So has the Pope, by declining to make a decision, actually made a decision?

3) By prodding the German hierarchy to reach consensus, the Pope’s non-decision puts extra pressure on the minority that resisted the new policy. If the goal is “ecclesial communion” rather than doctrinal purity, it’s easy to see which side is expected to give ground.

There may be more to the story than what the Vatican has announced. Maybe the German bishops have been given further instructions on how to alter their proposal, bringing it into line with existing Church teaching. But there is little in the Vatican’s non-decision to bolster confidence.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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