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Pope tells Lutheran woman: decide for yourself whether to receive Communion in Catholic Church

November 16, 2015

Pope Francis encouraged a Lutheran woman to decide for herself whether she should receive Communion when she attends Mass with her Catholic husband.

The Pope made his stunning remark—which seems to conflict with the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1400) on intercommunion—during a November 15 visit to the Christuskirche, the home of the Evangelical Lutheran community in Rome.

The Pontiff engaged in a short question-and-answer session with parishioners at the Christuskirche, then joined them in praying Vespers and delivered a short homily.

The most noteworthy question for the Pope was posed by a woman who asked why she could not join with her husband in receiving Communion at a Catholic church. “I ask yourself what you’re asking me,” Pope Francis replied. “I ask myself the same question.”

Saying that “I’m scared” to delve into the theological issues involved, the Pope, he said:

I leave this question to theologians, to those who understand. It is true that in a certain sense sharing means saying that there is no difference between us, that we have the same doctrine—stressing that word, which is a difficult word to understand. But do we not have the same Baptism? And if we have the same Baptism, we should walk together.

The Pontiff declined to address the differences between the Catholic and Lutheran understandings of the Eucharist. “You believe the Lord is present,” he said. “And what’s the difference? There are explanations and interpretations, but life is bigger than explanations and interpretations.”

Returning to the woman’s question, the Pope said: “There are questions that only if one is sincere with oneself and the little theological light one has, must be responded to on one’s own. See for yourself.” He went on:

I would never dare give permission to do this as it is not my competence. One Baptism, one Lord, one faith. Speak with the Lord and go ahead. I dare not say any more.

In his homily following the Vespers service, the Pope said that both Catholics and Lutherans must offer each other forgiveness for the violence of past conflicts. He also said that joint prayer and liturgical services will bring Christians closer together.

In greeting the Pope to the Christuskirche, the pastor, Rev. Jeans-Martin Kruse, reminded his congregation that this was the 3rd appearance by a Roman Pontiff at the Lutheran church. St. John Paul II visited in December 1983 (when the church was marking the 500th anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther), and Pope Benedict XVI in March 2010. 


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  • Posted by: Jason C. - Nov. 18, 2015 9:38 AM ET USA

    The Pope's style is more suited to a priest in street clothes lecturing his freshman theology survey students at a formerly-great Catholic University. Not so much to the See of Peter speaking publicly about grave matters.

  • Posted by: DrJazz - Nov. 17, 2015 5:21 PM ET USA

    After reading the full text on ZENIT, I agree with Reuben: The text above does not give a full sense of the Pope's answer. The question he leaves to theologians is, "I wonder: is the sharing of the Lord’s Supper the end of a journey or the viaticum to journey together?"

  • Posted by: chady - Nov. 17, 2015 10:44 AM ET USA

    'You know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. The night is far gone, the day is at hand' Rom 13:11. Wake up brothers and sisters! We have a Pope who is pointing the way forward and encouraging us to leave our Reformation shackles behind. Truly let us walk forward to Sion in the Faith that binds all Christians together.....'Strengthen the weak hands, steady the shaking knees! Isa 35:3

  • Posted by: samuel.doucette1787 - Nov. 17, 2015 8:30 AM ET USA

    This Pope gives the impression that Church doctrine and discipline are mere playthings, formalities to be dispensed with at will. If you care for the integrity of Church teaching and discipline, then you are a heartless Pharisee. Catholics in the past have been martyred preserving the Holy Eucharist from desecration and for the doctrine of the Real Presence. He is an utter disaster! May he resign soon and may the Church never elect another Jesuit to the papacy.

  • Posted by: loumiamo - Nov. 17, 2015 7:45 AM ET USA

    The most important issue for us Catholics to deal with is that for reasons we may find hard to understand and never ttruly know, the Holy Spirit gave us Francis. Perhaps a paraphrase of Scripture: This is the Pope which the Lord has made. Let us (find a way, difficult though it may be) to be glad and rejoice in him.

  • Posted by: rjbennett1294 - Nov. 17, 2015 4:52 AM ET USA

    Isn't there something seriously wrong with a pope who replies to such a question with "(I)t is not my competence"? First of all, the only thing he has to do is read the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1400) on intercommunion; and second, if this is not the pope's competence, then whose competence is it? I think the feelings that many of us have, feelings of cynicism and disillusionment toward this pope are practically boundless.

  • Posted by: mhains8491 - Nov. 16, 2015 11:34 PM ET USA

    Sowing confusion Holy Father is not a sensible approach to this issue.

  • Posted by: Grateful - Nov. 16, 2015 10:04 PM ET USA

    John 8:7

  • Posted by: jalsardl5053 - Nov. 16, 2015 7:59 PM ET USA

    No problem. Clearly I can receive "Communion" from ANY "church" because we should all walk together. Alternatively, then quote the theologians instead of making it up as you go along.

  • Posted by: Reuben Slife - Nov. 16, 2015 7:09 PM ET USA

    The lede is false. His statements cannot mean that. The question he was asked was "What can we [Catholic & Lutherans] do on this point to finally attain communion?" He responded as he often does: we must walk together and live out the effects of our common baptism. The quotations in this report are very misleadingly excerpted, changing their meaning. (Saying he was "afraid" is plainly a joke; the point he "leaves to theologians" is a different point.) "Go ahead" probably ought to be "go onwards.

  • Posted by: TheJournalist64 - Nov. 16, 2015 6:55 PM ET USA

    The Pope is a teacher of the faith. That's what the DD behind a bishop's name says he does, and the Pope most of all. This is very disturbing.

  • Posted by: DrJazz - Nov. 16, 2015 6:37 PM ET USA

    My wife is Lutheran and has respected Catholic teaching on this matter for years. What shall I tell her now? That the entire matter has been one big misunderstanding? That all this time she should have just "gone ahead"? Or shall I tell her that the current Pope is teaching wrongly, that he isn't Catholic? Pope Francis sure knows how to throw things into disarray. He must know that Lutherans believe in the real presence, but don't reserve the sacrament. How is he helping us as disciples?

  • Posted by: Mike in Toronto - Nov. 16, 2015 6:16 PM ET USA

    I have been a supporter of Francis since his election, and have reserved my view of the recent Synod until the Pope makes known its final result. But with the advent of rubber-stamp annulments and now this profoundly wrong-headed answer to the Lutheran woman, he's losing me.

  • Posted by: Catholic in Seattle - Nov. 16, 2015 6:01 PM ET USA

    This is pretty strange. What can Francis mean? He is the pope, for heaven's sake! How can he NOT have competency to answer this question?

  • Posted by: ElizabethD - Nov. 16, 2015 4:26 PM ET USA

    I feel sick. I really feel horror. There is no compassion in sowing confusion and misleading people on matters that impact the salvation of souls.