The Pope Said No. Non-Catholic Spouses Cannot Receive Communion

Conservative Catholic bishops have voiced their disapproval

Pope Francis barred German bishops from publishing any guideline on Communion for non-Catholic spouses. The pontiff explicitly said this issue touches the integrity of the Catholic Church in its entirety and thus is too important to deal with at a local level. It means bishops in this European country cannot permit Protestants wedded to Catholics to receive communion in the confines of a Catholic church.

The subject has sparked considerable debate in Germany. Things are now so heated up that Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the President of Germany, had waded into the debate. The decision taken by Pope Francis was conveyed to Cardinal Reinhard Marx by Archbishop Luis Ladaria, the head of the doctrinal office dealing with such matters in the Vatican. Marx leads the bishops' conference in Germany.

When it came to German bishops, the mood is firmly on the side of Protestants who wish to receive communion in Catholic churches. These can be bread or wine. According to the belief system followed by Catholics, these food and drink represent the blood and body of Christ. A few Protestants like the Lutherans say that Christ is present in this sacrament. At present, Protestants can only receive Catholic communion in extreme circumstances like when they are dying. According to German bishops, this is a compassionate move. Steinmeier, whose wife is a Catholic, supports such views.

Opposition towards such a decision appears to come from the conservative conclave in German Catholic churches. Seven bishops made their opposition known. They said that communion is an essential component of the Catholic faith. Such grave matters should not be left to the judgment of local churches. Ladaria, through a letter approved by the pope, said that the German document brings to light multiple problems of relevance for not only the German churches but for churches all around the globe.

The move is opposed by Catholic conservatives present in churches around the world in other countries. They say that such a move will dilute the distinct identity of Catholics and their church. The faithful, conservatives reiterate, could be confused by such a decision. One American archbishop, Charles Chaput hailing from Philadelphia, even warned that such a move will be only the beginning in opening the communion to Protestants. This move constitutes no valid reason “to allow communion for non-Catholics.”

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