Bishop Georg Bätzing, president of the German bishops’ conference, reaffirmed Sunday his view that intercommunion with Protestants should be possible, despite Vatican objections.
He made the comment in a Nov. 8 message to the Synod of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD).
“The community in faith, which is already ecumenically visible in many ways, aims at a unity that will also be able to be experienced as a communion in the Eucharistic and the Lord’s Supper,” Bätzing wrote in the message.
He said he considered it “good” that a document produced by the Ecumenical Study Group of Protestant and Catholic Theologians (ÖAK), called “Together at the Lord’s Table,” had “rekindled the debate on the remaining open questions on the way” to what the paper calls “reciprocal Eucharistic hospitality” between Catholics and Protestants.
As CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German language news partner, reported, Bätzing continued: “I will undertake every effort in the bishops’ conference and also in dialogue with Rome to ensure that an intensive discourse is held on this issue and that the findings of the ecumenical dialogues are examined and acted upon.”
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) said in September that the proposal made in “Together at the Lord’s Table,” issued in September 2019, did not do justice to the Catholic understanding of the Church, the Eucharist, and Holy Orders.
The 57-page text advocated “reciprocal Eucharistic hospitality” between Catholics and Protestants, based on previous ecumenical agreements on the Eucharist and ministry. In response, the CDF issued a letter Sept. 18, signed by CDF prefect Cardinal Luis Ladaria and secretary Archbishop Giacomo Morandi.
The letter was accompanied by a four-page doctrinal note raising a number of theological concerns. The CDF said that Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops, had requested a doctrinal assessment of the document in May. It noted that the German bishops had discussed the text at their plenary meeting that month in Mainz.
The CDF letter said: “The question of the unity of the Eucharist and the Church, in which the Eucharist presupposes and brings about unity with the communion of the Church and her faith with the pope and the bishops, is undervalued in the aforementioned document.”
“Essential theological and indispensable insights of the Eucharistic theology of the Second Vatican Council, which are widely shared with the Orthodox tradition, have unfortunately not been adequately reflected in the text.”
Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said in an interview in September that he believed that the pope backed the intervention by the Vatican’s doctrinal office.
“I have also heard from other sources that the pope has expressed his concern in personal conversations,” Koch said, explaining that he was not referring simply to the question of intercommunion.
“Not only, but about the situation of the Church in Germany in general,” he said, noting that Pope Francis addressed a long letter to German Catholics in June 2019.
CNA Deutsch reported that the ÖAK adopted the intercommunion document under the co-chairmanship of Bätzing and the retired Lutheran Bishop Martin Hein.
It added that Bätzing announced recently that the text’s recommendations would be put into practice at the Ecumenical Church Congress in Frankfurt in May 2021.
The ÖAK was founded in 1946 to strengthen ecumenical ties. It is independent of both the German Catholic bishops’ conference and the EKD, an organization representing 20 Protestant groups, but it informs both bodies about its deliberations.
The doctrinal congregation emphasized that significant differences in understanding of the Eucharist and ministry remained between Protestants and Catholics.
“The doctrinal differences are still so important that they currently rule out reciprocal participation in the Lord's Supper and the Eucharist,” it said.
“The document cannot therefore serve as a guide for an individual decision of conscience about approaching the Eucharist.”
The CDF added that the ÖAK text should inspire further theological discussions. But it cautioned against any steps towards intercommunion.
“However, an opening of the Catholic Church towards Eucharistic meal fellowship with the member churches of the EKD in the current state of the theological discussion would necessarily open new rifts in ecumenical dialogue with the Orthodox Churches, not only in Germany,” it said.