German Bishops’ Conference Continues the Search
Mark Twain is reported to have said, about an obituary that appeared in the newspapers: “News of my death was premature.” Whether the quote is correct or not, the headline that said the Proposed Guidelines to Allow Protestants Who Are Married to Catholics to Receive Communion were rejected in June 2018, were premature. The assembly of the German Bishops’ Conference (GBC) determined to continue its work with the encouragement of Pope Francis, in the September 2018 assembly, and it is also agenda for the spring meeting in April 2019. While I am not an expert on German affairs, I have been dedicated to ecumenism since the 1960’s and have been a consultant for the interchurch family associations in the United States. And to some extent I am familiar with matters in Canada, France, England and Australia. I have attended the two congresses in Geneva and Rocca di Papa (outside Rome, Italy) in 1998 and 2003 respectively.
Many articles have been written in the English language using the term intercommunion (a similar term appears in other languages). Anglicans and Lutherans and other denominations in the United States and English-speaking countries use the term “Eucharistic sharing” to speak of the occasional reception of the Eucharist as sacrament (Communion) before there is full communion between two churches or denominations. I have felt for many years that this is a better term than “intercommunion” which implies full communion or “table and pulpit sharing” (used by Lutherans) or “Eucharistic hospitality” which may suggest open Communion.
Interchurch families are married couples from two different churches or denominations, one of whom is often Catholic. There are associations of such families, e.g. Foyers Mixtes (France), Association of Interchurch Families (England and Canada, USA – American Association of Interchurch Families). They have expressed frequently at their meetings and in their publications that they have a great desire to share Communion with their spouse and children.
Interchurch families have an insight into the theology which moves them to want to receive the Eucharist together. This extends to their desire to share the Eucharist with their children in the same sense that they are part of God’s people and the Church, the Body of Christ (cf. Augustine and John Chrysostom).
The German Bishops’ Conference (GBC)
There are 66 members (as of June 2018) from 27 German dioceses in Germany. The Conference was established to promote joint pastoral tasks, to advise one another, to coordinate the Churches’ work, to jointly adopt decisions and to maintain contact with new bishops’ conferences.
The highest body of the German Bishops Conferences is the Plenary Assembly of all bishops, at which the bishops regularly meet in spring and autumn for several days.
The Vatican Response
After the first meeting of the GBC discussed the proposed guidelines draft in February 2018, seven bishops from the conference wrote to the Congregation for the Doctrine and Faith stating that they were not in favor of the Guidelines because they were proposing something that touched faith and doctrine for the universal church and the guidelines would result in other churches making use of the provision for Eucharistic sharing.
With Pope Francis’ approval, the President of the CDF, Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, SJ, Secretary General of the CDF sent a letter to the GBC saying the proposed guidelines touches matters affecting doctrine and faith as well as ecumenical matters affecting other churches and denominations. It also involves sacraments and rules for reception and celebration. This response led many newspapers to conclude that the project was terminated because it needed further study.
Pope Francis spoke of the matter while on a flight [May-June] commenting on the status of the proposed guidelines. He noted that Eucharistic sharing was not something new. Both Canon Law and the Directory for Applications and Norms for Ecumenism (1993) made provisions for it. However, it might be easier for the Ordinary of the Diocese to make the decision for individual cases and under the conditions indicated by existing rules.
A major issue on Eucharistic sharing concerns the nature of the Church. At the Second Vatican Council the delegates to the council were mostly bishops or persons with authority in religious communities of men. The theological decree on the Church, Lumen Gentium, stated that the Church was not limited to the Roman Catholic Church. It also included the Eastern Catholic Churches. The “communion” or relationship between the Catholic Church and other Christian Churches is real, but it is not perfect. What is missing is full communion with the Pope and the bishops of the Catholic Church.
Another issue is the faith in the presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Eucharistic sharing in the Catholic Church requires that the person coming forward must share the faith in the Eucharist of the Catholic Church.
Finally, there must be a consensus and reception of the Church that the move forward will not create scandal or distress. In other words, it might have been premature to make the move immediately after the Council, but with continued positive reception of the Vatican Council and other ecumenical progress, it is possible to move forward ecumenically.
The first reaction of people for a change in one’s culture, worship, faith, etc. is to resist any change. However, change is a necessary part of living. John Henry Newman said one must change, and to change often is necessary. While change in religious matters involve one’s thinking and culture and day-to-day attitudes and values, there are times when the common good indicates God’s will in clear discernment.
The GBC draft of the Guidelines for Eucharistic Sharing mentions interchurch/interdenominational – the latter is a translation of the term used in German speaking countries – when speaking of married couples of which one is Protestant and the other is Catholic. I have learned a great deal from members of the various interchurch families in several countries, as I have mentioned. I believe there is much to be learned from them because they are dedicated to their spouse and children and the church that has supported their religious values. The GBC is aware that they particularly hunger for Eucharistic sharing and see it as a spiritual need to help them pastorally in their daily lives. Because of their situation, they are quite aware of the conditions required by the Catholic Church for such Eucharistic sharing. Not all interchurch families are in the same place in their spiritual journey. However, across the globe there are interchurch families who need the assistance of their pastors and their support. I trust my article will reflect my own prayer and effort to support their project and wish them Godspeed in finding a way to move forward to their compassionate and pastorally enlightened goal.
 CF. Congress of Rocca Di Papa (2003) Associations of Interchurch Families Report to the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity (PCPCU)
 E. Falardeau, SSS. “Eucharistic Hunger in the Domestic Church: A View from Interchurch Families” in Being One at Home: Interchurch Families as Domestic Churches. Edited by Thomas Knieps-Port le Roi and Ray Temmerman, Zurich, CH: Lit Verlag, 2015, p. 175-187.
 Dominican Father Hervé Legrand interviewed by Nicolas Senèze for La Croix (June 6, 2018) “Pope’s decision on German bishops document is in line with Vatican II” responds to the question: How to explain the ruling of the CDF that the German bishops’ document is ‘not yet ready publication’ answers: Archbishop Ladaria’s decision – backed by Pope Francis – seems wise to me as well as faithful to Vatican II and its decree Unitatis Redintegratio. It is also in line with the Directory on Ecumenism (1993) which goes as far as “recommending non-Christian access to Catholic sacraments in certain instances. What the pope wants is for the German bishops to come to an agreement on the criteria that would enable each bishop to make a decision on his own, without ending up with bishops who are totally closed and intransigent in one place and bishops who are too liberal somewhere else.”
This article appears in Ecumenical Trends, February 2019 p. 14-15