The move by German bishops to admit Protestant spouses in mixed marriages to Holy Communion has taken a dramatic new twist. A guidance document supporting the change, backed by most bishops but opposed by a minority, seemed to have been stopped by Rome. That guidance has now been published, without the issues dividing the bishops having been clarified.

The 39-page document Mit Christus gehen (“Walking with Christ”) was originally approved by the February plenary assembly of the German bishops’ conference (DBK), with only 13 of the 60 bishops present voting against.

However, the seven opposing diocesan bishops, led by Cardinal Rainer Woelki of Cologne, then appealed to Rome against a document which they regard as overstepping the authority of the bishops’ conference. They pointed out that, according to canon law, reception of Communion by non-Catholics can only be authorised by a diocesan bishop in cases of “grave necessity”. The result was a flurry of letters, some now published by the German bishops, and high level meetings.

The appeal from the seven bishops sent on March 22 was followed by a reply on April 10 from Archbishop Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). This letter, marked “strictly confidential”, has now been published by the DBK, which ends much speculation about its contents. The main point of the letter is simply to inform the Germans that Vatican dicasteries have been considering the proposal and the appeal against it, and

inviting several German bishops including Cardinal Woelki and DBK president Cardinal Reinhard Marx to meet at the CDF. This meeting took place on May 3.

There is, however, one important point that the publication of the letter has revealed. It was known that the CDF had held up the publication of the pastoral guidance. In the letter, though, Ladaria refers to an audience with Pope Francis on April 6 in which he was briefed about the German situation and “the Holy Father stated that he did not believe that the document in question should be published now”. This could have meant that the Pope was opposed to the publication of the guidance, or simply that he thought its publication was premature.

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