A Catholic Sorb holds the monstrance during the annual Corpus Christi procession May 31 in Crostwitz, Germany. CNS photo/Matthias Rietschel, Reuters

Editorial: Good sense prevails

  • June 10, 2018

Last month Pope Francis had Catholics worldwide scratching their heads after he seemed to suggest German bishops would have his blessing if they reached a group consensus to circumvent Church teaching and make it easier for some Protestants to receive Communion.

So it was reassuring to see the Pope clarify the matter on June 4 and send the German bishops back to the drawing board. As Ottawa’s Archbishop Terrence Prendergast put it in The Catholic Register recently, what the German bishops proposed — allowing Protestants married to Catholics to routinely receive the Eucharist — was ill advised and doctrinally impossible. The Pope could have averted much angst if he had rejected the German proposal at its outset.

His decision was finally conveyed in a May 25 letter sent to the president of the German bishops’ conference. It stated that Pope Francis ultimately concluded that a German document that proposed relaxing some restrictions on Communion raised serious questions and was “not mature enough to be published.” Chief among the concerns is that Communion for Protestants is not a matter to be determined by any single bishops’ conference but is a question for the universal Church. The sacraments are governed by Canon Law, which no bishop or bishops’ conference can overlook or amend. Any changes must come from Rome.

So a proposal to implement a unique set of rules to govern Communion for Germans was a non-starter under Church doctrine. At least, that’s how it should have been regarded. Instead it took objections from several prelates, including seven German bishops, to help put an end to it, for now.

Dutch Cardinal Willem Eijk slammed the German proposal as “incomprehensible” and said the Pope should have provided the Germans with “clear directives” based on doctrine and Church practice. Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput warned that the German proposal was inching the Church towards opening up Communion to all Protestants. Prendergast called it “puzzling” to learn that Pope Francis was willing to go along with whatever Germans bishops wanted, provided their decision was unanimous.

Pope Francis deserves praise for promoting a Church that should be compassionate and pastoral in its response to all types of family challenges in an age of waning traditional family values. In Amoris Laetitia he made a case for creating paths into the Church’s full embrace for those who currently must participate in “an incomplete way” due to irregular family situations. The Church should always seek to integrate the faithful, not exclude them, he argued. 

But, clearly, there are limits. The German proposal may have had a sincere pastoral motivation, but by challenging Church teaching on this delicate issue, it went too far. Ultimately, the Pope was obligated to reject it.

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