The German bishops have been rather popular targets in more conservative Catholic media for their supposed liberal policies and decisions, and sometimes rightly so. In their spring meeting in Ingolstadt, which concluded yesterday, they made another such decision. One that will undoubtedly will be heavily criticised and presented in terms of heresy (looking at you, Gloria TV). However, in this case, the criticism is generally unwarranted.
The bishops have been discussing when non-Catholic partners of a Catholic can receive Holy Communion with their husband or wife. Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the president of the German Bishops’ Conference, said that there had been an intense debate and many serious objections against opening up access to the Eucharist in such a way. A great majority of the bishops nonetheless voted in favour of creating a pastoral guide for situations when a non-Catholic may receive Communion alongside his or her partner.*
Cardinal Marx stated that the bishops have no desire to change dogmatics. The pastoral guide they are proposing will be based on canon 844 §4 in the Code of Canon Law, and it will help a pastor decide if an exception to the rule is possible. Canon 844 §4 discusses the conditions under which a non-Catholic can receive Communion. If there is a danger of death or some other grave necessity (according to the judgement of the local bishop or the bishops’ conference), and if the person involve has no recourse to a minister of their own community, a priest can licitly administer Communion to him or her. The person receiving must also seek the sacrament of their own volition and must manifest the Catholic belief in the sacrament and be otherwise able to receive (just like all Catholics). The bishops claim that there can be such a strong desire in mixed marriages to receive Communion together that not responding to this can endanger the marriage and faith of the spouses. This, they claim, can be the “grave necessity” the Code of Canon Law refers to.
“We don’t want to say that everything is equal,” Cardinal Marx stated. This decision in no way means that all non-Catholic Christians in Germany can now receive Communion in Catholic churches. But as there are allowances in canon law, the bishops have deemed it prudent to help priests and pastoral workers decide if such possibilities actually exist in individual cases.
The document will be published in the coming weeks.
*The main obstacle in this context is the fact that receiving Communion is also a profession of faith. A non-Catholic Christian professes a different belief in the transsubstantiation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, and for this reason the Catholic Church prohibits them from receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion.