Cardinal Gerhard Müller expressed unhappiness recently over Rome’s conflicting direction on the German bishops’ controversial plan to allow Holy Communion in some instances for Protestant spouses of Catholics.
“I am very sad that from Rome are coming directives, which are contrary ones, that of the Prefect of the Congregation of the Faith is contradictory to the letter Cardinal Marx received from the Holy Father,” Cardinal Müller said.
“The Pope, according to the Catholic Faith, is the universal principle of the unity of the Church, not political unity but the unity in the revealed Faith,” Cardinal Müllersaid. “The Faith, the doctrine of the Catholic Church regarding the Eucharist and the Eucharist’s belonging to the full communion of the Church under the Pope and the episcopacy is very clear. It cannot be changed.”
While in Australia recently to address the National Conference of the Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, the former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) spoke about a number of issues in an interview with the Catholic Outlook, the newspaper for the Diocese of Parramatta in Western Australia.
Asked about the intercommunion controversy and whether he saw signs of hope in Germany, Cardinal Müller responded that, “Unfortunately, our Bishops are thinking more in categories of politics and power and not in this line of the New Evangelisation.”
“Intercommunion is not possible, absolutely, objectively, is not possible because the Communion is the sacramental representation of the communion in the Faith,” he stated. “If you don’t have full communion in the Faith, it’s not possible to have full communion in the sacramental expression, especially in the Eucharist.”
Germany’s bishops chose to allow the Protestant spouses of Catholics to receive Holy Communion in individual cases in February, a majority of the German bishops approving of an “orientation guide” regarding mixed marriages and Communion. The plan had been anticipated for some time, and elicited no surprise coming fromthe largely liberal German episcopate.
The “pastoral assistance” guide was rebuked nationally and internationally as threatening the Catholic Church’s teaching on the Eucharist, and it divided the German Church’s hierarchy. Cardinal Müller had been among those critical of the intercommunion plan, saying the German bishops had misapplied canon law to justify their decision.
The back and forth that ensued over the intercommunion proposal in the following months has done nothing to extinguish the question of whether Pope Francis supports Protestants receiving communion in Catholic churches, which has arisen repeatedly during his pontificate and about which he has sent imprecise signals.
Seven German bishops who opposed the intercommunion proposal had asked the Holy See in early April to step in and render judgment.
The CDF, with the approval of Pope Francis, rejected the German Bishops’ plan for intercommunion later that month. The German bishops denied the reports of the pope having vetoed their plan, and reports also surfaced that Francis had wanted the proposal’s rejection kept private.
Francis then asked the German Bishops in the first part of May to come to a “unanimous” decision on whether to they wished to permit intercommunion.
However, less than a month later he shut the German bishops’ intercommunion proposal down.
The pope’s decision to stop publication of the German bishops’ contentiousdocument came via a letter “with the explicit approval of the Pope” sent from CDF Prefect Archbishop Luis Ladaria, S.J., to Munich Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German Bishops’ conference.
Shortly thereafter, Marx, a supporter of the plan, said he was “surprised” at Pope Francis’ decision that the German bishops should not yet publish their pastoral guide allowing some Protestant spouses of Catholics to receive Holy Communion.
The German bishops subsequently went ahead with publication of their intercommunion plan in late June, claiming to have Francis’ support, and four German bishops have since said they will proceed with the German bishops’ controversial intercommunion guide, while others have said they still expect clarification from Rome.
Cardinal Müller reaffirmed the primacy of Catholic teaching in the Catholic Outlookinterview, and reiterated that intercommunion is not possible.
“Between the Protestants, Lutheran or Calvinists, we have quite a different understanding of the role and the essence of the Church,” he said.
“The Church is not only for us a communion of the individual faithful but is the Body of Christ,” the cardinal noted, “as a sacramental representation of the presence of God, of Christ in the world and therefore we have the other consequences, they have only one sacrament, Baptism, and in a certain way, another understanding of the Eucharist.”
He also repudiated the idea of false ecumenism.
“We have seven sacraments and we cannot say it is all the same and it is enough to have a religious feeling, or sentiment that we are belonging together,” Cardinal Müller said. “That is very good but it’s not enough for the sacramental communion and therefore I hope the German Bishops will find the way back to more a religious and spiritual understanding of the Church and to respect also the fundamentals of the Catholic Faith, that cannot be changed.”