“As pastors, we respect the decision of conscience when someone receives Holy Communion after serious examination and in accordance with the Catholic faith.”
He issued the letter amid debate over a controversial proposal for a “Eucharistic meal fellowship” between Catholics and Protestants in Germany.
The proposal was made by the Ecumenical Study Group of Protestant and Catholic Theologians (known by its German initials, ÖAK) in a 2019 document entitled “Together at the Lord’s Table.”
The ÖAK adopted the text under the co-chairmanship of Bätzing and the retired Lutheran Bishop Martin Hein.
The study group, founded in 1946, is independent of both the German Catholic bishops’ conference and the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), an organization representing 20 Protestant groups. But the ÖAK informs both bodies about its deliberations.
The ÖAK document raised concerns at the Vatican, prompting an intervention by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in September 2020.
In a four-page critique and a letter to Bätzing, the doctrinal congregation emphasized that significant differences in understanding of the Eucharist and ministry remained between Protestants and Catholics.
“The doctrinal differences are still so important that they currently rule out reciprocal participation in the Lord’s Supper and the Eucharist,” it said.
“The document cannot therefore serve as a guide for an individual decision of conscience about approaching the Eucharist.”
The CDF cautioned against any steps towards intercommunion between Catholics and members of the EKD.
Following the Vatican intervention, Bätzing reaffirmed his view that intercommunion with Protestants should be possible.
The 59-year-old bishop, who succeeded Cardinal Reinhard Marx as president of the German bishops’ conference on March 3, 2020, discussed his stance on the issue with journalists last week.
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Asked how he would respond if a Protestant came to him seeking the Eucharist, he told reporters: “I have no problems with it and I see myself in line with papal documents.”
He added that this was already a “practice” in Germany “every Sunday” and that priests in his Diocese of Limburg would not face negative consequences if a case were reported to him.
He underlined that one should not “simply invite everyone.” But while a general invitation to receive the Eucharist was not permitted, he said it was important to show “respect for the personal decision of conscience of the individual” seeking Communion.
“I do not deny Holy Communion to a Protestant if he asks for it,” he said.
In the letter to his priests, Bätzing said that the ÖAK text represented a “valuable opening” that he did not want “to endanger under any circumstances.”
“Therefore, I strongly expect and emphasize that what I have said above will be observed in the Eucharistic celebrations,” he wrote.