Catholics and Protestants in Germany announce intercommunion move despite Vatican objections

Thomas Sternberg, president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), speaks at a ‘Synodal Way’ press conference Thomas Sternberg, president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), speaks at a ‘Synodal Way’ press conference. | Rudolf Gehrig/CNA Deutsch.

Catholics and Protestants in Germany announced on Tuesday that they would press ahead with intercommunion at an event in May despite Vatican objections.

In a March 16 press release, organizers of the third Ecumenical Church Congress (ÖKT) in Frankfurt said that they planned to invite Christians to attend celebrations “in many churches” both in the city and across Germany on May 15.

According to CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, they said: “Christians of all denominations have the opportunity on this evening to come and enter, to get to know different traditions and -- following their own conscience -- to celebrate the living memory of Jesus Christ.”

“The signal should go out from Frankfurt to continue to seek ecumenical togetherness, in everyday life and in the mutual visit of congregations.”

Thomas Sternberg, president of the influential Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), was quoted in the press release as saying that any baptized Christians could make a “decision of conscience” to partake of the celebrations, based on a statement of “Common Witness” adopted in the fall of 2020 by the ÖKT’s leadership.

“The doors are open,” said Sternberg, who is also co-president of the German Church’s controversial “Synodal Way,” together with Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, president of the German Catholic bishops’ conference.

The event has already raised alarm at the Vatican, which objected to a proposal for a “Eucharistic meal fellowship” between Catholics and Protestants last September.

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 document raised concerns at the Vatican, prompting an intervention by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

In a four-page critique and 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 Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), an organization representing 20 Protestant groups.

Cardinal Kurt Koch, prefect of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, has also expressed serious misgivings about the “Eucharistic meal fellowship” proposal.

Earlier this month, Bätzing wrote to priests in Limburg diocese, which also includes the city of Frankfurt, where the ÖKT will take place.

He said in a March 1 letter to clergy that they could give Holy Communion to non-Catholic individuals if they requested it after examining their consciences.

In the four-page letter, he told priests that there could, however, be “no general, inter-denominational reception of the Eucharist” or “new forms of Eucharistic celebration.”

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He wrote: “The prerequisite for a worthy reception of the Eucharistic gifts, for both Catholics and non-Catholics, is the examination of one’s conscience.”

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