“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 the proposed “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 alarm 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 remain 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 has repeatedly ruled out general intercommunion, while saying that he respects the “personal decision of conscience” of individual Protestants to receive Communion in Catholic churches.
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The 60-year-old bishop told ACI Stampa, CNA’s Italian-language news partner, in a May 6 interview that the current debate was not about a general invitation to Protestants to receive Communion, but rather about the Church’s approach to individual non-Catholic Christians who wish to receive the Eucharist.
He said: “It is not a question of generically extending the invitation to Communion to all non-Catholic Christians.”
He also noted that canon law permits non-Catholics to receive Communion on certain occasions.
Canon 844, § 4, of the Code of Canon Law says: “If the danger of death is present or if, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops, some other grave necessity urges it, Catholic ministers administer these same sacraments licitly also to other Christians not having full communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who seek such on their own accord, provided that they manifest Catholic faith in respect to these sacraments and are properly disposed.”
Bätzing told ACI Stampa: “We must undoubtedly continue the theological dialogue on the importance of the Eucharist and the Lord’s Supper. And fortunately, there are already clear convergences in recent years.”