Muslim and Protestant politicians receive Communion at German Catholic event

Bishop Gebhard Fürst of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, Germany. Bishop Gebhard Fürst of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, Germany. | Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart.

A Muslim politician and at least one Protestant politician have received Communion at Masses celebrated by bishops during a multi-day Catholic event in Germany.

The same event, held on May 25-29, reportedly barred organizers of the German March for Life from having a stall.

Muhterem Aras, a Turkish-born Muslim and prominent state parliamentarian of Germany’s environmentalist Greens, received Communion at the opening Mass in Stuttgart, southern Germany, celebrated by local Bishop Gebhard Fürst, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

While Aras received the Eucharist, Sabine Foth, president of the Protestant state synod, “kept her distance ‘out of respect for the bishop,’” said the local newspaper Stuttgarter Nachrichten.

CNA Deutsch contacted the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart for comment but had not received a response at the time of publication. At least one Protestant politician did receive Communion at a later date.

The Katholikentag (“Catholics Day”) is a biannual event organized by the local diocese together with the Central Committee of German Catholics, a lay organization supported by the German bishops’ conference.

This year, the event made headlines ahead of its opening when a pro-life organization accused organizers of barring it from having a stall.

The Federal Association for Life oversees the March for Life in Berlin. When applying for a stand at the Katholikentag, it was reportedly told by organizers that they were “unable to determine that your organization is clearly Christian,” according to a statement by the association’s president Alexandra Maria Linder.

Another well-known Protestant politician received Communion personally from Bishop Georg Bätzing, chairman of the German bishops’ conference, at the same event.

Thomas de Maizière, a former defense minister and interior minister who served in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet for 12 years, was seen receiving the Eucharist from Bishop Bätzing, reported CNA Deutsch.

An image of Bätzing giving Communion to the prominent Protestant was posted on Twitter.

A spokesperson for the German bishops’ conference confirmed that Bätzing had been approached by de Maizìere before Mass and the politician subsequently received Communion from the bishop.

The bishops’ spokesperson added there is “not yet full church Communion between the Protestant and Catholic churches and therefore no general communion. A Protestant Christian who has examined himself, shares the faith in the presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, and comes to the Lord’s Table may receive Holy Communion on a case-by-case basis.”

Bätzing has repeatedly expressed qualified support for intercommunion with Protestants, telling journalists in February 2021 that it was necessary to respect the “personal decision of conscience” of those seeking to receive Communion.

Bätzing also led an ecumenical study group that published the 2019 document “Together at the Lord’s Table,” proposing a “Eucharistic meal fellowship” between Catholics and Protestants.

The situation triggered a response by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in September 2020.

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.

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“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 toward intercommunion between Catholics and members of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD).

Following the Vatican intervention, Bätzing reaffirmed his view that intercommunion with Protestants should be possible.

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

There was little sign of such a fellowship being wilfully orchestrated in Stuttgart, CNA Deutsch reported, quoting local media as saying that there was some confusion about who could receive Communion, with one Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion telling a Protestant visitor: “I don’t know. I only know that this is the Body of Christ.”

Despite the controversies, a survey showed that most Catholics are not interested in the event, CNA Deutsch reported. Attendance numbers are dwindling, while the costs are extensive, with the Stuttgart event expected to cost more than 10 million euros (around $11 million).

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