"From the view of the signatories, the goal in a question of such centrality to the Faith and the unity of the Church must be to avoid separate national paths and arrive at a globally unified, workable solution by way of an ecumenical dialogue," the April 4 statement explained.
The request for clarification from Rome follows a February announcement that the German bishops' conference will publish a pastoral handout for married couples that allows Protestant spouses of Catholics "in individual cases" and "under certain conditions" to receive Holy Communion, provided they "affirm the Catholic faith in the Eucharist."
The announcement was made "after intensive debate" at the conclusion of the general assembly of the German bishops' conference, held Feb. 19 - 22.
It would appear that the debate did not achieve clarity for the signatories, namely Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, Archbishop of Cologne, Archbishop Ludwig Schick of Bamberg, as well as Bishops Konrad Zdarsa of Augsburg, Gregor Maria Hanke of Eichstätt, Stefan Oster of Passau and Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg - and Bishop Wolfgang Ipolt of Görlitz.
Notably, five of the seven bishops are based in Bavaria – where Cardinal Marx is Archbishop of Munich and Freising.
Responding with his own letter April 4, the head of the German Bishops' Conference notes that his fellow bishops clearly "have such grave doubts as to whether the proposed solution in Pastoral Guidance on denominational marriages and participation in the Eucharist 'is consistent with the Faith and unity of the Church', that you should ask the President of the [Pontifical] Council for [Promoting] Christian Unity 'for assistance.'"
How the Vatican will answer to the letter is now the decisive question; sources in Rome have told CNA Deutsch that a response is being formulated.
There are practically no historical precedents for the move of the seven bishops, although local media in Germany today drew a comparison to a 1999 debate, when Cardinal Joachim Meisner – then Archbishop of Cologne – wrote directly to the pope, after the majority of German bishops had voted in favor of providing pregnant women with a form of mandated counseling required by the German government in order to legally have an abortion. Ultimately, Pope Saint John Paul II instructed the German bishops to change tack and end their involvement.