German president, celebrities: churches should share communion

The German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, says the Catholic Church should allow Protestants to receive Communion.

He offered his opinion at Katholikentag, a Muenster-based conference drawing tens of thousands of Catholics from German-speaking Europe.

“Let us seek ways of expressing the common Christian faith by sharing in the Last Supper and Communion. I am sure thousands of Christians in interdenominational marriages are hoping for this.”

Steinmeier said he was speaking “not as Federal President, but as an avowed Evangelical Christian who lives in an interdenominational marriage.”

His views followed last week’s Vatican direction to German bishops to come to an agreement among themselves about whether Protestants married to Catholics may receive Communion under certain circumstances.

While most of the German bishops’ conference supported the sharing of communion, seven said it violated Church teaching.

The issue dominated the Katholikentag conference.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who is the president of the German bishops’ conference and the main proponent of the plan, echoed Steinmeier’s words.

“When someone is hungry and has faith, they must have access to the Eucharist. That must be our passion, and I will not let up on this,” he said.

He says Protestant spouses of Catholics “in individual cases” and “under certain conditions” may receive Holy Communion, provided they “affirm the Catholic faith in the Eucharist.”

One celebrity who spoke at the conference was Protestant German comedian, Eckart von Hirschhausen.

He demanded to be “handed that wafer” because, since he is married to a Catholic, he pays Church tax.

“I don’t see the point of a public debate about wafers,” he said, referring to the Blessed Sacrament. In his view, climate change is a far more serious issue.

He later apologised for his comments.

Cardinal Rainer Woelki disagreed. “As a Catholic, I would never speak of a wafer,” he said.

“Using this concept alone demonstrates that we have a very different understanding” of the Blessed Sacrament, in which “Catholics encounter Christ Himself.”

Woelki called for all parties to “consider and recognise that the Eucharist is ordered to the unity of the creed.”

Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg criticised the tone of the conference, saying it was in danger of being “intrumentalised” by supporters of the proposal.

Public pressure that does not appreciate the depth of the doctrinal issues at stake is very unhelpful, he said.

In his view, the intercommunion debate in Germany is a matter of doctrine that requires the unanimity of the universal Church if it is to proceed.


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