EVANGELICAL and Roman Catholic leaders in Germany have vowed to press ahead with moves towards intercommunion, despite Vatican warnings that the plan failed to satisfy doctrinal requirements.
“We will follow this up; the discussion isn’t over,” the chairman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany, Dr Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, said. “We are now so close, and I sense a very strong will among Catholic bishops to get ahead as well.”
The 60-year-old Protestant bishop spoke shortly before being jointly awarded the 2020 ecumenical Augsburg Peace Prize with Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the former president of the German Bishops’ Conference, for contributions to interfaith dialogue.
Dr Bedford-Strohm told the Munich-based Bayern Radio that he was disappointed that the proposals had been rejected by Rome, but remained confident that intercommunion would come. Cardinal Marx said that the plans were “already far advanced”, leaving “the ball in the Vatican’s court”.
“I would like to see Christians celebrate the eucharist together, without becoming a unified Church,” the Cardinal told the same radio interviewer. “Ecumenism only works if we try to understand the position of others and sometimes accept differences.”
The proposal for “reciprocal eucharistic hospitality” was tabled in September 2019 by a working group of Protestant and RC theologians, and conditionally welcomed in May by members of the EKD Council and Bishops’ Conference.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in Rome, warned in a mid-September statement that the theologians’ proposal contained “doctrinal errors”, and said that intercommunion could not be left to “individual decisions of conscience”.
In a statement last week, the German Bishops’ Conference said that it understood that the issue needed “general clarification” to avoid jeopardising church unity.
The EKD, representing 20 regional Evangelical Churches, or Landeskirchen, said that it also accepted that there were “differences in practice and understanding” between the Protestant and Roman Catholic rites.
The controversy coincides with the RC Church’s Synodal Way forum, launched last December, which is debating authority, participation, and power in the Church, as well as sexual morality, priestly ministry, and the part played by women in church life.
Speaking last week, the retired Bishop Heinz Algermissen said that the Pope had expressed “grave concern” about current developments in the German Church, after initially approving the forum.
This was questioned by the Synodal Way’s Jesuit co-director, Fr Bernd Hagenkord, who dismissed suggestions in a radio interview that the RC Church in Germany stood poised to “go its own way”.