In a forceful commentary on Pope Francis' decision to not give the German bishops clear guidance on whether Protestants married to Catholics may receive Holy Communion at Mass -- intercommunion -- in some cases, Cardinal William Eijk of the Netherlands said this was "completely incomprehensible" and reminded him of the Church's teaching about its "ultimate trial" and "the price of apostasy from the truth."
Cardinal Eijk, the Archbishop of Utrecht, Netherlands, published his remarks in the May 5 edition of the National Catholic Register.
As the cardinal explained, in recent weeks a large majority of the German bishops voted to allow the Protestant spouses of Catholics to, under certain circumstances, receive Holy Communion at a Catholic Mass. This could occur if the Protestant discerned his (or her) situation with a priest and affirmed the Catholic faith.
However, seven German bishops opposed that idea because it violates the fundamental and long-held teaching of the Church on intercommunion, which says that only in dire situations, such as "danger of death" or "some other grave necessity" may a Protestant receive the Eucharist.
This is the case because Protestants reject Catholic teaching on the Eucharist, among other theological issues, and therefore are not "in communion" with the Church.
Given the differences among the German bishops, they appealed to Pope Francis for guidance. Instead of giving them a clear answer, Pope Francis told the bishops to go back and revisit the issue and try to come to some form of a unanimous deicision.
This is "completely incomprehensible," said Cardinal Eijk. "The Church's doctrine and practice regarding the administration of the Sacrament of the Eucharist to Protestants is perfectly clear." It can only happen in "emergencies, especially where there is a risk of death."
"Intercommunion is, in principle, only possible with Orthodox Christians," the cardinal explained, "because the Eastern Churches, although not in full communion with the Catholic Church, have true sacraments and above all, by virtue of their apostolic succession, a valid priesthood and a valid Eucharist. Their faith in the priesthood, in the Eucharist and also in the Sacrament of Penance is equal to that of the Catholic Church."
"The Holy Father should have given the delegation of the German episcopal conference clear directives, based on the clear doctrine and practice of the Church," said Cardinal Eijk. "[He] is, as the Successor of Saint Peter 'the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity of both the bishops and of the faithful.'"
The cardinal continued, "By failing to create clarity, great confusion is created among the faithful and the unity of the Church is endangered. This is also the case with cardinals who publicly propose to bless homosexual relationships, something which is diametrically opposed to the doctrine of the Church, founded on Sacred Scripture, that marriage, according to the order of creation, exists only between a man and a woman."
"Observing that the bishops and, above all, the Successor of Peter fail to maintain and transmit faithfully and in unity the deposit of faith contained in Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture," siad the cardinal, "I cannot help but think of Article 675 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“The Church’s ultimate trial. Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the ‘mystery of iniquity’ in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth.”
Apostasy means an abandonment or rejection of religious belief.