ROME – Pope Francis has told German bishops they can’t publish guidelines on whether non-Catholic spouses may receive Communion, saying the issue concerns the broader Catholic Church and is too important to be dealt with at the local level.
The decision appeared in a letter from the Vatican’s doctrine office that was published by the L’Espresso blog and was confirmed Tuesday in a report on the Vatican’s news portal.
A two-thirds majority of the German bishops’ conference adopted a proposal in February to allow Protestant spouses of Catholics to receive Communion under certain circumstances.
The bishops’ conference approved it in part as a gesture of ecumenical outreach to Protestants in a country where mixed-faith marriages are common.
Seven German bishops wrote the Vatican to request a ruling on whether the guidelines violated Church doctrine.
The Vatican initially declined to rule and asked the German bishops to find a unanimous agreement. But the doctrine office letter dated May 25 made clear the Vatican doesn’t want the Germans to proceed and intends to study the issue further itself.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx, head of the German bishops’ conference, said he was surprised by the letter given the Vatican’s previous request for dialogue.
Marx said in a statement issued by his spokesman he still “sees further need for discussion” within the bishops conference as well as with the Vatican and the pope. He is due to be in Rome starting Monday for the regular meeting of the pope’s top cardinal advisers.