Service challenges Vatican rules

Published September 1, 2003

About 2,500 worshippers, seen waiting for a concert to begin, took part in Ecumenical Kirchentag, a gathering of Germany’s Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. All were invited to receive the eucharist.

A Roman Catholic priest, presiding over a Catholic eucharist in a Protestant church, invited non-Catholics to take communion, challenging Vatican doctrine that forbids such action.

The service took place during the Ecumenical Kirchentag, or church congress, a gathering of Germany?s Protestant and Roman Catholic churches, held May 28 to June 1. It was not part of the official program, but was organized by groups campaigning for church reform.

About 2,500 worshippers heard Rev. Gotthold Hasenhuttl, 69, a Roman Catholic priest and professor of theology, say, “All are invited,” offering the bread and wine to non-Roman Catholics.

Speaking to journalists after the service, Mr. Hasenhuttl said he stood by his actions and claimed he had broken no church rule. “I hope what we have done tonight will take place more and more often,” he told Ecumenical News International.

However, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the Vatican’s chief doctrinal watchdog, had earlier condemned the event, saying it was a “political action,” the German news agency Deutsche Presse Agentur reported.

“A general invitation [to communion] is for us Catholics simply not possible,” said Walter Cardinal Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. “Public pressure, public polemics, demonstrations and controversy” would not help bring about agreement on the eucharist, Cardinal Kasper cautioned at the Kirchentag.

Still, noted Christian Weisner, from Wir sind Kirche (We Are Church), one of the organizers of the service, Protestants and Catholics receiving the eucharist from one another has been “the practice for years, for decades in Germany and elsewhere. It would be an anti-ecumenical signal if this was happening everywhere but [did] not [happen] at this first Ecumenical Kirchentag,” he said in an interview.

Protestant and Catholic organizers of the Kirchentag said they had hoped to find a way for the two groups to share in the eucharist at the Berlin event.

But Pope John Paul’s most recent encyclical, or letter on doctrine, in April, restated traditional Catholic teaching on the matter, putting an end to such hopes for the official program.


Keep on reading

Skip to content