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The Council of Christian Churches in Nuremberg

On the Question of Sharing Communion
Interchurch Marriages and Families

A Report on the Problem

Text and Documentation

Second, extended edition January 1998

Copyright of the Publisher Peter Athmann Nuremberg 1998. Printed in Germany.

All rights reserved. This work and its constituent parts are protected by copyright. All use (eg reproduction by any means, translation, electronic processing) requires the written agreement of the publisher.

Editors: Dr. Hartmut Hövelmann, Max-Josef Schuster, Peter-Johannes Athmann

Printing: DDZ ArminHirschmann, Wendelstein



Preface to the new edition

Preface to the first edition

Text of the "Report on the Problem"

I. The starting point.

II. What do church worship and Church, Word and Sacramental Practice signify in marriage between Christians?

III. If the churches represented among us do not admit those who belong to other churches to communion, what exceptional situations and special regulations can be considered?

IV. The plea.


1. Making the Report (Problemanzeige) known; reactions to it - a preliminary overview.

2. Chronology: "Eucharistic sharing in the case of interchurch marriages and families".

3. Letter from the Council of Churches in Nuremberg to Archbishop Dr Karl Braun (07.09.95).

4. Reply from the Archbishop of Bamberg, Dr Karl Braun, in dialogue with the Council of Churches of Bavaria as represented by the Council of Churches of Nuremberg (24.10.95).

5. "Ending this pastoral hardship" - Interview with Dr Hartmut Hövelmann in Blicktpunkt Kirche 19.11.95.

6. Present in German edition but not translated in English version: Answer by the Ecumenical Commission of the German Bishops’ Conference (11.02.97). (See detailed commentary below in 7, 8, and 9, and Pastoral Dialogue with Dr Hartmut Hövelmann)

7. Press statement by the Council of Churches in Nuremberg on the reply of the Ecumenical Commission (19.02.97).

8. A Canon Law evaluation from the Roman Catholic perspective. Statement by the Viennese canon lawyer Prof. Dr. Bruno Primetshofer (June 1997).

9. Report of the Roman Catholic representative of the VELKD (united Protestant-Lutheran Church of Germany), Bishop Dr. Hans Christian Knuth, at the General synod of the VELKD on 21.10.97 (extracts).

In grave spiritual need - pastoral dialogue

What contribution does the reply by the Ecumenical Commission of the German Bishops’ Conference make? (Dr. Hartmut Hövelmann).

Publishing and ordering details

A final plea

Publisher’s information

Abbreviations frequently used:

AcK Arbeitsgemeinschaft christlicher Kirchen, or Council of Churches: churches and free churches working together at local, regional and national level. Addresses;

AcK in Nuremberg: Königstrasse 79, 90402 Nuremberg
Tel. 0911-20 95 02, Fax 0911-241 89 35

AcK in Bavaria: Marsstrasse 18, 80335 Munich
Tel. 089-54 82 83-97/98, Fax 089-54 82 83-99

National AcK: Ökumenische Zentrale
Ludolfusstr. 2-4, 60487 Frankfurt/M.
Tel. 069-24 70 27-0

CIC Abbreviation for "Codex Iuris Canonici"; ie Code of Canon Law (of the Roman Catholic Church);

Latin/German edition: Codex Iuris Canonici/Codex des Kanonischen Rechtes, Kevelaer 1983 (Butzon & Bercker). Published by Pope John Paul II 1983 as legally binding for the Latin Church.

EKD Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland – Protestant Church in Germany
(Herrenhäuser Str. 12, 30419 Hannover, Tel. 0511-2796-0)

KKK Katechismus der Katholischen Kirche, Munich/Vienna 1993 (Catechism of the Catholic Church) (published among others by Oldenbourg). The World Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church commissioned by Pope John Paul II and drawn up by a team of theologians.

ÖD "Ökumenisches Directorium" or Ecumenical Directory; Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity: Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism (25.03.1993) – official, internationally valid text on Ecumenism from standpoint of the Roman Catholic Church; available from the Sekretatiat der Deutschen Bishofskonferenz, Kaiserstrasse 163, 53113 Bonn, Tel. 0228-1030. Published in English by CTS publications, 38-40 Eccleston Square, London SW1V 1PD, Tel. 0171 640 0042.

VELKD Vereinigte Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche Deutschlands: union of regional Lutheran churches with shared orders of worship, shared confessional statement and shared order of life; the central Lutheran church office is at Richard-Wagner-Strasse 26, 30177 Hannover.

UR "Unitas Redintegratio": Decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council of 21st November 1964; available from the Sekretatiat der Deutschen Bishofskonferenz, Kaiserstrasse 163, 53113 Bonn, Tel. 0228-1030. The Vatican Council documents are available in English from St Paul Multimedia, 199 Kensington High Street, London W8 6BA, Tel 0171 937 9591

Preface to the new edition

Dear Readers

This booklet demonstrates that where people’s situations are concerned it is worthwhile taking up initiatives. It is worthwhile representing their cases with church leaders through a patient ecumenical dialogue of mutual understanding.

As the Council of Christian Churches (AcK) we are pleased and grateful for the answer by the Ecumenical Commission of the German Bishops’ Conference to our request to enable interchurch families to share the Eucharist in the Roman Catholic Church on pastoral grounds.

We know that not all families and observers of the ecumenical scene regard this answer as real progress. Yet we are convinced: as it continues to become known, in many cases it will bring an end to spiritual difficulties for families and open up new perspectives in life and faith.

This is why we are publishing a second extended edition of this report. It gives you the opportunity to see the results for yourself. We thank all who have sent critical and encouraging comments and who have supported our efforts through their own initiatives.

Our next task is to take up more intensively our contacts with representatives of the Orthodox Churches and engage in discussion about the situation of interchurch families and their wish to share the Eucharist.

Nuremberg, January 1998

For the AcK in Nuremberg: Hartmut Wenzel, President

Preface to the first edition

Dear Readers,

The Council of Christian Churches in Nuremberg (AcK Nuremberg), with the support of the Council of Christian Churches in Bavaria (AcK Bavaria), has compiled this report. In it we ask the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches to offer eucharistic hospitality to the partners in interchurch marriages. The representatives of the different churches taking part have discovered in compiling this report how important dialogue between the different denominations is on this question today.

Our hope is that our reflections and the movement we have initiated will help the process to advance. The process has already begun. Its aim is that all interchurch families of all the churches of the Council of Churches should be able to share communion together.

For The Council of Christian Churches in Nuremberg:

Hartmut Wenzel, Chairman

Nuremberg, March 1996

Text of the Report


1 Of the 227,906 Roman Catholics in Nuremberg (figure for 1993) 80,046 are married. Of these 25,317 are Roman Catholics married to Roman Catholics; 24,065 are in Roman Catholic/ Evangelical-Lutheran marriages; 5,347 are Roman Catholics married to others. The situation is similar in the Evangelical-Lutheran churches in Nuremberg. For Baptists and Methodists, twice as many are married to same church partners as those who live in interchurch marriages.

According to the marriage register of the Evangelical-Reformed Church in Nuremberg from 1980 to 1993, only a tenth of marriages recorded are Reformed to Reformed, compared to 40% Reformed-Lutheran, and the same proportion Reformed-Roman Catholic.

2. In the largely denominationally uniform rural areas loving someone of a different denomination is today generally no impediment to marriage. Interchurch marriage is not any longer an exceptional or special case, but just as much the norm as same church marriage.

The way in which the state of affairs changes in a pluralistic society with greater mobility does not constitute a normative force. On the other hand it cannot be treated as something irrelevant to the norm, for same church marriage before the time of the great influx of refugees was less a result of conscious decisions and much more the product of the enclosed environment, thus itself conditioned by society.

3. Interchurch marriage as far as the family is concerned is an area of pastoral concern. The question of sharing communion is thus to be seen as distinct from the question of intercommunion, which is one of dogma (1).

What is at issue is not that Christians should be able to receive communion at the Lord's Table where and when they wish. It is simply a question of the exclusion, case after case, of interchurch marriage partners or members of their families. At the celebration of the Eucharist there is no eucharistic hospitality for them.

4. Eucharistic hospitality is no problem overall where churches have declared themselves in communion with one another.

Among the Bavarian churches of the AcK the Orthodox Churches and the Roman Catholic Church restrict the invitation to receive communion to members of their own denominations because of the strict connection they make between Eucharist and church community.

The separation of the churches is experienced by no one so painfully as by the interchurch couples and their families, the living members of these churches.

For this reason the ecumenical study group (the ecumenical representatives of the parishes) of the AcK in Nuremberg drew up the following resolution in March 1993:

In view of the situation in which couples of different church membership live, the member churches of the AcK are urgently requested to allow eucharistic sharing where this expresses the united faith of these couples.

The Ecumenical Committee of the AcK in Nuremberg, which had the task of taking this request forward, called first on the Council of Christian Churches in Bavaria. This body set up a joint commission of members of the Bavarian and Nuremberg Councils of Christian Churches with the task of working in more detail on the problems raised.

5. With a lack of official rulings and in view of the pastoral situation of people in interchurch marriages and their families, the practice has developed unofficially in very many Roman Catholic and some Orthodox parishes of turning a blind eye to their participation.

In some Roman Catholic and in most of the Orthodox parishes, on the other hand, care is taken that those receiving the Blessed Sacrament are strictly members of that church. And so the question of sharing communion is drifting off into an arbitrary and subjective dependence on the opinion of the minister at the Eucharist. It is immediately clear that this cannot be an acceptable solution. And so what is needed is

- to reflect on the significance of Word and Sacramental practice in marriage between Christians and

- to work on the question of how to set out the pastoral grounds for the eucharistic sharing which is desired.


1. All the AcK churches must first ask themselves whether they can conceive of a communion of marriage which does not need Eucharistic communion.

2. "The marriage covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of their whole life and which of its own very nature is ordered to the well being of the spouses and to the creation and upbringing of children has, between the baptised, been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament" (can.1055 para 1 CIC (2)). Thus marriage is a sacrament according to Roman Catholic understanding. "The sacrament of Matrimony signifies the union of Christ and the Church. It gives spouses the grace to love each other with the love with which Christ has loved his Church; the grace of the sacrament thus perfects the human love of the spouses, strengthens their indissoluble unity and sanctifies them on the way to eternal life" (KKK, 1661 (2))

"The entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church. Already baptism, the entry into the people of God, is a nuptial mystery; [it] is so to speak the "nuptial bath", which precedes the wedding feast, the Eucharist." (KKK, 1617).

"The Lord addresses an invitation to us, urging us to receive him in the sacrament of Eucharist" (KKK, 1384)"The Church sets a duty on believers... 'to be present at the Sunday and Feast day Liturgy' (Orientalium Ecclesiarum (3) 15) and … receive the Eucharist at least once a year at Eastertide. But the Church strongly encourages the faithful to receive the holy Eucharist on Sundays and feast days or more often still, even daily" (KKK, 1389)For "the Eucharist is 'the source and summit of the Christian life' (Lumen Gentium (4) 11)" (KKK, 1324).

"By the Eucharistic celebration we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all" (KKK, 1326)"The Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith" (KKK, 1327).

"The Eucharist makes the Church. Those who receive the Eucharist are united more closely to Christ. Through it Christ unites them to all the faithful in one body - the Church.... In baptism we have been called to form but one body. The Eucharist fulfills this call " (KKK, 1396).

Thus the significance of sharing in the Eucharist and the duty to receive the Eucharist are established. Likewise then we are able to speak of the connection between the sacraments of marriage and Holy Communion: "the remaining sacraments are held together in their connection through the Eucharist; they depend on the Eucharist"(Presbyterium Ordinis (5) 5).

It should be noted that in the 1993 Ecumenical Directory the first concern mentioned when considering interchurch married couples is no longer the safeguarding of the Roman Catholic belief of the Roman Catholic party, but the strength and stability of the indissoluble marital union (ÖD (6) Directory, 1993, n. 144).

3. P. Neuner points out that according to Roman Catholic understanding the sacramental nature of marriage holds good both for a marriage celebrated in the Roman Catholic rite and also for a marriage celebrated according to an Evangelical form of service performed with a dispensation from Canonical form.

So it is in the nature of the marriage sacrament for Church rather than schism to be what develops in marriage (CfNeuner, A Roman Catholic Proposal on Eucharistic Sharing, KNA-ÖKI (7) 45/1994).

Let us look at the unity of church communion and eucharistic communion that is sought. Let us assume that the church communion is both precondition of eucharistic communion and on the other hand comes into being through it and grows stronger through it.

Then one must take very seriously the proposition that interchurch marriage also is Church: it has the form of the basic sacrament of Church. Let us consider that any division of Church remaining is encompassed by the sacramental nature of the marriage between baptised Christians, who live as domestic Church (op cit 9). Neuner's work in demonstrating "a way on the Roman Catholic side to go forward to eucharistic sharing in special cases" cannot be disregarded (op cit 10).

4. The Reforming churches do not see marriage as a sacrament. It belongs much more to the Christian calling. Insofar as marriage is understood as not part of the order of creation, the inherent goodness of marriage is not part of given reality but rather counsel given by God. In Genesis 1 he judges companionship "very good" for people as opposed to the "not good" of being alone, and God's counsel is heard when his Word is spoken at the marriage.

Although, in the sense of the general priesthood of the people, married people experience the benefits of one another as Christians, the goodness of marriage dwells not in the image or the goodness of the partner, but in the "very good" which God pronounced. Married couples entrust themselves to this in all adversities and crises and here they can find comfort.

God's counsel is always there to be taken afresh where his Word is set forth and celebrated. Because God wills his dealings with us to be through his Word and Sacrament (ASm(8), III. Teil, Summa), married people need the Word and the Sacrament beyond the once spoken Word at the "church wedding", as it is called.

Anything other than eucharistic sharing for interchurch couples would be a contradiction of God's judgement "very good". The exclusion of one partner from the Lord's Supper in the other's church would counteract the "very good" of God to bring about being alone in the Church. One could no longer hear from God that marriage is "very good", even when this marriage had been made before God and with his blessing.

5. There is an anomaly here, where baptism is recognised as fundamental and complete in another church, but those so baptised remain excluded from the Lord's Supper. The ancient Church was right to reject the failure to recognise baptism in the conflict over heretical baptism. Is this not ruined where the difference in denomination and not baptism becomes the measure of who is to receive communion? The recognition of baptism is always held as founded on Christ, who baptises and claims his own. Who is Lord of the Supper at the Lord's Supper?

6. This is the reason why the Reformed churches world wide already in 1954 decided on admission to Holy Communion for "each baptised person who knows and loves Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour".

In 1975 the VELKD (9), in their document A Pastoral Recommendation on the Question of Eucharistic sharing by Evangelical-Lutheran and Roman Catholic Christians at the Eucharist celebrated by the other Church, made the following resolution. "In principle it is open to each baptised Christian who approaches in trust in Christ's spoken promise which he gave us in his words of institution, to come to the Lord's Table." (Text from VELKD 15/1981, 5)

Similarly from the EKD (Evangelical Churches of Germany) come the Arnoldshainer Theses on the Lord's Supper. Without attempting to harmonise the Lutheran, Reformed and Uniate understandings of the Eucharist, they finish with the sentence: "Since the Lord is bountiful to all who call on Him, all His members are called to His Supper, and the promise of forgiveness of sins is for all who long for God's kingdom." (These VIII, 3)

The Old Catholic practice follows this line. Their statement runs: the invitation goes out to all the baptised. Christ himself is High Priest and Offering. It is He who invites. This does not in any way mean that the Old Catholic Church abandons its sacramental understanding of marriage.

7. Since the churches understand that the importance of sharing in the Eucharist is indispensable for the salvation, the strengthening of belief, the love and the hope of Christians, the churches must do all that they can to ensure that those who believe are blessed by receiving communion.

One can no longer call on arguments about difference in eucharistic belief. If the churches joined in the AcK really take their calling to be one in Christ seriously, they will not seek for arguments to shut fellow Christians out of sharing in the Body of Christ, but they will seek for ways to make the invitation possible.


1. Again we must maintain firmly that this is not about intercommunion. It is not about a situation in which Christians, as if they were trying some Greek cooking today, some Turkish tomorrow, Italian the next day and Franconian regional food next Sunday, go to receive Communion today in this and tomorrow in that church. It is about pastoral care of interchurch couples and their families, who join together to celebrate the Eucharist. It is to prevent the Eucharist from separating them. "That very strong drive for eucharistic sharing that we experience at the moment lies... .near the supposition that nothing happens without the working of the Holy Spirit." (Neuner, A Roman Catholic Proposal for Eucharistic Sharing, KNA-ÖKI 45/1994, 5).

2. One step in this direction may be "intention to take part" (10). According to this, communion has truly been received if someone has longed to receive but has been prevented from doing so by circumstances beyond his/her control.

The churches that cannot yet resolve the question of eucharistic hospitality should state whether this way of analysing the difficulty could apply to interchurch couples and their families.

3. It is important that the churches, whether they have already granted eucharistic hospitality or not, make it clear in the course of the service that they are aware of the problem and of the people who suffer from it.

And so the invitation to communion should always be accompanied by a word to the marriage partner and family members of interchurch families present at the Eucharist. Mutual respect between the churches joined in the AcK requires that each church uses a form of words for which it can in conscience take responsibility.

In the churches that do not yet recognise eucharistic hospitality the priest should give an invitation to the eucharistic worship, should make a special greeting to Christians from other churches and should express his joy at their presence at the celebration of the Eucharist, even though communion may not yet be offered to them.

Respect is required, however, for the fundamental disciplines of the other churches, (cf. Directory, 1993, n. 107) in that these, as they look to Christ as the Lord at his Table, invite all Christians in the world- wide church who believe in the Lord Jesus, confess their faith in him and are communicants, to share in the Lord’s supper.

4. Heinz-Albert Raem, theologian at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, points out in his introduction to The New Ecumenical Directory (KNA-ÖKI n. 25/1993) that Roman Catholic theology must not take as its only starting point the dogmatic principle which says that the witness to the unity of the church is the fundamental principle forbidding a non Roman Catholic Christian to be a full participant at the Roman Catholic Eucharist.

Beside this stands the fundamental pastoral principle that a believer should not be robbed of the spiritual fruit of the sacrament of the Eucharist without legitimate reason, because the Eucharist is essential for every Christian as the sacrament bringing full unity with Christ and perfecting the spiritual life. (cf. The Instruction on Admission to Communion in particular cases n. 3, issued by the Secretariat for Christian Unity).

Raem points out that these two principles must always be seen together. But this implication then follows: the dogmatic rule has its particular pastoral exceptions. Three years earlier Wolfgang Thönissen in his Theses on the Theme of Eucharistic and Ecclesial Communion (KNA-ÖKI n. 34/1990, 6ff) had noted and stated as his belief that pastoral care for the welfare of souls (salus animarum lex suprema) definitely would justify an exceptional situation in which a non-Roman Catholic Christian could be granted admission to eucharistic communion in the Roman Catholic Church. According to this document the other exceptional circumstances which are valid are being unable to have recourse for the sacrament to a minister of his or her own church community, danger of death and serious (spiritual) need.

For Thönissen "just so too the situations of interchurch couples and families " show "that serious spiritual need which in the end can lead to loss of faith". And he goes on to say that if a denial to a non Roman Catholic Christian of exceptional Eucharistic sharing at the Roman Catholic Eucharist might lead to loss of faith….then the principle of 'pastoral care for the welfare of souls' would claim: "the pressing risk to faith in interchurch couples and families, which represents a serious spiritual need makes lawful the permitting of a Protestant Christian to receive at the Roman Catholic celebration of the Eucharist."

5 It is unmistakable that the Roman Catholic Church in contrast to the Orthodox churches, although it does not recognise any general Eucharistic hospitality, has a deep feeling for the pastoral dimension of the problem. The Ecumemical Directory of 1993 points out in four places exceptions to the rule that non-Roman Catholics are excluded from receiving communion at the Eucharist or that Roman Catholics may go to communion only in their own Church:

- n. 123 explains when a Roman Catholic "for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Roman Catholic minister" may receive communion from a non-Roman Catholic minister of an Eastern Church;

- n. 125 explains when a Roman Catholic minister may administer communion to an Orthodox Christian;

- n. 129 explains "that in certain circumstances, by way of exception and under certain conditions", communion may be granted to "Christians of other Churches and ecclesial communities";

- n. 132 explains that a Roman Catholic "in .. circumstances [nn. 130, 131] may ask for these sacraments only from a minister in whose Church these sacraments are valid or from one who is known to be validly ordained according to the Roman Catholic teaching on ordination".

In n.104 is a reminder to be "made more aware of the necessity for overcoming the separations which still exist".

That the question in interchurch marriage is not only a dogmatic one but also a pastoral one is advanced in n. 143 as the "general pastoral care of every Bishop or regional Conference of Bishops". Where these judge it useful (n. 146), "diocesan bishops, synods of Eastern Catholic Churches or Episcopal Conferences could draw up more specific guidelines for this pastoral care" (a formulation applicable to the problem of eucharistic hospitality).

6. Attention should also be drawn to the conclusions in "Worship", drawn up by the joint synod of the dioceses of West Germany (Würzburg 1975).

Here is stated at clause 5.8: "the ever-painful experience of separation at the Lord's Table should stimulate us to theological discussion and to prayer for that full unity for which the Lord prayed to His Father in the Upper Room and which ought to find its expression in the shared Eucharist."

At clause 5.5 ("Roman Catholic participation in the Lord's Supper") is the statement: "it cannot be ruled out that a Roman Catholic Christian - following the guidance of his own conscience - in his particular situation believes that he recognises reasons which make his sharing in the Evangelical Lord's Supper appear an inner necessity for him.

Where this is concerned he ought to consider that such a sharing does not correspond to the inner connection between Eucharist and ecclesial community, especially in regard to the understanding of ministerial orders. In resolving this question which he sees posed for him, he should neither endanger his belonging in his own church, nor should his decision amount to a denial of his own belief or of his own church, nor should it suggest such an interpretation to other people."

The following conclusion from clause 5.4.2 has in mind the opposite situation, that of a non-Roman Catholic Christian sharing in the Eucharist:

"The synod asks the Bishops to be aware of all the legitimate possibilities of opening the approach to the Eucharist to other Christians, if they desire it. Necessary preconditions for a member of another church to receive communion are above all an awareness of incorporation through baptism in the community of believers, sharing the Roman Catholic Church’s belief in the Eucharist, a longing for fellowship with Christ in the Eucharist, a personal connection with the life of the Roman Catholic Church (for example through a marriage partner and similarly through children, or through a shared commitment with Roman Catholic Christians to service of people or to the unity of the church), a concern for the unity of the church, adequate preparation and a Christian lifestyle….

Over and above that the Synod asks the Bishops' Conference to examine whether there may not also be 'sufficient grounds' for admitting a Protestant Christian even if it were possible for this person to receive communion in his own church.

Such grounds might for example be a concern for the family's life of faith in an interchurch family."

7. In the same year, 1975, the VELKD made the following declaration in its instruction on pastoral theology:

"If Evangelical Lutheran Christians in certain cases wish to receive communion at a celebration of the Eucharist in a Roman Catholic parish church, they may have confidence that the crucified and risen Jesus Christ gives himself to them in the form of his Body by virtue of his Word at the institution of the Lord's Supper.

Whoever approaches the Lord's Table in such a belief is then confessing Christ, is repenting of his sins and is praising God's mercy in his son through the Holy Spirit.

It is our conviction that there cannot be any other precondition for Christians to receive communion.

Provided that the Evangelical Lutheran Christians are aware of this, we do not see ourselves as having grounds of authority to refuse them in certain cases the sharing in the Roman Catholic celebration of the Eucharist. By taking part in the Roman Catholic Church in the Lord's Supper understood in this way, Evangelical Lutheran Christians, in our view, are not giving up their belonging to their church; they are entering as it were into a spiritual communion with the parish which is celebrating the Lord's Supper, but in teaching and law they are not incorporating themselves into the Roman Catholic Church by doing this.

If in certain cases members of the Roman Catholic Church, trusting in the Word of Christ and in accordance with his invitation, wish to receive communion at the Lord's Supper in an Evangelical Lutheran service, we do not see ourselves as empowered to prevent this solely on the grounds that they are not members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. We expect however of all who approach the Lord's Table that they recognize the Holy Communion in our worship as being according to the Lord's foundation, and we are sure in our knowledge that a communicant of the Roman Catholic Church has a share in the fellowship of the confession of sins, hearing the Word, receiving Communion and in the thanksgiving of the whole worship of the parish. This brings us to the point that such a communicant does not through this alienate himself from his own church. Membership in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the legal church sense is not achieved through receiving Communion at the Lord's Supper when it is understood in this way."


A heartfelt plea goes out to the appropriate Greek Orthodox and Serbian Orthodox bishops, but especially, since the Roman Catholic Church shows so much sensitivity to the pastoral aspects of the problem, to the diocesan bishops of Bamberg and Eichstätt, that they might consider, and draw up, guidelines for pastoral ministry which will not bar interchurch marriage partners and families who have been validly baptised from receiving communion together.


1 Making the Report (Problemanzeige) known; the reactions to it – a preliminary overview

In March 1996 1000 copies of the first edition of the Report by the Nuremberg AcK were published. By July 1997 the edition was completely sold out. Sceptics had expressed fears that the report would gather dust on the shelves; no one would be interested in a detailed theological text of this sort. After one year it is plain that the sceptics were wrong. There is large scale interest in the theme of eucharistic hospitality and a cautiously argued, realistic theological text can become a long running best seller – and that without any great advertising effort to boost it.

There were requests for the booklet from the whole of German-speaking Europe. In Austria and Switzerland it was chiefly Roman Catholic institutes which registered their interest. In Germany on the other hand, as well as orders from diocesan authorities and from other official levels in the church (for instance, from those involved in the pastoral care of marriage and families), there were also orders from pastors at the grass roots level and from individuals. Married couples with an ecumenical interest or a direct interest asked for the text for themselves, and also for use in discussion groups and training sessions. It is fair to assume that the coverage was relatively widespread. At the second Ecumenical Assembly in Graz in June 1997 the Report (with the letter of reply from the Ecumenical Commission) was on display at a stand in the Agora.

It was not only Roman Catholic and Lutheran Church institutions that ordered the text. Interest extended to other Christian denominations.

There were relatively few written responses, but they were all exceptionally positive. Above all it was interchurch couples who encouraged us to follow up what we had started. From telephone conversations and words exchanged face to face the same picture emerged: many people affected by the situation were happy with this initiative – some spoke also of their surprise. They had given up hope that "such a thing" as our report could come from "the Church" or the churches. In the early stages many people were extremely sceptical about the chances of success. Over and over again doubts were expressed about whether the Roman Catholic bishops were at all prepared to make any pastoral advance over this. Some prophesied that the text would "end in the waste paper basket". Many people have evidently come to terms silently with the fact that they are "really" doing something which is unauthorised when they go together to receive communion as interchurch families. It has seemed to them that nothing can be done about this unhealthy state of affairs. The other thing that became clear in the course of conversations is the fatal consequences which such a precarious position can have on the belief of Christians and their relationships with the Church.

There is all the more cause for us to rejoice over the ruling we now have. We regard our efforts to make the ruling widely known as a small contribution to correcting a negative picture of the Roman Catholic Church and to showing the families affected that the Roman Catholic Church sees their situation and is ready to take the steps which are possible for her. We hope that interchurch families will be encouraged by this to live out their faith with an awareness that they are within the Church.

In the overview that follows, the eventful history of the report and the reactions to it so far are set out chronologically. After this comes a small but encouraging selection of texts which evaluate the pastoral ruling on Eucharistic sharing for interchurch families from various view points. In addition we are pleased at further official reports on how the answer of the Ecumenical Commission is taking shape in individual dioceses, and at the value that the other churches within the Councils of Churches set on the guideline established.

2. Chronology

"Sharing Communion in the Case of Interchurch Marriages and Families"

  • The decision of the Nuremberg ecumenical delegates
  • The report of the Nuremberg AcK
  • The answer from the Ecumenical Commission of the German Bishops’ Conference
  • Further development

09.03.93 The 'Ecumenical Working Group' of the Nuremberg AcK (Ecumenical delegates from the parishes of the eight churches represented in the Nuremberg AcK) decides to ask for eucharistic hospitality between all the member churches of the AcK in the case of interchurch marriages and families (cited in the "Problemanzeige" as I. 4. See above).

The Ecumenical Committee of the Nuremberg AcK, the deciding body, forwards this decision to the AcK in Bavaria.

01.07.93 The standing committee of the AcK in Bavaria proposes that a mixed committee of members of the AcK in Bavaria and of the Nuremberg AcK should look at this question. Its object is "to make some further progress in this pastoral question".

A small committee decides on the structure of the mixed committee and its way of working.

24.09.93 The Nuremberg AcK agrees the proposed structure.

22.10.93 The standing committee of the AcK in Bavaria sets up the mixed committee.

24.11.93 1. Session of the mixed committee, in which representatives of almost all the member churches of the AcK work together.

Members of the committee:

From the AcK in Bavaria:

  • Bernhard Heitz, Rosenheim (Dean, Old Catholic)
  • Dr. Max Hopfner, Regensburg (Canon, Roman Catholic)
  • Fr. Dr. Coelestin Patock OSA, Würzburg (Augustinian father, Roman Catholic)
  • Ursula Stahl, Bayreuth (teacher, Roman Catholic)
  • Gudrun Steineck, Hofheim/Murnau (interpreter, Evangelical Lutheran)
  • Fr. Dr. Gerhard Voss OSB, Niederaltaich (Benedictine father, Roman Catholic)
  • Until 1997:Dr. Wieland Zademach, Munich (Minister and secretary of the AcK in Bavaria, Evangelical Lutheran)
  • Christine Plag, Munich (secretary, Evangelical Reformed)

From the AcK in Nürnberg:

  • Waltrad Hammer (Social Education worker, Methodist)
  • Dr Hartmut Hövelmann (Minister, Evangelical Lutheran)
  • Max-Josef Schuster (Dipl. Theology, Roman Catholic)
  • Richard Sporrer (Dipl. Theology, Roman Catholic)
  • Hartmut Wenzel (President, Evangelical Reformed)

Father Coelestin Patock acts on the committee as representative of the Orthodox position.

The secretary of the Nuremberg AcK, Max-Josef Schuster, is made Chairman of the committee.

The committee begins by looking in detail at the present situation: figures for interchurch couples in the area of Nuremberg; where does official eucharistic sharing exist between the churches already?

Pastor Dr. Hövelmann, deputy chairman of the Nuremberg AcK, sketches in the outline of the report.

16.03.95 In the eighth session of the mixed committee the report is unanimously agreed and forwarded to the Nuremberg AcK.

04.04.95 The Ecumenical Committee of the Nuremberg AcK looks at the report, agrees with it in full and undertakes to present it in person after the installation of the new Archbishop of Bamberg.

24.10.95 The delegation presents the report with an accompanying letter (see below) to Archbishop Dr. Karl Braun. Archbishop Dr Braun promises to devote himself personally to this matter of concern and takes the report on to the German Bishops' Conference (cf. Press Communique, below).

05.03.96 The Nuremberg AcK sends the text of the report to the new bishop of Eichstatt, Dr. Walter Mixa, and to the Orthodox churches.

15.10.96 A delegation from the AcK in Nuremberg is received by Dr. Walter Mixa, Bishop of Eichstatt, and explains to him the matter of concern and the background to the report.

11.02.97 Rt Rev Prof. Dr. Aloys Klein, Secretary to the Ecumenical Commission of the German Bishops’ Conference, replies to the Nuremberg AcK’s report on the Commission’s behalf (see below).

19.02.97 The reply from the Ecumenical Commission is published simultaneously in Paderborn and Nuremberg. The AcK in Nuremberg produces a press statement with a first appreciation of the reply (see below).

March 97 The reply of the Ecumenical Commission appears (with a brief editorial introduction) under the heading "Learning Processes in Extending Ecumenical Horizons" in the quarterly publication Una Sancta. Journal for Ecumenical Encounter 1/1997 on the theme of "Ecumenical Education".

09.05.97 The reply is published in the Archdiocese of Bamberg’s official gazette under the heading "Ecumenical Commission of the German Bishops’ Conference".

June 97 The Diocesan Ecumenical Commission of the Archdiocese of Vienna, with the agreement of Archbishop Dr. Christoph Schönborn, publishes the reply as a "Pastoral Guideline for the Archdiocese of Vienna" with a short introduction and written accompaniment from the Roman Catholic canon lawyer Prof. Dr. Bruno Primetshofer (see below).

June 97 The Archbishop of Bamberg Dr. Karl Braun publishes a Whitsuntide text, "A Message from the Archbishop on some Ecumenical Questions", entitled "Unity in Truth and Love". It is addressed to priests, deacons, religious and all fellow pastoral workers. In the first part of the text the content of the Ecumenical Commission’s reply is brought to the attention of those responsible in the Diocese. In the second part is a teaching section that shows why intercommunion between the Roman Catholic Church and the churches of the Reformation is not possible.

16.07.97 After the first edition of the report has completely sold out, but with still a steady stream of requests for it, the directors of the AcK in Nuremberg decide on an extended new edition.

21.10.97 Bishop Dr. Hans Christian Knuth, the Roman Catholic representative on the VELKD, praises the Problemanzeige in his annual report as one of the ecumenical initiatives that "have particularly influenced development to date and that may have a decisive significance for the road ahead for the churches" (see below).

Accompanying Letter (see 24.10.95 of chronology)

3. Letter from the AcK in Nuremberg to Archbishop Dr. Karl Braun (07.09.95)

Harmut Wenzel
Königstr. 79
90402 Nuremberg
Telephone: 0911/209502
Telefax: 0911/2418935

07. September 1995

Herrn Erzbischof
Dr. Karl Braun
Erzbischöfliches Palais
Obere Karolinenstr. 5
96049 Bamberg

Your Grace,

On the instruction of the Council of Christian Churches in Nuremberg, we deliver herewith a letter that deals with the pastoral implications of the celebration of the Eucharist for interchurch marriages. Of the churches which are included in the Council of Christian Churches (AcK) in Nuremberg, the Orthodox churches and the Roman Catholic Church restrict their invitation to the celebration of the Eucharist to those who belong to their own church.

At a meeting of their ecumenical working party the AcK in Nuremberg looked intensively and in great detail at evidence from married couples affected by this. Following this the members of the working party, a group with responsibility for ecumenical questions, have by an overwhelming majority passed the following resolution:

"In view of the situation in which couples of different church membership live, the member churches of the AcK are urgently requested to allow eucharistic sharing where this expresses the united faith of these couples."

The Ecumenical Committee of the AcK in Nuremberg, to whom this request was first officially addressed, decided to take up the cause with the the AcK in Bavaria. The AcK in Bavaria for their part joined in the work of a "mixed committee" of members of the Nuremberg and Bavarian AcK, whose task was to work on the problem in more detail. This committee has produced the present report.

We are making our application to you, as bishops of Bamberg and Eichstatt, because the area of the Nuremberg AcK extends into both these dioceses.

We stress that it is not intercommunion that is at issue here. We are not talking about the dogmatic question of general ecclesial communion between the churches. The issue is a pastoral question. Must the situation continue for interchurch marriages, in which the celebration at the Lord’s Table straightway divides the married partners in two, because one of the two is excluded from Communion at the Table?

We ask whether Eucharistic hospitality for married couples and families could be a pastoral answer to a critical situation. Interchurch couples find themselves in this critical situation straight away, if they take their part in worship seriously and if they are trying to celebrate the Eucharist together, trying to share the Communion of the Lord's meal. There is nothing that the couples affected can do about this critical situation. It is the task of the churches affected to bring help and put an end to this pastoral disaster, out of respect for the Sacrament and out of responsibility towards believers. An official statement from the leadership of the Church is important for this reason: so that the married couples affected know that they are taken seriously and do not remain dependent on the good will or the tacit understanding of individual pastors.

The Nuremberg ACK warmly requests that this matter be taken up. We would see as possible means of help:

  • clarification of the meaning of the sacraments in marriage between Christians;
  • pastoral consideration of how interchurch couples and families are treated during the celebration of the Eucharist;
  • consideration of the anomaly which arises because baptism in another church is recognized as validly performed, but those who are validly baptised remain excluded from receiving the Eucharist;
  • an examination of whether the model of "spiritual communion" could be applied to interchurch couples and families.

With most respectful greetings

President Hartmut Wenzel (Protestant Reformed)
Ursula Stahl (Roman Catholic)
Member of the Ecumenical Commission in the Archdiocese of Bamberg

Pastor Dr. Hartmut Hövelmann (Protestant Lutheran)
Deputy chairman
Pastoral consultant

Max-Josef Schuster (Roman Catholic)
Administrator of the Nuremberg AcK

4. Reply from the Archbishop of Bamberg, Dr. Karl Braun, in dialogue with the Council of Churches of Bavaria as represented by the Council of Churches of Nuremberg (24.10.1995)

On 24.10.95 a delegation of the Council of Churches of Bavaria (AcK), represented by the Council of Churches of Nuremberg, presented to the Archbishop a report compiled and approved by a working group of joint ecumenical representatives in Nuremberg:

"In view of the situation in which couples of different church membership live, the member churches of the AcK are urgently requested to allow eucharistic sharing where this expresses the united faith of these couples."

In working on the report it was noted that only c. 25,000 Roman Catholics in Nuremberg are married to a partner of their own church, compared with c. 24,000 to a partner of another church. In view of such statistics the situation of interchurch couples appears as a pressing problem.

The Archbishop stressed in the course of the meeting that he was well acquainted with the need and that it was a matter of serious concern for him too: "I see in this a burning pastoral problem for the churches."

He said he was also aware that for a large number of the faithful the current rulings were hard to comply with and gave some an impression of rigidity, indeed were taken as intolerance on the part of the Roman Catholic Church.

And yet, he went on, in Roman Catholic understanding this was a matter not only of establishing the right discipline but also of what followed from a theology in which Roman Catholic understanding of church and ministry were bound together.

He told us that he saw the difficulty that the pastoral minister faced when it came to the need of those affected. It was important, he believed, for the pastor to take care to maintain good contact with his fellow pastors, so that their pastoral practice is agreed and based on a goal of complete reciprocity in accordance with the disciplines involved. This was for the sake of a relationship of trust between pastoral ministers and interchurch couples as well as of the best ecumenical relationships.

Both from a theological and from a pastoral viewpoint he believed it necessary for this question to be taken up again as a matter of urgency. It was at the level of the German Bishops’ Conference that this must be dealt with, he said. He would himself take the report to the conference. President Hartmut Wenzel of the Evangelical Reformed Church in Bavaria thanked him on behalf of the AcK for his ecumenical openness, which he had much appreciated. The Archbishop emphasised that a true longing for the grace of the sacrament must be taken seriously.

The Archbishop ended the meeting by thanking the members of the AcK present for coming, but above all for their hard work in drawing up the report, which had arisen from deep concern for faith, mission and evangelism.

5. "Ending this pastoral hardship"

Interview with Dr Hartmut Hövelmann, in "Blickpunkt Kirche", 19.11.95

Conversation with the Revd. Dr. Hartmut Hövelmann about the report of the AcK of which he was co- author. From Blickpunkt Kirche (Church Outlook). Supplement for the Diocesan church newspapers of Bamberg and Eichstatt in Greater Nuremberg, Furth, Erlangen, 19 11 95.

Blickpunkt Kirche spoke with one of the authors, Evangelical-Lutheran Pastor and Deputy Chairman of the Nuremberg AcK, Dr Hartmut Hövelmann.

B.K .: What gave rise to the writing of the report "On the Question of Sharing Communion in Interchurch Marriages and Families"?

Hövelmann: There was a session of the ecumenical working group two and a half years ago. This led to our decision to have a good look at the real situation of interchurch couples. We invited a number of interchurch couples, divided them into small groups, and listened to what they had to say about their situation. They explained the difficulties they experienced in their life together as interchurch couples when it came to being active members of their churches. Then in the plenary session the whole group put this proposal forward: "In view of the situation in which couples of different church membership live, the member churches of the AcK are urgently requested to allow eucharistic sharing where this expresses the united faith of these couples." The AcK of Bavaria took up the proposal and decided that we should establish a joint committee of the AcK of Bavaria and Nuremberg. Women and men from the different churches were represented on it, Roman Catholics, Evangelical-Lutherans, Reformed, Methodists, Old Catholics, and someone to represent the Orthodox position.

As a committee we had a long discussion about whether there was any point in undertaking such a work, since the doctrinal situation from the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church point of view was clear. We decided on a two pronged advance: first, by a clear decision that what we were faced with was not a question of doctrine but a pastoral question. The second approach was to find out about the real life situation of the Christians in Nuremberg and to reach the facts about the numbers of same-church marriages and interchurch marriages in the individual churches. And when we had the facts in front of us, we were surprised to find that the number of interchurch marriages is even higher than we had reckoned.

B.K.: Are you saying that this report of the AcK is not to do with the general question of intercommunion between the churches? Can you explain a bit more fully about this pastoral concern, and what it is that the AcK is hoping to achieve?

Hövelmann: For us and for the married couples whose cause our committee is representing in its work, the question is that the Eucharist should not separate what is otherwise united. With interchurch marriages and families we are talking about people who are all baptised. And we recognise on all sides among the churches that they are validly baptised whether they are Protestant, Roman Catholic or something else. Why should they be torn apart from one another at the Eucharist although they share the same baptism? It is also clear that marriage, whether in the Reformed Church understanding or in the Roman Catholic understanding, needs the Eucharist. There is the obvious point that marriage is a sacrament in Roman Catholic understanding and according to Roman Catholic doctrine all the sacraments are rooted in the Eucharist. In this way it is patently unthinkable to have marriage without the Eucharist. But why the rift? There is a manifest difficulty here for Roman Catholic doctrine. I would like to stress again that we are not talking about each person going off and receiving communion wherever he wants, today with the Baptists, tomorrow with the Old Catholics, the day after tomorrow with the Reformed Church and next Sunday in the Roman Catholic Church. That is not what is behind this. Our concern is the pastoral need of these people, as they go to both churches together as a family or a married couple. They hear the Word together. But the Word made flesh they cannot receive together.

B.K.: The reality is that it is the Orthodox churches and the Roman Catholic Church which restrict the Eucharist to their members only. What points are you putting forward in relationship to these churches?

Hövelmann: In the committee we took note very early on that the exclusion from Eucharistic hospitality at the moment is in the Orthodox and in the Roman Catholic churches. But we see quite clearly that the Roman Catholic Church is developing a much more sensitive attitude towards this pastoral problem. I should point out that a high ranking representative of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity says that doctrine leads to no disciplinary rule without pastoral exceptions. One can no longer claim that the pastoral question cannot be dealt with without dealing with the doctrinal one.

B.K.: The Nuremberg AcK has given its report to the Archbishop of Bamberg. What is your hope, your expectation of what will come from it?

Hövelmann: We are really pleased at the way the Archbishop received the report. He made it quite plain that he realised what a burning pastoral problem the whole question is. He told us that the experience of interchurch marriage is in his own family background. He was aware of the hardship of those who take the membership of their own churches seriously, and that there must be some way out of this problem. In his press release he made it clear to us that he is aware of this problem, and that the bishops certainly do know of the trouble it brings people and they are not indifferent to it. This complex question is not one he could solve on his own, and so he will take it on to the Bishops' Conference and to the Pastoral Commission. I have confidence that he really is in earnest about this. If he had not been serious about it, he would not have given a press release committing himself to taking the report further. I have high hopes that this business will now be dealt with seriously in the framework of the Bishops' Conference. Just the fact that the report is being taken further I think is a good signal for the interchurch couples affected.

B.K.: If the wish of the AcK were to be granted by the Roman Catholic Church, it certainly would not be within the next few months. Are you making any proposal about what should be done until there is a resolution?

Hövelmann: Our proposal is that we should at least make it clear in our services that we appreciate the situation of the people affected. We could picture the Roman Catholic priest in the Roman Catholic mass before the Eucharist saying a brief word to interchurch partners and families. For instance, "We are happy that you are here. It is good that even though you cannot yet receive communion you are here with us." I believe that something as simple as this would do such people good. At any rate I as a Protestant would accept that, because I take the position that we must respect the different decisions that our fellow churches take. Naturally I expect just the same respect for a decision which we come to as the Reformed Church. We took decisions, the Lutherans twenty years ago, the Reformed Church still earlier, in saying that all who believe in Jesus Christ and confess his name, and trusting in their belief wish to receive Communion, are invited to the Lord's Table.

B.K: What consequences do you fear if no pastoral solution to this question is found?

Hövelmann: That things carry on as they have been doing, with one Roman Catholic priest offering eucharistic hospitality even though his church does not accept this at all, and another not doing this because he has his eye on his church. And this produces nothing but trouble. Because it depends on the freewheeling subjective judgement of the priest whether it happens or not. That is not an acceptable solution for people and it is not acceptable for the churches either. The reason it is not acceptable for people is obvious. Some people will accept the offer and think nothing about it, and others will do it with an uneasy conscience. The Eucharist changes then from bringing benefit to bringing feelings of guilt, and we cannot be happy that this is happening.

B.K.: Many thanks for the interview

6. Permission for translation of reply of Ecumenical Commission of the German Bishops’ Conference not yet available. Present in German edition but not translated in English version: Answer by the Ecumenical Commission of the German Bishops’ Conference (11.02.97).

7. Press statement by the Council of Churches in Nuremberg on the reply of the Ecumenical Commission (19.02.97)

Press release

From the Nuremberg Council of Churches (Arbeitsgemeinschaft christlicher Kirchen, AcK). Comment on the position taken by the German Bishops' Conference on the question of eucharistic sharing for interchurch families. (Letter from the Ecumenical Commission of the German Bishops' Conference to the AcK in Nuremberg, 11.02.97)

Nuremberg, 19.02.99

  1. The Nuremberg AcK once again thanks the Archbishop of Bamberg, Dr Karl Braun, for his work on this subject, and thanks the Ecumenical Commission of the German Bishops' Conference for the full and detailed content of their answer to the report, "On the Question of Sharing Communion in Interchurch Marriages and Families", which a mixed commission of representatives of the AcK in Bavaria and of the Nuremberg AcK produced from work that took place from 1993 to 1995.
  2. The Nuremberg AcK pays grateful tribute to the discernible effort of the Ecumenical Commission to find the right response to the pastoral aspects of the problems concerned. The Nuremberg AcK is in full and complete agreement with the Ecumenical Commission on the fundamentals of their approach.
  3. The Nuremberg AcK regrets that the Ecumenical Commission has not agreed to the wish of the AcK for an official and general invitation for interchurch families to receive communion together.
  4. The Nuremberg AcK however sees itself confirmed in the essential features of its argument by what the Ecumenical Commission has written. The text of the Ecumenical Commission also stresses the fundamental significance of the mutual recognition of baptism as the "sacramental bond of unity" and of the sacrament of marriage through which the partner who is not a Roman Catholic shares in the reality and the mission of the Roman Catholic Church.
  5. It is a cause for joy that the text of the Ecumenical Commission makes no irksome restrictions and reservations in allowing the ministers concerned the possibility of admitting interchurch families to receive communion together. The Nuremberg AcK sees this ruling as an encouragement and strengthening for all those involved in pastoral care who have already been doing this, and as an invitation to those who still hesitate now to take courageous steps along the same pastoral road.
  6. The Nuremberg AcK hopes that what the Ecumenical Commission has written will lead to a clearer perception than before of interchurch families as they live out their faith in their church communities, and will ensure that their respective ministers take notice of their presence. The AcK hopes that along this path of increased understanding and sharing, the eucharistic sharing which they long for will be offered ever more willingly to interchurch families in the Roman Catholic Church.

8. A Canon Law evaluation from the Roman Catholic perspective. Statement by the Viennese canon lawyer Prof. Dr. Bruno Primetshofer (June 1997)

The letter of reply from the Ecumenical Commission of the German Bishops’ Conference has made a pastoral guideline for interchurch families possible.

In the Archdiocese of Vienna the Ecumenical Commission for ecumenical questions has recommended, in Guidance on Pastoral Questions, that this guideline be adopted throughout the Archdiocese. Cardinal Dr Christoph Schönborn gives his approval to this recommendation.

Over and above this the Diocesan Ecumenical Commission has asked Prof. Dr. Bruno Primetshofer to evaluate this pastoral guideline from a canon law perspective. His encouraging statement was published as the accompanying text to Guidance on Pastoral Questions in June 1997. Professor Primetshofer writes:

"The Guidance on Pastoral Questions published by the Diocesan Commission for ecumenical questions has been brought out with the task of addressing the particular situation of Christian life in mixed marriages. The granting of Eucharistic hospitality by the Roman Catholic Church to the partner who is not the Roman Catholic is at its heart. The present guideline adopts a document written by the Ecumenical Commission of the German Bishops’ Conference, demonstrates the possibilities of eucharistic hospitality that exist already in canon law in particular cases and gives encouragement to making them reality. In one way consciousness of the Eucharistic communion not yet achieved between the different churches is a source of pain, yet at the same time we may and we should be encouraged to recognise what we have already achieved. This gives a sign of hope to the still separated churches."

9. Report of the Roman Catholic representative of the VELKD, Bishop Dr. Hans Christian Knuth, at the General Synod of the VELKD on 21.10.97 (extracts)

On the road to full communion – Roman Catholics and Lutherans grow closer together
By Bishop Dr. Hans Christian Knuth

The Roman Catholic Report for 1997 (Catholica-Bericht 1997) relates to the period between the Conference of the 8th General Synod in Lüneburg in 1996 and this constituent conference of the 9th General Synod in Kühlungsborn.

In the course of this year the question of the unity of the Church and of the united witness of the Christian churches has become the real question on many levels and in different ways. Events that have taken place, the discussion about ecumenical documents at world level, in Europe, in Germany and ultimately in the area of the member churches of the VELKD underline the development that we can now focus on. That is to say: the ecumenical question is present and exceptionally alive. There is the impression that it is being given more intensive consideration now than in years past. The theme of Church Communion as the expression of the unity of the Church in Jesus Christ has even reached the notice of the media and has become to a certain extent a public concern.

This report cannot encompass the significance of all that has happened. I shall concentrate on a few points that have significantly affected the development so far and that may be exceptionally important for the way ahead for our churches. Above all, among these:

  • The "Joint Declaration on Justification" of the Lutheran World Council and of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and in this connection.
  • The 8th International Assembly of the Lutheran World Council in Hong Kong.
  • The Second European Ecumenical Assembly in Graz.
  • The Roman Catholic recognition of Philipp Melanchthon on the 500th anniversary of his birth.
  • The initiative of the Council of Churches in Nuremberg for a statement of eucharistic sharing for interchurch couples.
  • I shall report briefly in addition on the conclusion of the second phase of the official dialogue between the Roman Catholic German Bishops’ Conference and the United Churches in the 2nd Bilateral Working Group.

The themes I have picked out are aspects of the whole spectrum of our present situation. All are at the same time intricately connected with one another. (…)

5. The Ecumenical Initiative of the Council of Churches in Nuremberg (AcK)

In 1995 the AcK in Nuremberg put forward a common proposal on the question of eucharistic sharing for interchurch couples and families. The proposal ran:

"In view of the situation in which couples of different church membership live, the member churches of the AcK are urgently requested to allow eucharistic sharing where this expresses the united faith of these couples."

This proposal, together with a report (Problemanzeige) which highlighted the pastoral dimensions of the proposal, was referred on to the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference by the Archbishop of Bamberg. In February of this year the Ecumenical Commission of the German Bishops’ Conference gave its response.

The Ecumenical Commission referred in its answer first to the official recommendations of 1974 and 1981, then to the Joint Declaration of the Bishops’ Conference and the Council of the EKD in 1985 and to the Ecumenical Directory of 1993. From this standpoint the Ecumenical Commission did not see itself to be in a position to adopt the proposal word for word. It allowed itself to be stimulated by the report into further consideration.

That is to be welcomed. I draw attention to the fact that this is a burning issue which has up to now been a pastoral minefield and has bedevilled ecumenical relations.

In its text the Commission is able to speak only of "Eucharistic communion", for which the "witness to the unity of the Church and the sharing in the means of grace" (UR 8) are the decisive considerations. Accordingly "Eucharistic communion is inseparable from church communion and bound to its visible expression". Referring to theEcumenical Directory of 1993, however, the Commission goes on to bring the significance of baptism into its analysis of the situation. "At the same time, the Catholic Church teaches that by baptism members of other Churches and ecclesial Communities are brought into a real, even if imperfect communion, with the Catholic Church and that baptism, which constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are wholly directed toward the acquiring of fullness of life in Christ. The Eucharist is, for the baptised, a spiritual food which enables them to overcome sin and to live the very life of Christ, to be incorporated more profoundly in Him and share more intensely in the whole economy of the Mystery of Christ." (ÖD 129) On this basis - from "concern for the means of grace" - Christians in situations of "grave and pressing need" (CIC can. 844, 4) who are not Roman Catholics may be admitted to communion. The Ecumenical Commission considers that interchurch couples find themselves in a situation of need that corresponds to that described in this canon. It asks that for these married couples: "the pastoral care of the Church must do justice to their special situation." An additional reason put forward by the Commission in favour of this admission to communion is the Catholic understanding of the sacrament of marriage as "a sign of the unity of Christ with His Church". The Commission, taking into consideration the current state of the ecumenical dialogue, has not seen itself in a position to set in train and to recommend a general permission. It makes the following requirements for admission in individual cases: "it is not possible for them [i.e. the Protestant spouses or children] to seek out a minister of their own communion. They must make the request for communion themselves, be rightly disposed and manifest Catholic faith in the Eucharist, that is to say that the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ gives to us his living presence in the Eucharist as giver and gift in bread and wine and so builds up his Church. And so the decision for Jesus Christ is also a decision for his Church."

The reply by the Ecumenical Commission vests the decision on the above criteria finally in the local pastor, that is to say with the parish priest, but recommends that pastoral decisions on individual cases should not be allowed to set precedents.

The AcK regrets that this does not correspond to its proposal. This regret is justified. And yet one must recognise the care that the Ecumenical Commission has taken in considering the problem. The statement by the AcK Nuremberg must be emphasised: "It is a cause for joy that the document from the Ecumenical Commission allows local priests the possibility of admitting interchurch families to receive the Eucharist together with no narrow restrictions and reservations. The AcK Nuremberg sees this ruling as encouraging and confirming all those pastors who have been taking this action already, and as an invitation to those who are still hesitating to take the courageous steps along this pastoral road themselves now." (Section 5 of the press statement of 19.2.97)

The question will continue to occupy us. For the sake of those affected by it, it must not allow us to rest. I am exceptionally grateful to our sisters and brothers in Nuremberg for their initiative, and I hope that the findings of their work will receive wide circulation.

In grave spiritual need – pastoral dialogue

What does the reply by the Ecumenical Commission of the German Bishops’ Conference have to offer?

Hartmut Hövelmann

No, the sceptics were on the wrong lines. The German Roman Catholic bishops have shown some movement in their position in the face of the pastoral problem presented to them. Only someone who had given up hope of their making any ecumenical progress would see their reply as a sensational one. There is clear and impressive evidence to contradict the opinion one occasionally hears expressed, that the Roman Catholic Church considers doctrine more important than human need. The initiative by an ecumenical working group in Nuremberg has brought some news that will liberate countless interchurch couples and families from pastoral need. This must provide conclusive evidence that ecumenical work which studies the documents and takes the Churches seriously is of service to people. The tearful complaining that ecumenism has ground to a halt says more about the complainers than about what is really happening.

To read official church documents and to make sense of them often requires patience and persistence. In the reply from the Ecumenical Commission the important wording comes right at the end. A few disappointed people have thrown the text down too soon. A church that treats its own tradition responsibly and thoughtfully and does not live by a "why do I need all this baggage from the past?" attitude has to have the right to place its statements in the context of its evolving teaching.

The result is not an official and general invitation to Christians everywhere to share in communion. But that was also not what we were asking for. Eucharistic hospitality for interchurch couples and families is particular and special. As Archbishop Karl Braun rightly recognised from the start, this is not a stage on the march towards intercommunion without full church communion. If that had been the case, or if that had been the intention of the authors of the report, the episcopal shepherd of Bamberg would certainly not have taken it on to the German Bishops’ Conference. The authors of the report were united in their opinion that the need for families that are not interchurch to go to the Eucharist at a church other than their own unless a critical circumstance compels them does not present an urgent theological or pastoral problem. The question of intercommunion belongs with the question of church communion. Eucharistic hospitality for interchurch marriage partners and families is a pastoral problem of our modern, and particularly urban, society.

The text from the Ecumenical Commission speaks about the admission to communion of the marriage partner or family member who is not a Roman Catholic. About Roman Catholics sharing communion together with their marriage partner and family at a Protestant Eucharist nothing is said. Old Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, members of Reformed Churches and all others who do not restrict admission to communion to membership of their own denomination will not have any problem with inviting them and with their receiving communion.

It is worth noting on the legal validity of the reply that it does not commit a German bishop unless he takes the appropriate steps in his own diocese. The Roman Catholic Church is not hierarchical in this way. The Archbishop of Bamberg has published it in his gazette. In the Archdiocese of Vienna Archbishop Dr Schönborn has announced it in the form of a "Pastoral Guideline" so that the practice is possible there. Here already are two examples of the process of reception. One hears from place to place the assertion that because no bishop signed the reply, no bishop is committed by it. This misses the point. The reply is the decision of the Ecumenical Commission of the German Bishops’ Conference and the sole signature is that of Prof. Dr. Aloys Klein.

In reading the reply it is important not to overlook the opening section. In the first paragraphs it becomes clear that the bishops have looked with very precise discernment at the pastoral concern raised. The first paragraphs, as the outcome shows, are not the "opium" with which interchurch couples and families are to be quietened because one does not intend to take any action. Point 5 provides the breakthrough for the impasse described in the introduction:

"The Ecumenical Commission feels itself at one with the authors of the report in its concern for the unity, for the sustaining, and for the spiritual fruitfulness of the large number of interchurch marriages. It understands the pain that interchurch couples striving to live a Christian life experience at the Lord’s Table, since they are experiencing directly in themselves the divisions in Christ’s Church that have not yet been overcome."

After a reference to the previous joint recommendations of the German Bishops’ Conference and Protestant Church in Germany comes the admission:

"In the last resort any amount of pastoral effort may still not be enough to meet the needs of many of those deeply religious Christians of other denominations who are partners in interchurch marriages . Their longing for the spiritual nourishment and strengthening of their married love and fellowship, a longing that originates in their baptism and incorporation into Christ, seeks the communion that comes not only through listening to the word of God, but also in the sharing at the Lord’s Table."

Five points follow this initial section. They are closely connected together. The first four points confirm what has been permitted up until now. The fifth point shows that eucharistic hospitality where there is serious spiritual need, and interchurch marriage has already been reckoned to be in this category, is only the application of what has already been permitted. This is why there is no reason to get worked up with anxiety that dams may break. The logic of the Ecumenical Commission’s reply makes as little connection between the question of eucharistic hospitality and intercommunion as the report to which they are replying did.

The first point refers to the close connection between sharing in the means of grace and witnessing to the unity of the Church. It is because baptism creates "a sacramental bond of unity between all who through it are reborn" transcending the denominational boundaries, that "the admission of a Christian who is not a Catholic to communion in particular exceptional cases, in serious need" is justified.

The second point acknowledges that "being separated at the Lord’s Table ... may lead to serious risk to the spiritual life and the faith of one or both partners. It may lead to an indifference to the sacrament and to a distancing from Sunday worship and so from life in the church."

The third point demonstrates that church marriage constitutes (13) "a sign of the covenant of Christ with his church" through which the partner who is not a Roman Catholic shares in "the sacramental reality of the Church". Similarly if the Christian family "in its reality as Church shares in the mission of the Church", according to the encyclicalFamiliaris Consortio, then this is equally true for the partner who is not a Roman Catholic.

The fourth point refers to the conditions already laid down that make it possible for the partner who is not a Roman Catholic to receive communion in the Roman Catholic church. All the reasoning so far is based on these.

The fifth point does not extend the list of conditions but assigns to the pastors the role of deciding whether the criteria are met. The reason for this is illuminating: to lay down hard and fast objective criteria here is "extremely difficult". This is why the place to ascertain the "serious (spiritual) need" (that is to say, "Does the couple concerned (and any children) experience being separated at the Lord’s Table as a pressure on their life together? Is it a hindrance to their shared belief? How does it affect them? Does it risk damaging the integrity of their communion in married life and faith?") is in pastoral discussion with the couple affected.

With this, the bishops have not shied away from the decision, but have grasped it firmly. It can have escaped no one’s attention that in practice a number of priests admit interchurch couples’ partners and family members to communion acting on "It’s not allowed, but it’s going to happen". The reply from the Ecumenical Commission does not legitimise this taking of the law into one’s own hands, but brings it to a conclusion. In future, in dioceses that have recommended the proposal that the Ecumenical Commission is bringing forward, a priest who refuses to look at the pastoral situation of an individual case will not be able to pass the buck to his bishop, nor will one who does offer to look pastorally at individuals have to reckon that this is his personal decision taken in isolation. Applying the recommended proposal rescues the question from being pastorally subjective and gives it real substance as part of the practice of the Church.

For the interchurch couples and families the application of the practice recommended means that they will be able to receive communion together, admitted after pastoral discussion with their priest without an uneasy conscience ("We’re not really allowed to do it"). The good news of the Gospel becomes true for them at the Lord’s Table: communion with Christ that does not at the same time break up their fellowship with one another.

Some people might have wished that the pastoral discussion, rather than being restricted to the priest, could also be with lay men or women pastors. The subject of the pastoral discussion is admission to the sacrament, and so the decision should be accepted. In the Protestant church also the responsibility for admission to the Lord’s Table lies with the ordained minister, man or woman.

The concluding section places the reply from the commission in its ecclesiological and theological perspective: "the ecumenical between-time on the road" – not just to intercommunion, but to "full faith and church communion". Where the Eucharist is closely connected to Church communion membership, one has to accept that such a Church will "admit Christians of other communions to share in the fellowship of the Lord’s Table only in exceptional cases". It is a sign of the spirit of ecumenism when room and ruling is found for such exceptional cases.

The Council of Churches (AcK) in Nuremberg and Bavaria had drawn attention to a pastoral problem. The Ecumenical Commission of the German Bishops’ conference has given a pastoral answer (the pastoral discussion with the couple affected and any children). The "individual case" (point 5) is what matters. The path of critical analysis taken by the answer makes a connection with existing regulations about exceptions that have their place already in the teaching documents. Nothing theologically revolutionary is declared here. What is the case is that a door was opened slightly further to an area where possibilities for the Church to take conscientious decisions were waiting.

The goal of full faith and church communion, in which we all, with no differentiation by denomination, will have a place at the Lord’s Table, remains an additional goal in its own right.


(1) In this document taken as the general, comprehensive, unrestricted possibility of sharing in the Lord's Supper in another church as in the church of one's own denomination (cf. Problemanzeige III, 1.) - this becomes possible if the churches concerned move doctrinally and officially to be in communion with one another.

(2) See above, "Abbreviations frequently used".

(3) "Eastern Catholic Churches’ Decree", passed at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). German version in: Kahl Rahner/Herbert Vorgrimler (Editor) Kleines Konzilskompendium, Freiburg/Basel/Wien 25. Edition 1994 (Herder Verlag). For English version see UR, Abbreviations

(4) "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church", passed at the Second Vatican Council, German and English editions, cf. note 3.

(5) "Decree on Ministry and Life of the Priesthood" of the Second Vatican Council – cf. note 3.

(6) See above, "Abbreviations frequently used".

(7) Ecumenical Information service of the Catholic News Agency (P0 Box 1840, 53008 Bonn, Tel. 0228/260000; Fax 0228/2600026).

(8) "Articuli Smalkaldici", German "Schmalkaldische Artikel' (1537); written by Martin Luther; a text which is one of the confessional texts of the Evangelical Lutheran churches.

(10) Acknowledged as "spiritual communion" in Roman Catholic piety and theology (defined for teaching purposes at the Council of Trent in 1551).

(Footnotes 11&12 are notes to the text of the reply from the Ecumenical Commission, for which permission for translation has not yet been given.)

(13) What is mentioned is the "giving of the sacrament of marriage". On the basis of the explanations in "Mixed Marriage", 31.3.1970, seen together with the "Joint Church Recommendations for Marriage Preparation for Interchurch Couples", 1974, this applies also, in accordance with the regulations, to the Protestant wedding.

Publication details

Published by The Council of Churches in Nuremberg (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Christlicher Kirchen in Nürnberg)

  • President Harmut Wenzel (chairman)

Königstrasse 79, 90402 Nürnberg

  • Revd Dr Hartmut Hövelmann (vice chairman)

Holsteiner Strasse 17, 90427 Nürnberg

  • Max-Josef Schuster, theologian, (manager)

Sonntagsweg1, 90427 Nürnberg

Address for further copies of the report

This report is available in German for DM 3,- per copy, plus postage*

    1. From the

"Arbeitsgemeinschaft christlicher Kirchen in Nürnberg"

Office address: Königstrasse 79, 90402 Nürnberg

Telephone: 0911 – 20 95 02

Fax: 0911 – 24 18 935

  1. From

Verlag Peter Athmann Nürnberg

Äussere Sulzbacher Strasse 44, 90491 Nürnberg

Telephone/Fax: 0911 – 598 04 15

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A final request

Dear Readers,

The AcK in Nuremberg is interested in your reactions to the subject matter of this report. We ask you to let us know what you think about it:

  1. What is your position on the question of "Eucharistic sharing for interchurch families"?
  • What are your experiences in this area?
  • What are your hopes or reflections?
  • What do you regard as important in all this?
  1. How did you get on with the report and its contents?
  2. What is your assessment of the reply from the Ecumenical Commission of the German Bishops’ Conference?
  3. What additional comments would you like to make to the Nuremberg AcK? It would be helpful for us if you would also tell us about your background, e.g.
  • If you are a member of an interchurch family
  • Which church community you belong to
  • Whether you are a theologian……………

We should be very pleased to receive any replies to these questions. Please send your reply to the AcK office in Nuremberg, Königstrasse 79, 90402 Nürnberg. You can also send us a fax: 0911/2418935

Many thanks for your help!

Your Council of Churches in Nuremberg



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