National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  November 7, 2003

Suspended priest explains Communion decision


German Fr. Gotthold Hasenhuettl, a priest and theologian, officiated at a May 29 intercommunion service in Germany as part of a joint national celebration between Catholics and Protestants, the first one in 500 years (NCR, June 20). Hasenhuettl distributed Communion to both Catholics and Protestants.

On July 1, Hasenhuettl received a letter from Bishop Rienhard Marx of Trier, the home diocese of Saarland University where Hasenhuettl is a professor of theology. Marx announced he would suspend Hasenhuettl from both his teaching position and the priesthood on July 16 if he did not sign a statement renouncing his actions.

In an exclusive interview with NCR, Hasenhuettl comments on his case.

What is the status of your case?

Without having spoken to me, Bishop Marx of Trier issued an ultimatum. On July 7, 2003, I was asked to sign a statement that I repented of having invited Protestants to the Lord’s Eucharist. I also had to promise never to do this again. I refused to sign this statement for reasons of conscience and ethical responsibility. On July 17, 2003, I was suspended from saying Mass by Marx, who additionally announced that he would revoke my nihil obstat [official permission to teach theology]. As I appealed to the Holy See on July 18, 2003, the suspension is postponed, so I am allowed to go on lecturing until the Holy See issues its ruling.

Why did you opt to violate canonical discipline in this way?

I am firmly convinced that I did not violate canonical law. Although it is true co-celebration and intercommunion are forbidden, Pope John Paul II states in his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia that Communion may be administered to Protestants under certain circumstances. Without any doubt, the First Ecumenical Church Congress in Berlin after nearly 500 years must be considered such a “certain circumstance.” I did not invite the Protestant church to take part in the Eucharist, but only the individuals who attended this ecumenical service combined with a Catholic Mass. I only acted contrary to some German bishops’ requests, but not contrary to canonical law.

What do you say to the Vatican argument that eucharistic sharing has to follow unity in faith and ministry?

This argument is frequently used, but is basically wrong. Even the title of the encyclical states that “the church lives on the Eucharist” and not vice versa, and that “the Eucharist creates community.” It is Jesus Christ himself by whom unity in faith is constituted. He did not exclude anyone, not even Judas. So it is that we can pray, “Take, eat, all of you” and “Drink, all of you, of this.”

If these words are the truth, I as a priest must not exclude anyone who is longing for a life in communion with the Lord. Only when gathering around the Lord’s table is the community of faith constituted. And this is the base on which common ecclesiastical structures can develop.

I cannot deny any Protestant person’s belief in Christ. And consequently it is mutual invitation to the Eucharist with which unity in faith begins. Anyway, to start with Professor Karl Rahner, the European ecumenical institutes and many German bishops maintain there is no essential difference between Protestants and Catholics -- and rightly so. The validity of Protestant ordination is not the issue as I, as an ordained priest, presided over a Catholic Mass.

Why does this seem to be a special issue in Germany?

It is because German bishops are misusing the Eucharist in order to delimit the Catholic church from the other denominations. A claim of power -- that is the whole point! Absolute and blind obedience that disregards ethical responsibility is being requested. Protestants are given a snub and are considered second-class Christians. Only when accepting the hierarchical claim to power are they admitted to the community, but as “lost sheep.” It is this hierarchical claim to sole representation that ought to be abandoned. There is no other way but dialogue between the denominations on an equal level in order to change things in favor of a future for the church of Jesus Christ.

National Catholic Reporter, November 7, 2003

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