German bishops wanted to ease restrictions on allowing Protestants married to Catholics to receive Catholic Communion. But many conservative bishops denounced the move as a threat to the purity of Catholic identity.
Pope Francis has blocked a decision by German bishops that would have made it easier for Protestants married to Catholics to receive Catholic Communion.
Archbishop Luis Ladaria, head of the Vatican's doctrinal office, informed the head of the German Bishops' Conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, of the pope's decision in a letter published by Catholic media outlets on Tuesday. The Vatican later confirmed the letter's authenticity.
In February, more than two-thirds of the 60 Bishops in the German Bishops' Conference voted in favor of a proposal to allow Protestants in mixed-marriage couples to receive Catholic Communion under certain conditions. The Conference also agreed to publish guidelines for applying the new rules for local churches.
But the Vatican, which initially said it would not rule on the matter, changed course and said on Tuesday the issue was a concern for the entire Catholic Church and could not be decided by local Bishops. The Vatican will study the issue further itself.
The decision was a victory for the seven German bishops who had opposed the change and requested a Papal ruling on the decision. They and many other conservative bishops from around the world had publicly criticized the decision, saying it would dilute an important part of Catholic identity.
Many of the German bishops who voted in favor said the move would show compassion for the large number of "inter-communion" marriages in Germany. Just over a quarter of Germans identify as Roman Catholic, while a similar proportion identify as Protestant.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is Protestant but is married to a Catholic, also weighed in on debate in support of the change.
Existing rules only allow Protestants to receive a Catholic Communion, which involves consuming consecrated bread and sometimes wine, in extreme circumstances.
Unlike many Protestants, Catholics believe the bread and wine consumed during Communion become the body and blood of Christ.
amp/se (AP, Reuters, dpa)