German bishops have voted “overwhelmingly” in favour of producing a guide for Protestant spouses explaining the circumstances in which they could be admitted to Communion.

The bishops agreed that a Protestant partner may receive Communion if they have made a “serious examination of conscience” with a priest or other person with pastoral responsibilities. They also must “affirm the faith of the Catholic Church” and wish to end “serious spiritual distress” and a “longing to satisfy hunger for the Eucharist”.

While the guide is yet to be written, the bishops’ remarks appear to go beyond the circumstances set out under canon law, which stipulates that non-Catholic Christians may be admitted to Communion if “the danger of death is present” or “some other grave necessity urges it”.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx said that there had been an “intense debate” on the subject, during which “serious concerns” had been raised. He noted that the bishops had not given general approval for intercommunion and that the guide was merely pastoral. “We don’t want to change any doctrine,” he said.

Cardinal Marx also said that the document did not call for the Protestant receiving Communion to convert to Catholicism, adding that much is left to the local bishop’s discretion.

The Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) described the news as an “important step on the road of ecumenism”.

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