A Lutheran group from Finland, led by their bishop, Samuel Salmi of Oulu, reportedly received Holy Communion in St Peter’s basilica this week, despite indicating to the priests present that they were ineligible to do so.
According to Finnish news agency Kotimaa, and reported here in Estonian, the priests celebrating the Mass were aware that they were Lutherans.
The report said that at the time of Communion, the Finnish Lutherans put their right hand on their left shoulder to show they could not receive the Eucharist and wanted to receive a blessing instead.
The Finnish Lutheran bishop said the priests distributing Communion ignored the sign and offered the Lutherans Communion anyway. The bishop also received the Eucharist.
The report said the youth choir from Finland sung at the Mass, and Bishop Salmi was asked to greet those present on behalf of the Finnish Lutherans. So there was no doubt who they were.
Bishop Salmi said Pope Francis was not present at the Mass, but said the Pope had repeatedly indicated he would like to develop unity between different denominations. The bishop, who in 2011 said homosexuals should have "full rights" in the Lutheran church, also told the news agency that Pope Francis has theological enemies in the Vatican and so may be limited in how freely he can speak.
In November, the Pope said that a Lutheran woman married to a Catholic should "talk to the Lord" before receiving Holy Communion, although Francis himself did not give her permission to do so.
The Pope's words were understood by Rome's Lutheran community to mean that Lutherans could receive Holy Communion, in accordance with their conscience, although such a reading was later refuted by Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
A spokesman for the Finnish Catholic Church later issued this clarification, calling the distribution of Holy Communion in this instance a mistake and an obstacle to unity.