Rome Lutheran Pastor Thinks Pope ‘Opened Door’ to Intercommunion

Dr. Jens Kruse, pastor of Rome's Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Dr. Jens Kruse, pastor of Rome's Evangelical Lutheran Church. (photo: EP)

A Lutheran pastor has said he believes Pope Francis “opened the door” to intercommunion when the Holy Father spoke to his church last month, and that his parishioners generally have the same opinion.

Pastor Jens Kruse of Rome’s Evangelical Lutheran Church said in a Dec. 12 interview with the Register (see full transcript below) that he thinks his flock feel freer, in accordance with their conscience, to receive the Eucharist in the Catholic Church after Francis’ comments.

The Holy Father caused controversy during his visit to Pastor Kruse’s church Nov. 15 when he urged a Lutheran woman married to a Catholic to "talk to the Lord" about receiving holy Communion "and then go forward", but added that he "wouldn’t ever dare to allow this, because it’s not my competence.” (The video of the exchange with English subtitles can be seen here). Some felt the Pope, although his comments were not immediately clear, had by no means allowed intercommunion.

But in this interview, Pastor Kruse says he believes a door has been opened to celebrate the Eucharist together — a door that Lutherans had thought had been closed “for an eternity.” He also says he feels there is “no danger” of a Lutheran receiving the Eucharist “in the wrong way” because he would be “receiving Jesus Christ and not the teachings of the Catholic Church.” He further states that the Pope had introduced a new approach to the Eucharist, no longer viewing it as the end of ecumenism, but rather a “gift on the way to unity”.

His comments in support of Lutherans receiving the Eucharist run contrary to those of Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, who, in a Nov. 30 interview with Aleteia, stressed “there is no intercommunion” between Catholics and Protestants and that it wouldn't create unity but rather “promote profanation”. The Church has long forbidden such a practice except under certain rare conditions

Here below is the full text of the Dec. 12 interview with Pastor Kruse, given on the sidelines of a Rome conference held at the Pontifical Gregorian University by the German embassy to the Holy See on the theme: "Aggiornamento: Then and Now, a Perspective for the Future". Cardinal Walter Kasper was among those attending the conference.

Pastor Kruse, you said at this conference that the Pope’s visit to your church “opened a door”. Could you explain a bit more what you meant by that?

Yes, when Pope Francis came to our church here in Rome, the Church of Jesus Christ, it was a very warm atmosphere and he used this meeting with our Lutheran community to open doors to more ecumenism. For example, the holy Eucharist: he said we have the same fundament because, for Lutherans, Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist, and we have the same baptism and the same faith. So he asked: “Why can we celebrate the Eucharist together?” I think that was very interesting because he said the Eucharist is also a gift for the way to unity. Many people think the Eucharist is the end of this way of ecumenism, but the Pope said: “No, this is now, and [it] can help us to find more unity.” This is a very interesting idea and, you can say, an image of an open door.

Did you see it as allowing Lutherans to receive holy Communion, leaving it up to their conscience?

The Pope said that’s a question each person has to decide for himself. I think it’s typical for Pope Francis to open doors, and now we, as churches, have the duty to find ways to fill this open door with more of a life of ecumenism, of unity. The image of an open door is, I think, a very good one because we are in front of this door at this moment and now we have to find ways to go through this open door.

Is that open door something radical, would you say? 

Yes, because before this meeting in our church we thought this door was closed and we’d have to wait for an eternity to celebrate the Eucharist together. But now there’s another way, and I think it’s a kind of revolution for both churches to think, with much more intensity, to find solutions to this question.

Do you think there’s a danger of seeing the Eucharist as the same, whereas there’s the Real Presence in the Catholic Church?

No, it is the same. It’s very interesting because we think the same things about the Eucharist. The theology of the Eucharist is the same today.

Transubstantiation is the same?

We say Real Presence but the idea is very similar. The problem is not the Eucharist. The problem is the understanding of priesthood. That creates the differences and the Pope said: “No, there’s the presence of Jesus Christ, in the Lutheran and the Catholic Eucharist.” We’re both part of the church of Jesus Christ through our baptism and we have the same faith. There are no big differences, no obstacle to us to do it [worship] together.

So do you perhaps foresee, from this, intercommunion — Lutherans going to Catholic Masses and receiving Communion?

I think so. It’s just the practice. Lutherans [already] participate in the Catholic Eucharist and Catholics participate in the Lutheran Eucharist, because for the people, it’s just the same. And they are right, because in the theology of the Eucharist there are no great differences, so we as churches have the duty to find other ways. Because of this, it was a great encouragement from the Pope because he understands there’s a great problem for mixed [denomination] couples because they can’t participate together in the Eucharist.

But do you think there are valid reasons for that and they’re perhaps being pushed aside too quickly, too easily?

I think after 500 years it’s not too easily. It’s the right time now because the problems all Christian churches have now are so great that we have to urgently solve all these very ridiculous problems in, or between, our churches.

What do you say to those such as Cardinal Robert Sarah, for example, who was quite strong about retaining the way things have been practiced up to now. Do you think his views are valid and also should be listened to?

I think we have, together with Pope Francis, the duty to find other ways because the people suffer because of these problems and there are no great differences in the theology. It’s not a question of theology. It’s a question of whether we want more unity or not. And the Pope — and I think this is a very hopeful sign — is a man who said: “We want to have more unity between our Christian churches”, and so we have to think in a new way about these differences, and think in a new way and we have to find new ways together.

People have said they weren’t happy with the Pope’s answers because they weren’t clear and he was, sort of saying: “Well let’s consider this on a case-by-case basis” instead of saying: “Well, if you want to receive Communion in the Catholic Church, you have to become a Catholic.” Do you think it’s as simple as that, that you have to make that step? Is that approach now redundant?

Yes. I think it’s no answer, because one thing is clear in ecumenism which is that relationships between the churches means to accept each other in our way of life of being Christian. So we have to find kinds of hospitality in our churches for others, and we, in our Lutheran tradition for 30-40 years, have something like Eucharistic hospitality for Catholics. They don’t have to become Lutherans, but for the moment, if they participate in Lutheran worship, they are welcome. It’s the same Jesus Christ in our Eucharist as in the Catholic [Church], so they’re welcome to participate. I think it’s possible also for the Catholic Church to develop such kinds of hospitality.

Among your parishioners, since the Pope said those words, do they feel freer to receive holy Communion, according to their own conscience?

I think so.

Were they very happy with the Pope’s comments, generally?

Yes because it was the first time that a Pope said: “Yes I understand this problem” and that he has demonstrated a way to resolve it and with a great responsibility for each Christian person. I think that was a very good and helpful sign, and that will help all of us.

In the Catholic Church, if you receive the Eucharist in the wrong state, without for example consenting to the main dogmas of the Church, then you’re in fact bringing condemnation upon yourself. Do you agree this is a danger?

No, because it’s Jesus Christ who invites us to participate, it’s not the Catholic or Lutheran Church, and it’s not a question of Lutheran dogmas or Catholic dogmas. Jesus Christ himself invites us and gives us His blood and His body. 

So that trumps doctrine in a sense?

Yes, there’s no danger I think of receiving the Eucharist in the wrong way when a Lutheran participates in a Catholic Eucharist because they’re receiving Jesus Christ and not the teachings of the Catholic Church.