Some coverage is being given to the Pope's response to a Lutheran lady who asked him if she could receive Holy Communion with her Catholic husband. Here is an extract from a Catholic Herald article which sums up what happened:
The Pope was asked whether a Lutheran and Catholic married couple might “finally participate together in Communion”. The questioner referred to “the hurt we’ve felt together due to [our] difference of faith”.
Francis said it was “not my competence” to give permission to do this, and admitted: “I ask myself and don’t know how to respond – what you’re asking me, I ask myself the [same] question.”
The Pope then stressed the role of personal discernment rather than repeating Church teaching that Protestant spouses can only receive Holy Communion if they do not “have recourse for the sacrament” at their own church.
He said: “There are questions that only if one is sincere with oneself and the little theological light one has, must be responded to on one’s own.”
When I read this first I immediately thought of President Barack Obama's response to a question on the abortion issue regarding the status of the unborn child and its rights: it's "above my pay grade".
Now we have to note that the Pope is correct when he says he does not have the competence to give permission to allow her to receive. He is right, as a servant of the Church he cannot change Church teaching on this issue, and the teaching is clear: inter-communion is not permitted. There is a provision for a very rare occasion when a non-Catholic can receive the Eucharist for a special event - a wedding perhaps when a non-Catholic marries a Catholic in a Catholic ceremony, but there are strict conditions which must be fulfilled, including an explicit belief in the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist. This provision was and is not envisioned to be utilized on a regular basis.
However, the Pope's response to the lady has created confusion. He should have told her that she could not receive the Eucharist while sharing her pain at the divisions which exist and prevent Lutherans from being in full communion with the Church. The Pope not only has the competence to do this, he has the duty, but on this occasion the Pope has created confusion among the faithful, and indeed may well have misled many on this issue. This is not a matter of conscience, it is a matter of objective reality, a reality that exists because of serious divisions that exist between the Catholic Church and Protestant communities.
However the damage has been done and now the media have jumped on what he said and are running with the line that Lutherans can discern for themselves whether they can come forward for the Catholic Eucharist, relativising the whole issue. Was this intentional on the Pope's part? I cannot say, I cannot read his mind I can only observe what he says and does and drawing on what I observe I know he is no fool, he knows what he is doing and he knows what he is saying.