As we wrap up 2015 and move into the fourth full year of the Franciscan pontificate, we are offered a perfect example of why attempts to put an orthodox spin on some of Pope Francis' troubling statements are so disappointing.
Case in point: In November, 2015, the pope was approached by a Lutheran woman who was married to a Catholic man. She stated that she and her husband "greatly regret being divided in faith and not being able to participate in the Lord’s Supper together" and asked "What can we do to achieve, finally, communion on this point?"
In his characteristic long winded, extempore manner, the pope said:
"It’s a problem each must answer, but a pastor-friend once told me: “We believe that the Lord is present there, he is present. You all believe that the Lord is present. And so what’s the difference?” — “Eh, there are explanations, interpretations.” Life is bigger than explanations and interpretations. Always refer back to your baptism. “One faith, one baptism, one Lord.” This is what Paul tells us, and then take the consequences from there. I wouldn’t ever dare to allow this, because it’s not my competence. One baptism, one Lord, one faith. Talk to the Lord and then go forward. I don’t dare to say anything more."
There was much more to this statement, including some very troubling ecclesiology, but here was the crux of the matter - Francis essentially states that Lutherans' and Catholics' similar baptism provides a sufficient level of communion for the two to receive the Eucharist together, provided that one has "talked to the Lord" in good conscience and is comfortable to "go forward" - i.e., to receive Holy Communion. One Peter Five has a decent write up of the whole encounter, along with a complete text of Francis' comments and even video to get the situational context.
So, Francis characteristically says something that sounds confusing at best and heterodox at worst - and I want to remind everyone, this is not a "spin" that some media outlet put on his words. This is the actual text of the pope's statement, before any media outlet or huckster got to it.
In fact, the only real spin has come from those trying to explain Francis' comments in continuity with tradition. I am referring primarily to Cardinal Gerhard Müller's well-intentioned by unsatisfying attempt to square the papal circle here. In a statement "clarifying" what Pope Francis "really meant", Cardinal Müller resorted to the tired old defense that the pope was simply "misunderstood."
In an article published in the National Catholic Register in December, 2015, Edward Pentin reports on Cardinal Müller's explanation of the pope's comments. According to Pentin, Müller says that the pope did not suggest intercommunion between Lutherans and Catholics was possible. Why didn't the pope suggest this? Here is Gerhard Müller's full comment on why the pope was misunderstood: