A senior Catholic cardinal has said he hopes the next encyclical from Pope Francis allows "shared eucharistic communion in special cases".
At present only Catholics are allowed to take communion in Catholic churches and this presents difficulties for couples where one is Catholic and the other not. However, conservatives have fiercely resisted any relaxation of the rule because they see it as compromising the position that communion expresses unity with the Catholic Church, the only body to have preserved in its entirety the faith of the apostles.
However, in an interview with Italian newspaper Avvenire, senior ecumenical statesman Cardinal Walter Kasper, President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, expressed his desire for ecumenical "progress" on the issue in the wake of the Pope's visit to Lund in Sweden to commemorate the beginning of the Reformation. Kasper said the Lund visit had given a "new push" to ecumenical cooperation because of the face-to-face meetings between Francis and Lutheran leaders.
While he acknowledged there were theological problems about which there could "not yet be full agreement" regarding shared communion, he said he hoped a document prepared by US bishops could be used as a "non-official" solution. He described the situation of mixed marriages and families in countries such as Germany and the US as an "urgent pastoral problem".
Asked what the commemoration year of the Reformation might bring in terms of full intercommunion, he said: "Certainly it is the first time that the commemoration is experienced ecumenically. But we should not expect miracles. I hope that this year will serve to complete the path of mutual understanding, which encourages dialogue and lead to the decision to walk together towards the future, knowing that the time, ways and places where full communion will be reached are in God's hands."