RC bishops 'no' to joint communion

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The Independent Online
THE ROMAN Catholic bishops of Britain and Ireland yesterday reiterated its ban on Protestants taking Holy Communion in Catholic churches.

The hard line held by the Roman church that Protestants and Catholics may not receive communion in each other's churches was re-drawn in a document published jointly by the Roman Catholic bishops' conference of England Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

The report, "One Bread One Body", came as a disappointment to the ecumenical movement and particularly to people in mixed marriages who had hoped for a change allowing them to share the eucharist as a family.

Only in exceptional circumstances are Protestants able to receive the Eucharist wafer in Catholic places of worship, such as the wedding or funeral of a Catholic family member, provided they gain prior permission from the local bishop.

Under no circumstances can a Catholic receive communion in a Protestant church, the report says, although many do. Most Anglican churches allow Christians of any denomination to take communion.

The move follows the Pope's request that bishops should clarify the position on sharing the sacraments. But the report fell short of the more open attitude hoped for by many Christians.

Dr Nigel Collinson, secretary of the Methodist Conference, said: "The Methodist Church recognises that the clarification on sacramental sharing ... will cause pain and disappointment to many, particularly inter-church families, who had been hoping there could be some movement towards a development of their position."

Earlier this year, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, called for the Roman Catholic church to lift its ban, saying that no church could claim ownership of the sacrament.

Yesterday, Dr Carey said the document failed to recognised the difficulties presented by the division for mixed faith families.

One such family is that of the the Prime Minster, Tony Blair, a Protestant married to a Catholic whose children have been brought up in the Catholic faith.

At yesterday's launch of the document, Cardinal Basil Hume, leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales, admitted he had written "a little note" to the Prime Minister after he was seen taking communion during Mass at his wife's Catholic church in 1996. Mr Blair agreed to Cardinal Hume's request not to take communion in future.

Mr Blair is understood to have taken communion at a Mass while on holiday in Italy, an event which was interpreted as a sign of his desire to convert to Catholicism.

Cardinal Hume said yesterday that the Prime Minister was within his rights to take the communion in Tuscany because no Protestant minister had been available.

He said: "The Pope is asking us to respect the norms for sacramental sharing as a way of furthering ecumenism. Some will find this difficult to understand and to accept. We should, however, be encouraged to reflect further on the way we understand the Eucharist and the church."

The "One Bread One Body" document does define "unique occasions" in the life of a family or individual at which non- Catholics would be admitted to holy communion as "a 'one- off' situation at a given moment which will not come again".

A spokesman for the Anglo Roman Catholic Committee in England and Wales said many would be disappointed that the position remained unchanged.