Cardinal Willem Jacobus Eijk, who is head of the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands, has warned in an open letter that Pope Francis might be leading the Church to "drift toward apostasy."
Eijk's major concerns were based on Francis' refusal to clarify Catholic doctrine on whether the non-Catholic partners of Catholics are allowed to take the Eucharist, part of the Church tradition of sharing of the body and blood of Jesus.
In the letter he also criticized proposals from some cardinals that priests be allowed to bless homosexual relationships, given that Catholic doctrine defines marriage as solely between one man and one woman.
"Failure to give German bishops proper directives, based on the clear doctrine and practice of the Church, points to a drift toward apostasy from the truth," Eijk warned in the English-language version of his open letter, posted on the National Catholic Register on Monday.
The Dutch cardinal asserted that "Protestants do not share faith in the priesthood and the Eucharist," and therefore should not be able to share in the communion bread, even if their partners are Catholics.
Francis had asked German bishops to find broader consensus on guidelines about who is allowed to receive the Eucharist. The bishops had taken part in meetings in Rome on May 3 with officials from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.
"Pope Francis appreciates the ecumenical commitment of the German bishops and asks them to find, in a spirit of ecclesial communion, a result as unanimously as possible," a Vatican statement said.
Eijk challenged Francis on what precisely he is calling on bishops to find unanimity on, however.
"Assuming that all members of the German bishops' conference, after having discussed them again, unanimously decide that Communion can be administered to Protestants married to a Catholic (something that will not happen), will this — while being contrary to what the Code of Canon Law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church say in this regard — become the new practice in the Catholic Church in Germany?" he asked.
Eijk insisted that the practice of the Catholic Church "is not determined and does not change statistically when a majority of an episcopal conference votes in favor of it, not even if unanimously."
He added that Francis "should have given the delegation of the German episcopal conference clear directives, based on the clear doctrine and practice of the Church."
"By failing to create clarity, great confusion is created among the faithful and the unity of the Church is endangered," the Cardinal warned.
"This is also the case with cardinals who publicly propose to bless homosexual relationships, something which is diametrically opposed to the doctrine of the Church, founded on Sacred Scripture, that marriage, according to the order of creation, exists only between a man and a woman."
The question of who is allowed to receive Holy Communion is a major issue for the Catholic Church. Back in January, church leaders in Kazakhstan declared that it would be "blasphemy" if divorced people living with someone else ask to take part in the ritual.
Auxiliary Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Astana, along with Archbishop Tomash Peta of Astana and Archbishop Jan Pawel Lenga of Karaganda responded to a local dispute when they declared that neither they nor any other bishops can authorize Communion for Catholics who are divorced and remarried, unless the previous marriage has been annulled.