“The teaching of the Church is not my property, it is given to us...”
VATICAN CITY — In the lead-up to the highly anticipated post-synodal apostolic exhortation on the family, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has publicly clarified his position on the crucial and controversial issue of admittance of civilly “remarried” divorcees to Holy Communion.
In a Saturday, February 27 interview with the Cologne diocesan radio station, Domradio.de, the Vatican doctrinal chief said, “the teaching of the Church is not my property, it is given to us,” and “it is our task also to speak clearly of the teaching of the Church, of the dogma of what God has revealed to us.
“How could we make a compromise with the Word of God?” he asked.
Cardinal Müller continued, explaining that the indissolubility of marriage is a dogma. Therefore, “there cannot be a second marriage,” if a Catholic’s first marriage is recognized as valid (cf. CCC 1650). “One cannot work out a compromise on sociological terms,” Müller said. “I cannot go along with this.”
The German cardinal’s comments to DomRadio.de, reported earlier this week by Maike Hickson, are his first public and explicit comments on the issue since the final report on the Ordinary Synod on the Family was published last October.
There has been some speculation about Müller’s position, as he belonged to the German language small group at the synod, which is thought to have fought to “open the door” to civilly remarried divorcees receiving Holy Communion.
At the October 21 synod press briefing, Cardinal Reinhard Marx commended the German group’s proposals, saying they were agreed upon unanimously. And Cardinal Kasper, at the synod’s close, claimed that “the door has been opened to the possibility of the divorced and remarried being granted communion,” though he acknowledged that the matter rests “in the pope’s hands, who will decide what has to be done.”
Thus, while unanimity in formulation may have been present, unanimity of intended meaning among the Germans is less clear. In a second interview with a Cologne newspaper on Sunday, February 28, Cardinal Müller became even more explicit, warning that “we cannot compromise” on God’s Word concerning marriage” and “turn the clear Word of God into something vague.”
Pressed by Kölner Stadt-Anzeige on the question of admitting “irregularly married” Catholics to Holy Communion, given the German-language group’s consideration of the proposal at the October 2015 synod, Muller reasserted the Church’s teaching, as articulated in Pope John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio, n. 84, Müller stressed the couple can live together chastely “as brother and sister.” But he reiterated the Church cannot “dissolve or suspend a validly contracted and true sacramental marriage.”
Yet not everyone agrees such a position is tenable. As one Vatican official close to the synod process told Aleteia just days before the October synod began: “How can we accept John Paul II’s teaching in Familiaris Consortio, 84? It was written 30 years ago.” Asked about the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, the same official replied: “What do you do when the indissolubility is dead, when there’s no more feeling?”
The Cologne newspaper pointed out to Müller that the head of the German Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, also holds the view that living together as brother and sister is impossible. To this, the prefect of the CDF replied: “That is also what the apostles were thinking when Jesus explained to them the indissolubility of marriage (cf. Matt. 19:10). But what seems to us humans to be impossible, is possible with the grace of God.”
Cardinal Müller’s dispel speculation of his understanding the two key paragraphs of the synod’s final report — n. 85 and n.86, titled “Discernment and Integration” — on the Church’s care for the divorced and civilly remarried.
The clarification comes as Pope Francis loosens Vatican protocol regarding divorced and civilly “remarried” Catholic heads of state on official visits to the Vatican, a move Andrea Tornielli of Vatican Insider regards as a concrete step toward the “integration” the synod document describes.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has reviewed the synod’s final report (allegedly submitting 40 pages of corrections), and it has undergone numerous drafts since January, according to Vatican sources.
The oldest of the Roman Curia’s nine congregations, today “the duty proper to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is to promote and safeguard the doctrine on the faith and morals throughout the Catholic world: for this reason everything which in any way touches such matter falls within its competence” (Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia, Pastor Bonus, art. 48).
Given the nature of its task, the work of the congregation is divided into four distinct sections: the doctrinal office, the disciplinary office, the matrimonial office and that for priests.
Pope Francis is expected to issue the post-synodal apostolic exhortation on the family on March 19, the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and third anniversary of his inauguration Mass.
Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.