On Thursday of last week, Cardinal Gerhard Müller continued his defense of an orthodox reading of Amoris Laeitia in the most forceful manner yet in an interview with EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo.
Müller, the head of the Vatican’s doctrine office, has maintained that Amoris Laetitia should be interpreted in line with tradition in interviews published in December 2016 and February 2017. However, this is his most forceful defense.
When asked about the exhortation, Müller immediately goes to the core of what the synods and Amoris were about: “To underline the importance of the marriage and the families and the marriage especially the marriage between baptized persons as the sacrament.”
It is not just about the question of Communion for the divorced and remarried.
Before getting to the main point, the cardinal sets a few preliminaries. First, “It is absolutely impossible that the Pope […] presents a doctrine which is plainly against the words of Jesus Christ.” Second, “The doctrine according to the indissolubility of the matrimony, of the sacramental matrimony is absolutely clear.”
Elsewhere Müller has repeatedly mentioned his indebtedness to Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, and what Benedict called the “hermeneutic of continuity” which reads every Church document in light of and in accord with all of revelation.
Müller faces the document’s famous footnote 351, which says in some cases those who are divorced and remarried can have access to the sacraments of Communion and Reconciliation, directly.
He says it only applies, “If they are ready to live as sisters and brothers,” and refrain from sexual relations.
He bases this clarification on the doctrine surrounding the sacrament of confession: “In the case of a mortal sin, against the Ten Commandments or other commandments of God, or the will of God, against love, you need first the conversion. Inner conversion of the heart, penitence and… you must have the clear will to not sin the next opportunity.”
This clarification means that the person must have an intention not to sin again to be absolved; it doesn’t mean the person can’t have weakness or fear they’ll sin again.
Many have proposed offering Communion as a pastoral solution without changing doctrine, but Müller says this is impossible. “To surpass it [dogma] with the pastoral is not Catholic thinking because for us dogmatic and pastoral is the same thing.”
He goes so far as to compare such thinking to the Christological heresies of the early Church: “You cannot separate…distinguish between Jesus Christ, as a teacher of the Word…and the good pastor who gave His life.”
He doesn’t mince his words about the current debate between those who want to give Communion and those who criticize the Pope: “Misunderstandings of both sides are [based on an] ideological view of things and prejudices.”
Last year, four cardinals – American Raymond Burke, Italian Carlo Caffarra, and Germans Walter Brandmüller and Joachim Meisner – sent five “dubia” [yes-or-no questions] asking clarification on Amoris Laetitia, particularly on the matter of divorced-and-remarried persons receiving Communion, to Francis and Müller.
Müller says the dubia presented by them are decent theological questions but suggested the manner in which they were submitted and released seems to be a pressure point and has been used to point out division in the Church.
Instead of such ideologies, Müller suggests a different way of reading Amoris. “We have this document of the Pope and it must be read in the context of the complete Catholic tradition.”
He also says that we Catholics should be united by “The word of God [which] unifies the believers,” rather than held up in our ideological camps.
Müller even understands Francis’s methodology of reaching out to “all these people who are living in the secularized society (who) have not the full understanding what is Christian life and thinking” without making them feel “either you accept all from the beginning or you are absolutely out.”
He sees this as Francis’s reason for choosing the words he did rather than a simple affirmation of John Paul II’s teaching on the subject.
Crux editor John L. Allen, Jr., notes the lack of attention given by the Vatican press corps to this interview is an indication of a lack of weight given the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Francis, compared to under previous pontiffs.
I think there is a distinction to be made here between trying to understand what Francis is thinking and trying to understand how Francis should be read.
On the former, internal Vatican politics may mean Francis doesn’t consult with Müller – but on the latter, he still has immense authority.
Most journalists are more interested in the former because that has more intrigue and drama which grab people’s attention. Catholics and theologians should be more concerned with the latter – how Francis should be read – because that is how we should live our faith.
Obviously the two are not in opposition but they vary a lot in emphasis. It is clear that Francis would prefer Communion to be offered in any way that is dogmatically possible, but offering it to unrepentant sinners is simply impossible, as Müller teaches.
As I have said before, Francis sees the main problem of the Church as being too insular and inward looking. Thus, he is willing to use new language to attempt to reach new people.
Some Catholics view doctrinal confusion as a greater issue and take an issue with his language.
Since the cardinals elected him knowing his priorities, and the Church believes the Holy Spirit guided them, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt even if we think the priorities should be otherwise. (I tend to agree with the Pope’s priorities but realize not all readers do.)
I think we all need to step back, take Müller’s words to heart and read Amoris Laetitia in light of them.
One difficulty with any document is that if you read an ideologically-based summary first, you will tend to read that summary’s ideology into it.
If we read a bunch of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ tracts before reading the Bible, we might come out saying Jesus isn’t God… But we know that the New Testament says just the opposite.
If the man responsible for Catholic teaching says, “Dogmatically and doctrinally Amoris Laetitia is very well,” we should take it to heart.
The take-away from this interview is the same as I’ve been saying and the same as the three professors from the John Paul II institute said in their book: Amoris Laetitia should be read in tradition and not against it. Thus, Communion cannot be given to anyone who is divorced and remarried, who does not refrain from sexual relations.