ROME— Cardinal Gerhard Müller, allegedly replaced by the pontiff as the Vatican’s doctrinal chief for his rejection of Amoris Laetitia, has penned an essay defending it.
Among other things, Müller acknowledges that there can be “mitigating factors in guilt,” referring to the case of access to the sacraments to divorced and civilly remarried people. Hence, it’s possible that, “through a pastoral discernment in an internal forum,” Catholics in this situation might be able to receive communion.
Müller also writes that the “bitter controversy” that’s developed around chapter 8 of the apostolic exhortation, called “Accompanying, discerning and integrating weakness,” is “regrettable.”
The question of communion for the “divorced and civilly remarried,” he writes, has been “falsely elevated to the rank of a decisive question of Catholicism and a measure of ideological comparison in order to decide whether one is conservative or liberal, in favor or against the pope.”
According to Müller, Pope Francis is more concerned with the pastoral effort to strengthen marriages and preventing their breakdown than the “pastoral care of [marital] failures.”
Therefore, from a new evangelization perspective, the effort to ensure that all of the baptized participate in the Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation is more important than “the problem of the possibility of receiving communion in a legitimate and valid way from a limited group of Catholics with an uncertain marital situation.”
Up until earlier this year, Müller served as the Vatican’s doctrinal chief, but Francis decided to replace him at the end of his five-year mandate.
The cardinal’s words come in a preface to a book by Rocco Buttiglione titled Friendly responses to the critics of Amoris Laetitia, which will be released in Italy Nov. 10. Excerpts from the preface were released on Monday by Italian daily La Stampa.
Buttiglione is an Italian moral theologian and politician, member of the conservative Union of Christian and Centre Democrats party. He was perceived as close to St. John Paul II.
In his preface, Müller also writes that Buttiglione offers a “reasoned and not controversial answer to the cardinals’ five dubia,” referring to a list of questions posed to Francis by four cardinals, including American Raymond Burke, who believe the pope’s document sewed confusion and was altering Catholic teaching.
Though he himself addresses the dubia too, the cardinal denounces that there’s a “paradoxical reversal of the fronts” when it comes to papal defenders and critics. On the one hand, there are those who question the “correctness of the pope’s faith” while others boast about papal consent to a “radical paradigm shift in the moral and sacramental theology that they desire.”
For this reason, liberal-progressive theologians who questioned papal magisterium when it comes to Humanae Vitae, written by Pope Paul VI and which confirmed the Catholic Church’s ban on contraception, “now raise any of [Francis’s] phrases, which they like, almost to the rank of a dogma.”
The first dubia posed to the pope questioned if, after Amoris Laetitia, a Catholic “still bound by a valid marital bond” can receive absolution through the sacrament of confession and receive the Eucharist, contradicting St. John Paul II’s document Familiaris Consotrio, and other statements from John Paul and Benedict XVI.
It is evident, Müller writes, that Francis’s document doesn’t teach, nor propose, that a Catholic in “present and habitual mortal sin” can receive the sacraments without repentance and without the intention to refrain from sin in the future.
He also says that there are “different levels” of gravity depending on the type of sin, which he defines as the “the departure from God and his will.”
“Spirit’s sins” such as spiritual pride and avarice can be worse than the “sins of the flesh” which are a result of a “human weakness.”
Quoting Thomas Aquinas, Müller argues that “the apostasy of faith, the denial of the divinity of Christ weighs more than theft and adultery; adultery among married people weighs more than among the unmarried and, the adultery of the faithful, who know God’s will, weighs more than that of the unbelievers.”
In addition, in the “assessment of guilt” there can be “mitigating circumstances,” which don’t turn an act which is “objectively bad” into a “subjectively good” one, as dubia number 4 posed. The cardinal gives the example of the care for children in common, “which is a duty deriving from natural law.”
He also writes about Catholics being abandoned by their spouse “without their own fault.” A special spiritual discernment is needed to find a path of conversion, “going beyond an easy adaptation to the relativistic spirit of time or a cold application of dogmatic precepts and canonical dispositions.”