Amoris laetitia: “Bishops against bishops, cardinals against cardinals”
February 17, 2017
In a message published on February 1, 2017, on the subject of the interpretation of the Post-Synodal Exhortation Amoris laetitia, the German Bishops’ Conference says that “it is necessary to respect a decision by the faithful to receive the sacraments” and that divorced-and-“remarried” persons may be admitted to Communion in certain cases.
Cardinals Gerhard Müller (on the left) and Reinhard Marx.
The German bishops take care to affirm that the indissolubility of marriage belongs to the Church’s inviolable deposit of the faith, but that Pope Francis is nonetheless calling for a nuanced view of each living situation. According to them, the persons concerned must experience that the Church is not abandoning them. And it must be possible to examine differentiated solutions when a finding of nullity of marriage is not possible, while avoiding both an attitude that is too lax and behavior that is too severe.
The German prelates are anxious to explain that this is not an “automatic solution tending toward the general admission of all divorced-and-remarried persons to the sacraments”. The conscientious decision can only be the result of a serious examination and a spiritual approach accompanied by a priest. At the end of this process, access to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to the Eucharist will not necessarily be granted in all cases. – We remember how Communion in the hand, initially a pastoral exception, became a universal rule.
At the same time, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, granted an interview published in the February issue of the apologetics magazine Il Timone. He warns the bishops who interpret the Magisterium. According to him, “Amoris laetitia must clearly be interpreted in the light of the whole doctrine of the Church.” He adds, “It is not right that so many bishops are interpreting Amoris laetitia according to their way of understanding the pope’s teaching.” The high-ranking prelate is alluding not only to his German confreres, but also the bishop on the Island of Malta, who in January published a document in favor of communion for divorced-and-“remarried” Catholics that was reprinted in the January 14 issue (Italian edition) of L’Osservatore Romano, sparking criticism from a number of their diocesan priests in the press.
Given such confusion, Cardinal Müller points out that “the Magisterium of the Pope is interpreted only by him or through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.... It is not the bishops who interpret the Pope,” because that would be “an inversion of the structure of the Catholic Church.” The Prefect of the CDF advises those who talk “too much... to study first the doctrine [of the Councils] on the papacy and the episcopate.” As “teacher of the Word”, a bishop must be the first to be “well-formed” so as not to run the risk of being “a blind man leading the blind.”
Cardinal Müller also says that for a Catholic there can be no contradiction between doctrine and personal conscience: that is “impossible”. For example, “it cannot be said that there are circumstances according to which an act of adultery does not constitute a mortal sin.” He recalls that mortal sin cannot “coexist” with sanctifying grace. Hence, with regard to the admission of divorced-and-“remarried” persons to the sacraments, the German prelate reaffirms the doctrine of the Church contained in Sacred Scripture and in Familiaris consortio: the need for these persons who wish to receive Holy Communion to live together as brother and sister. Cardinal Müller emphasizes also that marriage is the expression of the unity between Christ and the Church: “This is not, as some said during the Synod, a simple vague analogy.” On the contrary, it is the very “substance of the sacrament” of marriage. “No power in heaven or on earth, neither an angel, nor the pope, nor a council, nor a law of the bishops, has the faculty to change it,” he explains.
A civil war?
Given this manifest opposition between laymen, priests, bishops and cardinals, some Vatican watchers—such as Antonio Socci—speak about “civil war between Catholics”. In the February 11 issue of Corrispondenza Romana, the historian Roberto de Mattei comments on this expression: “The image of civil war is obviously a metaphor to describe an atmosphere of doctrinal clashes, which present for the first time in modern Church history the spectacle of bishops against bishops and cardinals against cardinals. Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, affirms that Amoris laetitia must be interpreted in the light of the Church’s doctrine and cannot permit Holy Communion for divorced-and-remarried persons, but Cardinal Reinhard Marx [President of the German Bishops’ Conference] responded that he “cannot manage to understand” how there can be interpretations of Amoris laetitia different from those of the German bishops, who admit the possibility of access to the Eucharist for those who are living more uxorio [as husband and wife].
“This is about a confrontation that is not just hermeneutical. Two conflicting concepts of Catholic morality are facing off. And the existence of different interpretations of the same document shows how justified the term “confusion” is, which the director of the Sismografo, Luis Badilla, protests against. Are we supposed to say that clarity reigns in the Church? The dubia of the four cardinals are more than justified, and ‘fraternal correction’ of the Roman Pontiff is necessary if he persists in an attitude that favors the spread of heresy.”
But the Roman university professor is anxious to explain how this demand for clarification must be formulated: “Laicists [dogmatic secularists] and modernists make use of insults, lies, calumny and disinformation. The style of those who fight for the truth must be different, in words and in deeds. We must not forget, furthermore, that the one responsible for the confusion and the scandal is unfortunately a pope who governs the Church legitimately, at least until the contrary is proved. His errors in the area of doctrine and pastoral ministry can be criticized, but with due respect for the institution that he represents, at least until he demonstrates plainly that he wants to give up his mission. For the moment, Pope Francis expresses in his person the mystery of the Church, which is holy and immaculate in its essence, but sometimes very fragile among the human beings who represent it. The battle, therefore, must unfold seriously and in a dignified manner; Antonio Socci, by citing Cardinal Burke and Cardinal Caffarra as models, seems to be telling us that this is the way in which he intends to wage it. We do too.”
In an interview that he granted to Radio Courtoisie on January 26, Abp. Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X, declared concerning the confusion caused by Amoris laetitia: “You have Cardinal Müller who says, ‘This text does not go against the Faith.’ In other words, it can be interpreted in a Catholic way. Not only can we, but we must interpret it in a Catholic way. Those who do not interpret it in a Catholic way are wrong. He doesn’t say it as clearly as that because if he did, he would be pointing a finger at his boss. What he leaves unsaid is extremely important... and the four cardinals rightly pointed out this gaping wound in the doctrine that had been clear until now, really very clear. For they have opened a door to the divorced-and-“remarried” that they had no right to open. Simply no right. And so Cardinal Müller says, “We have not gone through the door, we have not abandoned divine law.” Officially, that is true, except that a certain number of bishops’ conferences have already shown the way out.” (See in our documents a large excerpt from this interview, pages ##.)
(Sources: cath.ch/imedia/corrispondenza romana – DICI no. 349 dated February 17, 2017)
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