While this interview has some positive points, parts are at odds with his previous statements, showing continued confusion from Rome.
Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), gave an interview to the Italian apologetics magazine Il Timone where he discussed the ongoing controversy over Pope Francis’s exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (AL), and whether or not the document allows for Communion to be given to those who are (civilly) divorced and remarried. Although a full English translation of the interview is not yet available, a partial translation of the Cardinal’s more salient remarks has been made available on the site of Vaticanist Sandro Magister. We reproduce them below with commentary to follow.
Cardinal Müller on the Exhortation
Q: Can there be a contradiction between doctrine and personal conscience?
A: No, 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. For Catholic doctrine, it is impossible for mortal sin to coexist with sanctifying grace. In order to overcome this absurd contradiction, Christ has instituted for the faithful the Sacrament of penance and reconciliation with God and with the Church.
Q: This is a question that is being extensively discussed with regard to the debate surrounding the post-synodal exhortation “Amoris Laetitia.”
A: “Amoris Laetitia” must clearly be interpreted in the light of the whole doctrine of the Church. [...] I don’t like it, it is not right that so many bishops are interpreting “Amoris Laetitia” according to their way of understanding the pope’s teaching. This does not keep to the line of Catholic doctrine. The magisterium of the pope is interpreted only by him or through the congregation for the doctrine of the faith. The pope interprets the bishops, it is not the bishops who interpret the pope, this would constitute an inversion of the structure of the Catholic Church. To all these who are talking too much, I urge them to study first the doctrine [of the councils] on the papacy and the episcopate. The bishop, as teacher of the Word, must himself be the first to be well-formed so as not to fall into the risk of the blind leading the blind. [...]
Q: The exhortation of Pope John Paul II, “Familiaris Consortio,” stipulates that divorced and remarried couples that cannot separate, in order to receive the sacraments must commit to live in continence. Is this requirement still valid?
A: Of course, it is not dispensable, because it is not only a positive law of John Paul II, but he expressed an essential element of Christian moral theology and the theology of the sacraments. The confusion on this point also concerns the failure to accept the encyclical “Veritatis Splendor,” with the clear doctrine of the “intrinsece malum.” [...] For us marriage is the expression of participation in the unity between Christ the bridegroom and the Church his bride. This is not, as some said during the Synod, a simple vague analogy. No! This is the substance of the sacrament, and 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.
Q: How can one resolve the chaos that is being generated on account of the different interpretations that are given of this passage of Amoris Laetitia?
A: I urge everyone to reflect, studying the doctrine of the Church first, starting from the Word of God in Sacred Scripture, which is very clear on marriage. I would also advise not entering into any casuistry that can easily generate misunderstandings, above all that according to which if love dies, then the marriage bond is dead. These are sophistries: the Word of God is very clear and the Church does not accept the secularization of marriage. The task of priests and bishops is not that of creating confusion, but of bringing clarity. One cannot refer only to little passages present in “Amoris Laetitia,” but it has to be read as a whole, with the purpose of making the Gospel of marriage and the family more attractive for persons. It is not “Amoris Laetitia” that has provoked a confused interpretation, but some confused interpreters of it. All of us must understand and accept the doctrine of Christ and of his Church, and at the same time be ready to help others to understand it and put it into practice even in difficult situations.
Comments on the Interview:
Praise for Cardinal Müller
It is indeed praiseworthy that the Church’s doctrinal chief has made his voice be heard on the impermissibility of giving Communion to the divorce and remarried while reminding the faithful that not even a pope can change the indefectible dogmas of the Catholic Church. Moreover, we are glad that Cardinal Müller included a strong defense of marriage and morality in his remarks with reference to the Scriptural basis for the indissolubility of marriage.
For too long bishops, priests, and laity have been muddying the waters on the Church’s official stance regarding not only the sacrament of Marriage, but Penance and the Eucharist as well. This lamentable situation no doubt inspired 45 theologians to issue a document condemning the errors in AL and, later, prompted four cardinals to dispatch five dubia to Pope Francis in the hopes of clarifying the exhortation. Sadly, Pope Francis has not yet responded to these dubia nor given any indication that he intends to in the future.
Serious Concerns Still Exist
With that noted, there is still much more to be said concerning both AL and Pope Francis’s intentions. While Cardinal Müller called for AL to “be interpreted in the light of the whole doctrine of the Church,” that does not change the fact that AL itself contains numerous passages which appear on their face to be in conflict with prior Catholic teaching. It seems that Cardinal Müller is calling for a “hermeneutic of continuity” with regards to AL, the same hermeneutic Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI wanted applied to the Second Vatican Council. Whatever the merits of this approach on the interpretive level, as a practical matter it fails to consider that the problem with AL and certain documents of Vatican II may not be hermeneutical, but substantive. That is to say, it may not be the interpretation of these documents which is solely responsible for certain problems in the Church but rather the documents themselves.
Regrettably, Cardinal Müller does not address the reality that AL is, at best, a highly ambiguous document that lends itself to problematic, indeed even heretical, readings. Further, the Prefect’s interview does not confront directly the unsettling fact that Pope Francis, along with several bishops’ conferences around the world, have pushed forward the possibility of granting Communion to the divorced and remarried on the basis of what AL appears to teach. It would have arguably been better for Cardinal Müller to have denounced those passages in AL (if not the exhortation as a whole) that have provided cover to those seeking to dissent from Catholic dogma rather than merely call for a hermeneutic of continuity to be applied.