Who's clearly affirming Church's teaching?

December 06, 2013
Source: District of the USA

Can the situation in the Catholic Church being any more confusing? The pope gives an open-ended answer to a moral-sacramental question, a retired archbishop (still effectively running a diocese) contradicts Church teaching, and the CDF prefect gives a correction.

Vatican clarifies marriage teaching in Germany

Archbishop Gerhard Muller (head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, or CDF for short) recently wrote his German colleague, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch (archbishop-emeritus of the Freiburg-in-Breisgau diocese) to reaffirm the Church’s teaching that remarried divorcees cannot receive Holy Communion.[1]

Despite that Archbishop Zollitsch officially and canonically retired as the archdiocese’s ordinary on September 17, nonetheless during the vacancy the emeritus has continued to function as the diocese’s chief administrator as well as the chairman of the German bishops’ conference. So although officially without any formal office, nonetheless Zollitsch is still a thorn in Rome’s side.

Early in October Zollitsch’s archdiocesan office published a document suggesting that divorced and remarried Catholics can receive Holy Communion if they show:

  • their first marriage cannot be reentered,
  • repent of their fault in a divorce and
  • enter “a new moral responsibility” with their new spouse

The document also suggested priests might offer “prayer services” for divorced faithful entering into a new civil marriage.

Soon after, Archbishop-Emertius Zollitsch received a severe letter of correction from Archbishop Muller, who cited both doctrinal and pastoral reasons that oppose this draft text from Freiburg:

Pastoral paths must all agree with the teaching of the Church… this [Church] position of the Magisterium is well-founded: remarried divorcees put themselves in the way of their admission to the Eucharist, inasmuch as their lifestyle is in objective contradiction to that bond of love between Christ and the Church, which the Eucharist makes visible and present. If such people were allowed to (receive) the Eucharist, it would cause confusion among the faithful regarding the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage…"

Concerning the “prayer services” proposed to be offered by priests for the divorced faithful entering into a new civil marriage, Muller explained that this would send a mixed message:

Such ceremonies would give the impression of the celebration of a new sacramentally valid marriage, and would thus lead people into error concerning the indissolubility of a validly contracted marriage. The respect due to the sacrament of Matrimony, to the couples themselves and their families, and also to the community of the faithful, forbids any pastor, for whatever reason or pretext even of a pastoral nature, to perform ceremonies of any kind for divorced people who remarry. Such celebrations were expressly forbidden by John Paul II and Benedict XVI."

The CDF prefect went on to inform Archbishop Zollitsch that he “felt obliged to inform Pope Francis about it” as “the text has raised questions not only in Germany, but in many parts of the world as well, and has led to uncertainties in a delicate pastoral issue.”

Archbishop Muller went one step further, by sending a document to all of the German bishops which stressed that while divorced and remarried Catholics cannot be admitted to Communion, this means it is “all the more imperative” to show them “pastoral concern. The path indicated by the Church is not easy for those concerned, yet they should know and sense that the Church as a community of salvation accompanies them on their journey.”

A further observation is perhaps appropriate here. During the post-conciliar period, certainly the more progressivist bishops have been pushing the envelope on such Church issues (e.g., woman ordinations, pro-life issues, etc.). Nonetheless, some seem re-galvanized by Pope Francis open-ended manner of addressing such issues, as he did during his recent address to the Roman clergy, which provoked a Catholic journalist to criticize the Holy Father for the confusion he is causing by his ambiguous remarks.

On the other hand, it is rather refreshing to see Archbishop Muller fulfilling his solemn duty as the CDF’s prefect by re-affirming what the Catholic Church actually teaches, thus (in a way) firmly closing what Pope Francis left open.

However, the page with the story’s happy ending still has not be reached. For on December 1, Archbishop Zollitsch announced in La Croix that the Church needs to change its approach to denying Communion to remarried-divorces. We must now wait and see what the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s (or even Pope Francis’) response will be.

But our cause for future concern goes even deeper than the "mere" Zollitsch case at hand. For as was recently reported, Pope Francis has initiated a studies of possible "reform" on matters related to the family, even taking the unprecedented step of conducting a worldwide Vatican survey to which even the laity are expected to respond. We will be offering further comments on this matter later.

Thus the battle for the Catholic Faith is far from over and even if we had thought the post-conciliar crisis could not get any worse, we now appear to be entering a new dimension.


1 Source of quotes is from the Catholic News Agency article of 11-14-2013, "Vatican intervenes to clarify marriage teaching in Germany."