March 5, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Formulating pastoral practices based on “individual cases” is a “rhetorical trick” that undermines the unity of the faith, said Cardinal Gerhard Müller in an interview published last week in German and translated into English by LifeSiteNews.
“That is why papal and episcopal statements on the reception of the Sacraments have to be prepared in such a clear manner that they serve the salvation of the people. Christ did not institute the Magisterium in order to initiate processes which lead into confusion,” he said.
Cardinal Müller made the comments to Die Tagespost last week.
He was reacting primarily to the German bishops’ decision to open Communion to the Protestant spouses of Catholics in some cases. LifeSiteNews reported only excerpts from the former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s interview to the German journalist Regina Einig. His comments may also have been directed, in part, toward Pope Francis' exhortation Amoris Laetitia which, due to ambiguity, has been interpreted by many bishops and cardinals as allowing habitual adulterers to receive Communion, contrary to previous Church teaching.
Müller said that the Eucharist cannot simply be given to anyone, just because they want it.
“Neither the pope nor we bishops may re-define the Sacraments as a means to soothe psychological pains and fulfill personal spiritual needs,” he said when asked about a Protestant married to a Catholic receiving the sacrament.
When asked about Pope Francis’ apparent openness through vague statements and gestures to have non-Catholic Christians receiving Holy Communion, the Cardinal said they have “no magisterial weight.”
“The task of the pope, together with the Congregation for the Faith, is to preserve the unity of the Church in the revealed truth. It is legitimate to have a pluralism in theology, but a pluralism in the Faith is wrong. Because there is only one Faith and one Church,” he said.
“The pope might think, according to his own feeling, that his task is not to pronounce interdicts and that he, rather, should find formulations which appeal to those outside of the Church. This pastoral impetus is good. [But] the mission and task of the pope is also to convince people of the Faith and to lead them into the depth of the Gospel according to the mandate of Jesus that Peter shall confirm his brethren, always and everywhere, in that exact revealed Faith (Luke 22,32),” he added.
In this same interview, Cardinal Müller not only opposed the German bishops’ decision to open Communion to the Protestant spouses of Catholics but also the suggestion raised by German bishops to offer a blessing for homosexual couples.
LifeSiteNews is pleased to provide a translation of the entire interview.
Translated by Maike Hickson with permission from Regina Einig.
Question: Your Eminence, the German bishops want to admit mixed marriages in individual cases to Holy Communion; the non-Catholic spouse may make here his own decision of conscience. Is this a form of ecumencial progress?
There would be only ecumenical progress if we came closer to the great goal of the unity of Christians in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. The precondition for this, however, would be the recognition of the sacramentality of the Church and of the fact that we have no power of disposal over the Sacraments. Here, one would first have to clarify whether bishops' conferences do not step over their own area of authority in individual cases. They have no power to make decisions in questions of Faith in a manner that the result, as a practical consequence, would contradict the Faith. That is why St. Paul, in Antioch, stood up openly to St. Peter, because the latter “was to be blamed” for ambiguous conduct which darkened the “truth of the Gospel” (Gal. 2: 11, 14).
Question: But some are hoping that this new step would foster a rapprochement of the confessions. What is there to be objected?
One may not separate pastoral practice from the Church's doctrine. If we depart from the revealed Faith [supposedly] for the sake of the salvation of souls, it would mean to correct God who in our eyes would then not be at all capable of foreseeing in His Commandments all the possible concrete individual cases. That would be madness, in whose abyss the Church then would sink. We cannot do so as if one could accomplish the full community of the Church – which is represented in the Eucharist – without “considering our teachings to be true,” as Justin the Martyr already said in his First Apology (art. 66, written around 150 B.C. in Rome). If, according to Vatican II's Constitution on the Liturgy (SC 10; 47), the Eucharist is the “source and climax” of the liturgical life of the Church, how could one then claim that the question as to whether someone may fully partake in it does not touch the question of Faith? The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, and the Eucharist the Sacramental Body of Christ, which one may only receive if one belongs fully and without obstacle to that same one visible Church, according to one's profession and to one's state of Grace. This connection can only get lost where this bond between the Church and the Sacraments is not as highly valued as in the Catholic Faith – as well as in the Orthodox faith – or where there is dominant a [dubious] view according to which one may save oneself individually.
Question: But the Church knows exceptions?
But here it is not about the fulfillment of spiritual needs or about an attentiveness toward social pressures. If a Protestant Christian finds himself in an emergency situation, in which his salvation is at stake – that is to say, if he is in danger of death – and where he cannot reach his own clergyman and he, as an individual, can agree in that moment with the Catholic Faith in the Eucharist and in the sacramental essence of the Catholic Church, such a person may, for the sake of his salvation, receive the Sacraments: first Penance, then Holy Communion. But the marriage with a Catholic partner, the family ties, or a good friendship with non-Catholic Christians do not fulfill the preconditions for such an emergency situation where it is about eternal salvation. He who shares the Catholic Eucharistic Faith, additionally has to reject those teachings of non-Catholic communities that are opposed to it.
Question: However, in the [episcopal] decision, there is only talk of individual cases.
The formulation “individual cases” is a rhetorical trick. Most of the faithful are no theologians who have an overview over this topic. That is why papal and episcopal statements on the reception of the Sacraments have to be prepared in such a clear manner that they serve the salvation of the people. Christ did not institute the Magisterium in order to initiate processes which lead into confusion. The Holy Ghost, by the way, is not the stopgap for deficient knowledge of, and theological reflection on, the Catholic doctrine. The institution of the Church by the historic Christ must not be played against the living presence of the elevated Lord in the Holy Ghost. The Magisterium was transmitted to the shepherds in order to exercise power over others, but only in order to pass on to all of the faithful Christ's teaching that has been entrusted to them – and not at all in order to please members of one's own ideological group. Bishops and priests are not the cause of Grace, but merely administer the Sacraments of Grace, as Catholic Tradition distinguishes it in a meticulous manner.
Question: The [German] bishops refer to Code of Canon Law 844, § 4 CIC and the “grave spiritual need” upon which a Protestant spouse may rely. How do you assess this interpretation of the law?
It is not right to apply can. 844, § 4 CIC in this fundamental manner to mixed marriages. Mixed marriages are not an emergency situation. Through it, the salvation of the spouses is not endangered. On the contrary, it is a great challenge which can definitely be dealt with together in the Faith. Neither the pope nor we bishops may re-define the Sacraments as a means to soothe psychological pains and fulfill personal spiritual needs. They are effective signs of the God's Grace. We respect the good will and the religious conviction of our fellow Christians from other denominations, but we also expect that our Faith is respected as an expression of our conviction, and that it is not demeaned as a product of stubbornness or of a “conservative” world view.
Question: What is the essential matter in light of the Catholic understanding, and especially in this context?
For the Catholic understanding, the connection between Church and Sacrament is decisive. The Church is not an institution which offers religious rites – and under certain conditions also to non-members – but the Church lives out her being and her life in the Sacraments. For the Protestants, however, the Sacraments merely serve as a confirmation of a faith which alone has already justified the sinner. We do not share this view; we respectively say more about the Sacraments. We believe in the objective efficacy of the Sacraments.
Question: The reformed evangelical theologian, Ulrich Körtner (University of Vienna [Austria]), speaks in this context about “botch-up.” According to him, the [German] bishops are giving their consent [“sanctus”] to the practice, while the Catholic spouse still is not admitted to Protestant communion. How do you assess Körtner's thesis that a sound theology would look differently?
Körtner speaks in view of a mutual admittance which, however, would only be justified if the Protestant last supper and the Catholic Eucharist would be identical and the relations between Church-justification-Sacrament would be the identical in the Catholic Church as in the different communities with a Protestant background. I have heard that Catholic theologians are critical about the quality of the first draft [as written by the German bishops] with regard to its Biblical foundation and its correspondence with the authentic Magisterium of the Catholic Church, but, so far, the definitive handout is not yet available. If one, however, deals with principles in too loose of a fashion, one may not be astonished when other undesired conclusions are being drawn from it.
Question: Which ones, for example?
The Catholic Faith is in effect being relativized. Progress in the field of ecumenism is desirable and necessary. But from the Catholic point of view, this progress may not go into the direction of a protestantization of the Catholic Church, which would mean a reverse “ecumenism of return.” Let us only imagine a Protestant youth who has a close bond with a Catholic friend and asks for the Sacraments of Confirmation, but, at the same time, wishes to remain a Protestant. Or what about a good, practicing Catholic who legally leaves the Catholic Church as a public corporation [in Germany, one registers with the state one's membership with the Church] out of disdain over her increasing politicization – as he conceives it – for what reason could one deny him, of all people, Holy Communion?
Question: But the proponents of the new rule refer to some vague statements of the pope at the Lutheran church in Rome.
But these statements and gestures are cutting no ice in this context. They have no magisterial weight. Many speak currently about a crisis in the Roman Magisterium, which allows contradictory dogmatic statements issued by bishops' conferences instead of forbidding them, as would be the duty of the Congregation for the Faith. No ecclesial teaching authority can give to the bishops' conferences – which only exist due to a Church law – a teaching competence which they do not have and which they cannot have. The task of the pope, together with the Congregation for the Faith, is to preserve the unity of the Church in the revealed truth. It is legitimate to have a pluralism in theology, but a pluralism in the Faith is wrong. Because there is only one Faith and one Church. The pope might think, according to his own feeling, that his task is not to pronounce interdicts and that he, rather, should find formulations which appeal to those outside of the Church. This pastoral impetus is good. [But] the mission and task of the pope is also to convince people of the Faith and to lead them into the depth of the Gospel according to the mandate of Jesus that Peter shall confirm his brethren, always and everywhere, in that exact revealed Faith (Luke 22,32).
Question: How does the path of ecumenism look in your view?
Of course we do not any more live in the age of confessional controversies, but each is still called to understand ever more deeply the faith of one's community. That is, in my view, the path of ecumenism: to approach one another in an honest manner and to overcome misunderstandings. We Catholics do not wish to give up the sacramentality of the Church. That would be the greatest betrayal of our profession of Faith. What is gained for the unity of the Church if one creates within one's own ranks strife, and strikes wounds? Many have invoked collegiality and have kept talking and talking about synodality as the common path. What hinders us to practice them in these much-praised individual cases?
Question: The notion of an ecumenism of return has today a bad reputation. But when a Protestant Christian, who is married to a Catholic, shares that Catholic Faith – what speaks against conversion?
For every good pastor, there are margins of discretion – depending upon the question as to which family tradition the Protestant spouse stems from, and which considerations he has to keep in mind. But in the normal case it would be a consequent step because there exists only the one truth. It cannot be God's will that there are several religious denominations existing next to one another whose doctrines are contradicting each other. We might live now in a so-called post-confessional age. That is a social-psychological analysis or an analysis pertaining to the history of ideas. But the Catholic Church has never been a denomination such as Protestants have formed in their own communities according to Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and others. She sees herself, in her Creed which binds each Catholic in his conscience, as the one Church founded by Christ Himself and as led by the pope in community with the bishops (Lumen gentium 8). Everybody is entitled to contest this claim. But then he is not Catholic.
Question: The “decision of conscience in individual cases” is, according to some theologians, to prepare the way also for the blessing of homosexual couples. How do you assess this?
Behind the endlessly “opened doors,” there does not necessarily stand a solid house – it could also be a fake. There will only come fresh air through the windows, if it exists outside. Instead of repeating mantra-like these old images, one should formulate things in a theologically correct way. That is the best contribution for good pastoral care and for ecumenism. The expression “decision of conscience in individual cases” is redundant [“ein weisser Schimmel”], because decisions of conscience can always only be made in individual cases. It is about my free positioning in the face of revealed truths and God's moral laws. There are no exceptions to God's laws, because they are always about the salvation of man. The circumstances, however, can enlarge or mitigate the size of my guilt. Here, God alone is the judge over each man. Much less can I deny individual truths of the Faith on occasion, just as I cannot violate God's Commandments Who shows me in them the way to salvation and to well-being.
Question: What speaks against the blessing of homosexual unions?
To bless means to approve something according to the meaning which God has laid into the institutions of His creation, and first and foremost into the persons themselves. Nobody condemns as a person somebody with homosexual inclinations. That would be a sacrilegious presumption to question the essential goodness of the existence of a person created by God. By the way, there are no homosexuals as a distinct class of people. That would be the worst form of discrimination. Because God created man according to his image and likeness, and He created them as man and woman. But when homosexual acts contradict God's Will, then nobody may ask for God's blessing for them. Pastoral care looks different and serves the peace of the soul only if it remains founded in truth. A true pastoral care which is about the people – and not about one's own reputation in the published opinion – helps those concerned to find their way to salvation in spite of all the difficulties, and to rejoice about their lives as a gift from God and thus also to recognize one's own call to eternal life.
Question: But it is said that such relationships also have some positive elements and values. Are you convinced by this argument?
Yes of course, there are positive elements in nearly all relationships. But that does not justify acts against God's Commandments. If siblings loyally take care of one another, they have no legitimacy that they take advantage of one another in individual cases with regard to their inheritance. Love and truth always belong together, they are inseparable. All of God's Commandments are valid for everybody to whom God has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ as truth and life. “If we keep His Commandments, we recognize that we know Him. Whoever says 'I know Him,' but does not keep His Commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” (1 John 2:3sq.)