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Cardinal Gerhard Muller (R), prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family.John-Henry Westen /

The attempt to separate the Catholic Church’s teaching from her practice is “heresy” according to the Vatican’s highest doctrinal official.

“Each division between ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ of the faith would be a reflection of a subtle Christological ‘heresy,’” Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told a recent gathering of the International Theological Commission. Such a division could only be the result of “a division in the mystery of the eternal Word of the Father, who became flesh.”

Muller’s remarks were published earlier this month by the Vatican’s own newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.

It has always been the teaching of Christianity that “knowledge of God” is ordered to “the ultimate end of man, for man’s salvation,” Müller said, citing the First Vatican Council in the 19th century. There can never be “a gap or a conflict between the understanding of faith and pastoral or practice of the lived faith.” Therefore, all “authentic theology” grows out of and remains consistent with the “theory.”

“You could say that the whole theological thinking, all our scientific investigations always have a profound pastoral dimension. Both the dogmatic, moral or other theological disciplines always have their own pastoral dimension,” Müller said.  

The Christian faith “is not an irrational one,” he said. Theology “examines, in a rational discourse on faith, harmony and consistency of the various intrinsic truths of faith, which spring from the only foundation of the revelation of the Triune God.” Nor is theology “a pure speculation or theory detached from the life of believers.”

As prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Church’s highest doctrinal authority under the pope, Cardinal Müller has been one of the principal opponents of the proposal by Cardinal Walter Kasper and the German Catholic bishops to change the practice of the Church to allow divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive the Sacraments without a change in their lives.

Catholic teaching holds that marriage is an unbreakable bond, and thus the Church does not recognize the existence of divorce. Such people, therefore, are understood to be in a state of continuous, unrepentant adultery, a mortal sin that bars them from receiving Communion or the other sacraments.

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The pressure to allow this change has grown out of Germany, where thousands of people in “irregular unions” every year are opting out of the government-sponsored Church tax for which the German Catholic Church relies for the vast majority of its income. At October’s Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, the push was expanded from allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion, to “accepting and valuing” the homosexual “orientation.”

The bishops, cardinals and others who have supported Kasper’s suggestion, have in the main repeated the assertion that Catholic teaching cannot be changed, but continue to insist that the practice of withholding Communion and other sacraments from those in adulterous unions can.

Cardinal Müller has not been the only one to denounce the idea that doctrine and practice can be opposed. Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, the archbishop of Bologna, has also said there can be no contradiction between what the Church teaches on marriage and her practice.

Prior to the Synod, Caffarra said in a lengthy interview with the Italian paper Il Foglio that the logic of Kasper’s proposal, if expanded, could eradicate the very concept of marriage within the Church. “At this point one might wonder: why did he not approve of the free cohabitation? And why not relationships between homosexuals?” Caffarra asked.