Editor’s Note: The following article was translated from the Italian magazine La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana by LifeSite's Diane Montagna, and is reprinted with permission.
“The Dubia are authoritative and clearly legitimate,” says the former Vatican doctrinal prefect in a new interview.
November 8, 2017 (LaNuovaBQ.it) – “No, no change and no demolishing the Dubia. The purpose of my intervention was only to state that the one way to interpret Amoris Laetitia is in continuity with the Word of God in the Bible, the previous Magisterium, and with the Tradition of the great Councils of Florence, Trent and Vatican II.”
On the telephone, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, immediately distances himself from the slanted interpretations of headlines claiming he was signaling an opening of access to the Eucharist for the “divorced and remarried.”
The whole affair began with an introductory essay which Cardinal Müller wrote for a new book by Rocco Buttiglione called, “Friendly responses to the critics of Amoris Laetita” (ed. Ares, due out in Italian November 10).
According to reports circulated by Vatican Insider, Cardinal Müller supports opening a pathway to the sacraments for the “divorced and remarried.” The substance of the Vatican Insider claims would be addressed later in our conversation. For now, Cardinal Müller clarifies that the expression “divorced and remarried” is not really correct, and that we should rather refer to the “baptized in a legitimate sacramental marriage who live more uxorio [as husband and wife] with a partner who is not their legitimate husband or wife.” According to these same interpretations, Cardinal Müller’s essay therefore refutes the position of the Dubia cardinals.
“Not at all,” the former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith repeated. “The Dubia are authoritative and clearly legitimate. I gave a response that isn’t against any person. My text is clear on this. A correct interpretation [of my text] is that Amoris Laetitia can and must be interpreted in an orthodox way in the unity of Catholic tradition.”
“Unfortunately,” Müller continues, “some people always take a ‘partisan’ view, for or against the Pope, as if the Church were a political party. My intervention is not meant to continue the polemics but to overcome them, and to speak about these issues theologically. It is not about being right at any cost, but about honoring revealed Truth.”
“I would like my reflections to help us get away from this narrow view: the issue is the Truth, what Jesus Christ said, not the Pope or the Cardinals,” he said. “And as for the Pope, it is necessary to distinguish what is written in magisterial documents, in which he is a teacher of the faith, from what can be opinions, comments and even intentions that, being private claims, have no relevance for the divine and Catholic faith. In any case, the only criterion for judgment is what Jesus Christ said. Let’s not talk about divorced and remarried but about legitimate sacramental marriage before God or [a marriage that is] not valid. And in this case, how do we help these couples who live more uxorio without being validly married before God?”
Cascioli: And so we touch on the question of the indissolubility of marriage. In recent days, it’s been said that you are convinced there can be some exceptions.
Cardinal Muller: No exceptions. This idea is false. I gave a clear theological explanation, which left no room for misunderstanding. I would like to bring peace to the situation and not fuel polemics between opposing groups.
And so we need to be clear that when it comes to a legitimate sacramental marriage there can be no exceptions. The sacraments are efficacious ex opere operato. Just as there are no exceptions in the validity of baptism, or of the transubstantiation of the bread into the Body of Christ.”
But in Buttiglione’s essay, he refers to several very particular situations in which there would be a venial sin, so that it should be possible to be absolved and to receive the sacraments while maintaining the state of the second union.
In my introduction it is very clearly written that reconciliation is needed, and this is only possible if there is first contrition and a firm purpose not to commit the sin anymore. Certain people who address these issues do not understand that approaching the Sacrament of Reconciliation does not mean automatic absolution. There are essential elements without which reconciliation cannot be achieved. If there isn’t contrition there cannot be absolution and if there is no absolution, if one remains in the state of mortal sin, one cannot receive Communion.
As for Buttiglione, he refers to situations where knowledge of the Catholic faith is a problem. These are cases of unconscious Christians, who are baptized but unbelieving, who may have gotten married in Church to please their grandmother, but without a real awareness. Here it becomes a problem when, after many years, they return to the faith and then question the marriage. There are many such cases. Benedict XVI also looked at the issue. So what’s to be done? In this sense we can say with the Pope that discernment is needed, but this does not mean that one can be granted access to the sacraments without the conditions mentioned above. The issue here is not about the indissolubility of sacramental marriage, but about the validity of many marriages that aren’t really valid.
But in your essay you also refer to cases of people who convert or return to the faith after already having entered a second union, and regarding the sacraments you talk about a decision in the internal forum. What do you mean?
While in Europe things are clear enough at least theoretically, in many countries there are many difficult situations to judge. In Latin America, for example, there are many marriages that are not celebrated according to the canonical form. There are couples who live together but one doesn’t know if there is an actual marriage consent. I was in Haiti recently and the situation there is disastrous; everyone is called a spouse. They live together but they aren’t formally married either in church or civilly. When some mature, they start going to church and then you have to determine who the true husband or wife is. And here it’s important for the person to be honest and say sincerely with whom they have expressed true consent, because it is the consent that makes a marriage, not only the canonical form. In any case, in order to be admitted to the sacraments, the parish priest or bishop must clarify the situation in cooperation with the freedom of the faithful. But there are also situations that are overturned.
Can you say more?
There are particular circumstances, for example under regimes that persecute the Church, where it isn’t possible to be married canonically. Let’s take the example of North Korea: the few Catholics who are present there still have the right to marry, and here a marriage is possible only through consent. But if in time something happens and the two separate, and they want to remarry, then everything depends on the internal forum, on their honesty in acknowledging if there was consent or not, and they have to express that to the priest or to the new husband or wife.
This is where conscience comes into play.
Yes, but conscience understood properly, not like certain journalists explain it who water down the truth. We are talking about a right conscience, one that cannot say “I don’t have to respect God’s law.” Conscience does not free us from God’s law but gives us the guidance to fulfill it.
However, in your introduction to Buttiglione’s book, you shy away from casuistry and seem especially concerned with offering several clear criteria for understanding Amoris Laetitia so as to avoid what you explicitly call “heretical interpretations.”
Exactly. Unfortunately, there are individual bishops and whole episcopal conferences that are proposing interpretations that contradict the previous Magisterium, admitting to the sacraments persons who persist in objective situations of grave sin. But this is not the criterion for applying Amoris Laetitia. Pope Francis himself spoke of a Thomist apostolic exhortation. And so it is right to read it in light of St. Thomas, and on admission to the Eucharist, St. Thomas is clear dogmatically and also has a pastoral sensitivity for individuals.