FREIBURG, Germany, January 7, 2013 ( – The president of the German bishops’ conference says the conference will press forward with their plan to begin distributing Communion to Catholics who have ‘remarried’ outside the Church after a divorce, despite the judgment of Archbishop Gerhard Müller, the prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Müller had excluded the possibility that those entering a second union without having secured a declaration of nullity would be eligible to receive communion.

But the Most Reverend Robert Zollitsch, Archbishop Emeritus of Freiburg, in an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt on December 29th, denied that the issue was settled in light of Müller’s negative stance. “A Prefect is not the Pope,” Zollitsch stated, emphasizing the importance of a “responsible decision [made] in conscience.” 


Zollitsch has pointed to Pope Francis himself as having intimated that a change in the Church’s policy might be coming in the near future: “I feel very encouraged by Pope Francis, who has called a special synod on marriage and the family for October 2014,” the prelate said.

In a well-known interview given while he was returning from World Youth Day on July 28th, 2013, Pope Francis spoke of the need to develop a comprehensive pastoral program for the family and of streamlining the annulment process. He also referenced the Orthodox Church’s practice of permitting second marriages as giving the impression that the Catholic practice could undergo modification.

In September the controversy about communion for the divorced resurfaced when the Archdiocese of Freiburg released guidelines that made reception of Holy Communion available to divorced and remarried parishioners. Archbishop Müller quickly replied to this document in a letter to Zollitsch of October 8th, and more elaborately on October 22nd. Despite Müller’s interventions, on November 23rd Bishop Gebhard Furst of Rottenburg-Stuttgart indicated that the German bishops would adopt proposals on reinstating divorced and remarried parishioners as full members of the Church during their March plenary.

Various German bishops have subsequently weighed in on the controversy, often emphasizing that the disciplinary and pastoral dimensions of the Church’s ministry have been running counter to each other.  On December 12th, Cardinal Walter Kasper, who is also a member of the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation, contradicted Müller when he stated that “turning someone away from the communion rail – one doesn’t do that.” Bishop Gebhard Fürst suggested that the current practice does not “take into account the concrete reality” – at least in certain cases.

So far few concrete arguments have been offered as to why the Church’s current practice of securing an annulment before another union is undertaken is incapable of resolving the pastoral problems that have been identified by the German bishops.

The Holy Father’s comments of July 28th, as well as Müller’s letter of October 22nd, indicate that the problem lies with the annulment process itself as well as with poor marriage catechesis. For instance, Müller has underlined the fact that “the entire sacramental economy is a work of divine mercy,” by which he implies that the rules of the Church are as they are for the good of all people.