ROME, November 14, 2013 ( – Following last month’s article correcting and clarifying Catholic teaching on the subject, the head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office has told a German diocese that they must rescind and rewrite a draft protocol allowing divorced and remarried couples to receive Holy Communion.

A letter, written in consultation and with approval from Pope Francis, by Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, (CDF) said that guidelines issued by the archdiocese of Freiburg “for the pastoral care of separated, divorced and civilly remarried people” must be “withdrawn and revised, so that no pastoral directions are sanctioned which are in opposition to Church teaching.”

Catholics who have divorced and remarried civilly, must be offered “support” but cannot be admitted to Holy Communion, the letter said.


The letter, issued in German and published in full by the Catholic website, said that while some points of the guidance “contain very correct and important pastoral teachings,” it was “unclear in its terminology” and actually contradicted Catholic teaching explicitly when it allowed individuals in what the Church calls “irregular situations” to decide for themselves whether to receive Communion.

The Freiburg guidance said that a person in such situations can, in consultation with their parish priests, come to a “responsibly reached decision of conscience” and receive the Sacraments of Baptism, Holy Communion, Confirmation, Confession and Anointing of the Sick, and this decision must “be respected” by the priest and the community.

Müller corrected this, saying that the Catholic teaching on the nature of marriage “reaffirms” the practice “of not admitting divorced persons who have remarried” to the Eucharist.

Not only would admitting such persons to Communion contradict Catholic teaching, Müller added, it would “cause confusion among the faithful about the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage” and must thus be avoided for “pastoral” reasons.

The Catholic Church does not admit the existence of divorce, holding the literal understanding of the Gospel of Matthew in which Christ said it was only because of human “hardness of heart” that the Mosaic Law had allowed divorce. The Church teaches that a person who has civilly divorced and remarried, therefore, cannot be admitted to any of the Sacraments because he is in a state of grave or “mortal” sin as an adulterer.

The Freiburg guidance went so far as to suggest parishes could offer “prayer services” to those entering into non-sacramental, civil unions, that could include an entrance hymn, scriptural readings, blessings and candles, a notion that Müller said was “expressly forbidden.”

Müller cited the document Familiaris Consortio by John Paul II, that said, “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.”

“They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist,” the document continues.

The letter of correction from the CDF closely follows the publication, on October 22, of an article by Archbishop Müller, in the Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, delineating Catholic teaching on the subject. Comments from Pope Francis in an interview on the way back to Italy from World Youth Day in Brazil last summer had set many to speculating that a change was in the works, if not in the teaching then in the practical application of it. But in L’Osservatore Romano, Müller said that this would be impossible, ruling out possible “compromise” positions.

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The issue is the first and most prominent of a list of doctrines and disciplines from which the bishops of Germany have long been in open dissent. In 1993, three prominent members of the German bishops’ conference, then-Archbishops (and later Cardinals) Walter Kasper, Karl Lehmann, and Archbishop Oskar Saier of Freiburg, issued a letter addressed to Pope John Paul II demanding that the Church reconsider “whether that which applies as a general rule also pertains to the concrete circumstances” in the case of the divorced and remarried.

In response, Cardinal Ratzinger, at that time head of the CDF, issued a correction stating that consideration of “very complex individual cases” could not justify any exceptions. To this, the German bishops issued a pastoral letter to their flocks saying, “We do not find ourselves in any doctrinal disagreement” with the CDF’s “position”.

Most recently, in September, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, who retired as head of the Freiburg diocese a few days later, said that persons in this situation “belong to the Church” and that the clergy must “find solutions across the entire Church.”

Zollitsch, who supports homosexual civil unions and the ordination of women as deacons and continues to serve as the head of the German bishops’ conference, told the newspaper Die Zeit a few weeks before Pope Benedict was to visit Germany in 2011, “This is a question of mercy and we will be discussing this problem intensively in the near future.” Zollitsch was then asked about those in homosexual relationships and replied, “We must see how we can find theologically based answers to questions of lifestyles.”

Among the German bishops who oppose Müller’s corrections on this subject is the Archbishop of Munich, Reinhard Marx, who is one of Francis’ eight-member advisory Council of Cardinals. Marx said Müller’s article in L’Osservatore Romano “cannot stop the discussions.”

In an official statement following a meeting of the Bavarian bishops, Marx said, “We will see that this is discussed in all its breadth; with what result, I don't know.”

The subject, he said, should not only be discussed in terms of “moral decay” and that many of the faithful simply could not comprehend that “a second union is not accepted by the Church.”