ROME — The Catholic belief that marriage cannot be broken by any human law is of “divine” origin, and is not merely a teaching that can be modified at the will of the hierarchy, the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith says in a new book.
“The total indissolubility of a valid marriage is not a mere doctrine, it is a divine and definitive dogma of the Church,” Cardinal Gerhard Müller says in The Hope of the Family, a book-length interview with Spanish journalist Carlos Granados, director of the Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos in Madrid, conducted in June and soon to be published by Ignatius Press.
Cardinal Müller says the idea that divorced persons are free to marry again and found new families is “radically mistaken,” in quotations published by Catholic News Agency.
“One cannot declare a marriage to be extinct on the pretext that the love between the spouses is ‘dead,’” he says. Indissolubility “does not depend on human sentiments, whether permanent or transitory. This property of marriage is intended by God himself. The Lord is involved in marriage between man and woman, which is why the bond exists and has its origin in God. This is the difference.”
The book comes as the Church prepares for the Synod on the Family in the fall, where one of the central disputes is expected to be over the possibility of Catholics who are divorced and remarried outside the Church receiving Communion.
In February this year, at the consistory of cardinals that met in preparation for the Synod, the German Cardinal Walter Kasper reportedly caused an uproar among the prelates when he proposed the Church should simply allow these Catholics to receive Communion after “a period of penance” but without changing their lives.
Müller has been among the strongest voices countering this suggestion. In his new book, he says that the Church offers a different way from that of “a world that is angrily individualistic and subjectivist.” In this world, “marriage is not perceived anymore as an opportunity for the human being to achieve his completeness, sharing love.”
Instead, Catholic married people are “called to announce once again God, the loving Trinity! We should announce the revealed God who calls all of us to be part of his relational being,” Cardinal Müller he says.
In contrast, Cardinal Kasper recently told an interviewer in New York that while the Church’s solution, of encouraging people in second civil marriages to live chastely together, is a “heroic” ideal, “heroism is not for the average Christian.”
“I have high respect for such people,” Kasper said. “But whether I can impose it is another question. But I would say that people must do what is possible in their situation.”
“We cannot as human beings always do the ideal, the best. We must do the best possible in a given situation,” he added.
Taking its foundation from the words of Christ in the Gospel, the Catholic Church teaches that the bond of a validly contracted sacramental marriage can be broken only by the death of one of the spouses, and thus does not admit the possibility of divorce. As a result, the Church holds that a married person who has undertaken a civil divorce and attempted marriage with a new partner is committing adultery. Being therefore in a state of grave or “mortal” sin, such a person is automatically excluded from reception of Holy Communion until he has confessed and amended his life.
The Church in Germany is in a state of turmoil over this question, where the Catholic bishops have long turned a blind eye to the practice of offering Communion to anyone who wants to receive it regardless of their situation. The response of German Catholics to the Vatican’s global questionnaire on the subject showed few ordinary Catholics in Germany are even aware of the Church’s teaching.
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The German Catholic bishops have repeatedly insisted that, no matter what the Vatican says, they will be issuing guidelines explicitly allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion at their own discretion. Most recently, they used the report from the questionnaire as a pretext. For this proposal, they have received repeated public rebukes from Müller, who warned them not to capitulate to the growing “ideology against the family and against marriage.”
Müller said at the time of the consistory in February that the fact that most Catholics do not know the Church’s teaching is no reason to change her practice. Müller said, “It would be paradoxical if the church said, ‘Since not everyone knows the truth, the truth isn’t obligatory for the future.’”
Müller’s book precedes another prepared by a group of five cardinals to address the growing concerns over the upcoming Synod. The second book is titled Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church, and directly tackles Cardinal Kasper’s proposal.
Also published in English by Ignatius, the second book is set to be made available in October in time for it to be used by bishops and others at the Synod. Ignatius says the essays “lead to the conclusion that the Church's longstanding fidelity to the truth of marriage constitutes the irrevocable foundation of its merciful and loving response to the individual who is civilly divorced and remarried.”
“The book therefore challenges the premise that traditional Catholic doctrine and contemporary pastoral practice are in contradiction,” the publisher adds.