ROME, January 30, 2014 ( – Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, chairman of the pope’s private council of eight cardinals, has publicly chastised the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith over the latter’s defense of Church teaching that Communion be withheld from those ‘remarried’ outside the Church.

In an extensive interview January 20th taken by many as a condescending rebuke of the CDF prefect, Cardinal-elect Gerhard Müller, Maradiaga told the German newspaper Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger that Müller is “a German, one has to say, and above all he’s a German theology professor, so in his mentality there’s only truth and falsehood.”

Laughing, Maradiaga added, “The world, my brother, the world is not like that. You should be a little flexible when you hear other voices, so that you not only listen and say, ‘No and here is the wall’.”


“I believe he will get there, and will come to understand other views,” Maradiaga added. “But for now he’s just still at the beginning. [He should] just listen to his senior staff.”

Maradiaga told the paper, “The Church is bound by the commandments of God. Christ says about marriage: What God has joined together, man must not divide. This word is clear. But there are many approaches to interpret it.”

The matter of whether a person ‘remarried’ outside the Church after a civil divorce is in a state of mortal sin is not “black and white,” the pope’s top advisor said. “After the failure of a marriage, for example, we can ask: Were you really connected to God as spouses? Well, there is still much room for a deeper penetration. But it will not go in the direction that tomorrow what is white is black today.”

Maradiaga’s comments are the latest development in the long-running dispute between the Catholic bishops of Germany and the Vatican over the question of Communion for the ‘remarried’. The controversy has been driven in part by enormous financial concerns for the German Church. The German bishops have watched tens of thousands of their flock changing their ecclesiastical allegiance every year from Catholicism to Protestant churches on tax forms, a switch that has cost them in the hundreds of millions of Euros in Church Tax. They have identified this as the key issue to fight the loss of huge numbers of the paying flock.

Earlier this month, the president of the German bishops’ conference said they will press forward with their plan to allow divorced and ‘remarried’ Catholics to receive Communion. This despite the ongoing opposition from Müller, who has written to the German conference numerous times to demand a halt.

The question is a crucial one, closely connected to doctrinal issues of ecclesial unity, and many observers believe a decision to break this “rule” will result in a formal schism between Germany and the rest of the Church around the world. 

The Catholic Church, following the words of Christ, holds as a fundamental moral teaching that marriage is “indissoluble,” meaning that it does not recognize the possibility of divorce. A person who has “remarried” after a civil divorce is therefore, in the eyes of the Church, committing the mortal sin of adultery.

Any Catholic who wants to receive Holy Communion, understood to be the actual, physical body and blood of Christ under the miraculous guise of bread, has to be in a “state of grace,” meaning, he has to know that he is free of any mortal sin. To change this teaching, allowing people in this situation to receive Communion would require the German bishops to effectively repudiate the Church’s universal teaching on the nature of marriage, setting them outside the mainstream of Catholic unity.

The dispute is being watched closely around the world as a flash-point in the 50 year-old rift between the resurgant orthodoxy in the Catholic Church, represented for most by Bl. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and the “liberal” faction that became ascendant around the world after Vatican II. Pope Francis’ comments on the topic to journalists on the plane home from Brazil last year are being taken by both sides as a signal that the Church will be reconsidering it’s “position” and there is wide speculation that there will be some form of a relaxation declared after next year’s Synod of Bishops on the family.

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Maradiaga said he asked Francis why he had called for a Synod on the family: “Why yet another synod to the family, when we had that in 1980, and we have the beautiful teaching Exhortation Familiaris Consortio from Pope John Paul II in 1983. Pope Francis replied, he said, that the 1980 Synod was 30 years ago.

He said, “Today…we have divorces, we have patchwork families, many single parents, phenomena such as surrogacy and childless marriages. Not to mention same-sex partnerships. In 1980, they were not even visible on the horizon.”

He added, “It is not enough to say, ‘We have the traditional doctrine.’ Of course, the traditional teaching will continue. But the pastoral challenges require timely answers. And no longer come from authoritarianism and moralism.”

Recently, Müller had to order the German hierarchy to rewrite a document that would have left the decision whether to receive Communion up to the “conscience” of individuals.

Müller also recently nixed the idea that national bishops’ conferences would be allowed to decide on points of doctrine without reference to the Vatican, saying that this would result in a splintering of the universal Church into national churches, effectively a global schism. Bishops’ conference presidents, he said, are not “vice-popes” with the infallible authority to determine matters of faith and morals.

The Honduran Maradiaga was hand-picked by Francis to coordinate the work of the group of eight cardinals that has been tasked with the reform of the Vatican’s Curia. The comments addressed to Müller are being taken far and wide as a signal that the Church’s teaching on marriage is set to be “reformed” as well.

In the same interview, Maradiaga spoke glowingly of his hopes for the future of the Church under Pope Francis, who, he said, will continue the trends started by the Second Vatican Council. “I am firmly convinced that we are in the Church at the dawn of a new era. Like 50 years ago, when Pope John XXIII opened the Church windows made ​​to let in fresh air,” the Cardinal said.

“Today, Francis wants to lead the Church in the direction in which he himself is moved by the Holy Spirit, closer to the people, not enthroned above them, but alive within them.”

Maradiaga’s comments about “German theologians” are being taken by some as a swipe at Pope Emeritus Benedict, who appointed Müller. Benedict is still widely derided on the left of the Church for his perceived “regal” style and concern for orthodox moral teaching.

The popular American clerical blogger and Vatican-watcher, Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, wrote last week, “I am more and more convinced that Card. Rodriguez’s remark about German theologians is a shot at Benedict XVI, along with Archbp. Müller. Maybe even more at Benedict than at Müller.”

Maradiaga’s “shot” at Benedict through Müller, Zuhlsdorf said, “could be payback for the way that Benedict XVI’s administration punished Card. Rodriguez when he was president of Caritas Internationalis.”

Under Maradiaga’s leadership, Caritas, the Church’s umbrella organization for charitable aid groups, came under fire for what the Vatican saw as its lack of concern for its Catholicity, particularly in its associations with groups that promoted contraception and abortion.