Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

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Vatican’s doctrinal chief again: Communion for divorced and remarried impossible

Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

VATICAN CITY, February 26, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office has issued another strong statement defending the institution of natural marriage and the Catholic teaching against divorce. Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, named a cardinal by Pope Francis this weekend, has warned that there is a growing “ideology against the family and against marriage.”

He strongly reiterated the impossibility of admitting divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to Communion, saying that this would undermine the institution of marriage itself. “The dogma of the Church is not just any theory made by some theologians, but it is the doctrine of the Church, nothing less than the word of Jesus Christ, which is very clear. I can not change the doctrine of the Church,” Müller told La Stampa on Tuesday.

Those in the Church pressing for a change in the practice, if not the doctrine itself, cite the difficulties of individuals who find themselves in what the Church calls “irregular” situations, those who have been divorced and civilly remarried, but who wish to continue practicing their faith. But Müller rejects that frame for the argument, saying, “Clearly there are and have always been individual and personal difficulties in marriages, but this is about marriage as a divine institution.”

“We do not just want to defend marriage and the family, but also help the development of the family in our society,” he said. “Clearly Jesus Christ instituted marriage as a sacrament, with the elements of the indissolubility of the bipolarity of the two sexes.”

La Stampa indicated that Müller’s comments come in response to the talk at this weekend’s extraordinary consistory of cardinals by Cardinal Walter Kasper, the long-time head of the Vatican’s ecumenical office, and sometime theological opponent of Cardinal Ratzinger. Kasper has recently said publicly that changes should and will be made to Catholic “pastoral practice” to allow civilly “remarried” Catholics to receive Communion after observing a “period of penance,” but while remaining in their irregular state.

Kasper was the primary speaker featured at the consistory, but Fr. Federico Lombardi, the head of the Vatican’s press office, said that the text of the talk, which filled most of the first morning, will not be published. Lombardi said the talk “does not claim to address all themes related to the family, nor does it attempt to anticipate the next Synod.”

Lombardi said, however, in the words of Vatican Radio, that Kasper in his talk “considered the theme in depth and in a structured, nuanced fashion.”

“He reiterated that in this area it is necessary to bring together pastoral care with the inseparable duo of faith and the words of Jesus, and an understanding of divine mercy,” Vatican Radio relates.

According to Catholic teaching, based on the words of Christ in the New Testament, divorce in the true sense is impossible, since the marriage bond can be broken only by the death of one of the spouses. Persons who have divorced and remarried in the secular order are regarded as adulterers by the Church, and are thus in a state of “grave” or mortal sin, and are therefore excluded from the reception of Communion.

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Müller spoke to La Stampa’s magazine Inside the Vatican at the launch of his book, “Poor for the Poor,” published by the Vatican’s in-house publisher, that features a foreword by the pope and articles by Müller’s personal friend, liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez and Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, the head of the pope’s advisory council of eight cardinals. The book launch also featured Cardinal Kasper, who introduced Müller.

Maradiaga recently exhorted his colleague at CDF to “be a little flexible” on the issue of Communion for the “remarried.”

Müller had formally ordered the German Conference of Catholic bishops to revise a guidance allowing the “remarried” to receive Communion. Later the German bishops issued a statement that they would defy this order from the Vatican, and go ahead with the plans.

According to Vatican Radio, in his talk at the consistory Cardinal Kasper cited Pope Benedict XVI’s work “when he asked if, beyond rigour and laxity, the Sacrament of penance could perhaps offer the path to accommodating difficult situations. He also recalled Pope Francis’ address to the prelates of the Roman Rota at the beginning of this year, in which he spoke about the validity of marriage, when he affirmed that the legal and pastoral dimensions are not in opposition.”

Müller told La Stampa that his statements against the pressure from Germany and elsewhere are not a matter of personal opinion, but “the doctrine of the Church, which is also expressed in the catechism, at the Council of Trent, in Vatican Council, in other statements of our congregation.” 

“The ministry can not have a different concept than the doctrine, the doctrine and pastoral care are the same thing. Jesus Christ as shepherd and teacher with Jesus Christ as his word are not different people,” he said.

“No, the doctrine of the Church is very clear. We must look for ways to develop the pastoral care of marriage, but not just for the divorced and remarried, for those who live in marriage. We cannot always focus on this one question, if they can receive communion or not. The problems and injuries are the divorce, the children who no longer have their parents and have to live with others who are not their parents: these are the problems.”

Müller said it is “lamentable” that many Catholics do not know the teaching of the Bible or the Church on this matter, but that this is no reason to change it. “We cannot reduce the revelation and the word of Jesus Christ because so many Catholics do not know the reality.” 

“There are many who do not participate in Sunday Mass because they do not know what value it is to their lives,” he said. “We cannot say, as a consequence, that the Mass is less important! It would be paradoxical if the Church says, because not everyone knows the truth, and the truth is not mandatory for the future.”

He agreed that new pastoral ways should be found to help those in difficult circumstances, and to help people know and understand the Church’s teaching. “Many do not know it and they think that marriage is just a holiday that is celebrated in the church, but the couple give their word to live together in full, in the body, sex, soul, in faith, in the grace of God,” he said. But these “new ways” cannot take the form of going against the teaching of Christ himself.

“The mercy of God is not against the righteousness of God,” he said. “Marriage is a sacrament that establishes the inextricable link between the two spouses.”

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