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Chairman of Commission of Cardinals speaks out

January 20, 2014

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In an unusually candid interview with a German newspaper, the chairman of the Commission of Cardinals advising Pope Francis has said that:

  • The Commission will recommend the creation of a new high-level Vatican dicastery, the Congregation for the Laity.
  • The prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith should “be a bit more flexible” in discussions of pastoral care for Catholics who are divorced and remarried.
  • Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, who was removed from his post in the German diocese of Limburg amid complaints of extravagant spending, should not be allowed to return to episcopal ministry.

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, told the daily Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger that the Catholic Church has reached “the dawn of a new era” under the leadership of Pope Francis. He expressed excitement about the Pope’s vision for reform in the Church, which he said would emphasize “greater simplicity of life and leadership.”

Cardinal Rodriguez said that the offices of the Roman Curia, which include congregations for bishops, for religious, and for clergy, should be expanded to include a Congregation for Laity, since lay people account for the vast majority of the Catholic population. He said that the Commission of Cardinals would introduce that proposal at the October meeting of the Synod of Bishops.

Regarding the controversy that surrounds Bishop Tebartz-van Elst, the Honduran prelate said that in his opinion, the German bishop could not return to the diocese he had led. He stopped just short of saying that Pope Francis would take the same position. Last October the Vatican announced that the embattled bishop had been relieved because he “cannot, at the present moment, continue to exercise his episcopal ministry.” His future status has not yet been determined.

In perhaps the most surprising part of the interview, Cardinal Rodriguez voiced a public disagreement with another leading prelate when he made clear his disagreement with Archbishop Gerhard Müller, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, regarding proposals to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion. Last October, in a strongly worded article published in the official Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Archbishop Müller cautioned German bishops against assuming a change in the Church’s policy, emphasizing the constant teaching that a marital bond is permanent an inviolable.

Cardinal Rodriquez did not disagree with the Church’s teaching. “The Church is bound by God’s commandments,” he told the German newspaper. “What God has joined together, man must not divide. That is clear.” However, he said, “there are many approaches to interpret it.” Some couples may not truly be married in the eyes of God, he said, and the Church might reconsider the requirements of a binding Christian commitment. He suggested that Archbishop Müller should be open to discussion of the problem, because “maybe you’re right, but maybe you’re wrong.” Oddly enough, Cardinal Rodriguez admitted that he had not spoken directly with Archbishop Müller, the Vatican’s chief doctrinal spokesman, about the question.


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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Bai Macfarlane (Mary's Advocates) - Jan. 21, 2014 10:46 AM ET USA

    I look forward to the day when the pastoral care for divorced occurs when one spouse chooses to file for civil divorce in the immoral no-fault divorce arena. The Church could uphold it's canons on separation and divorce (c. 104,1153,1060,1692), then the problem of those in second marriages would start to disappear. (

  • Posted by: TheJournalist64 - Jan. 20, 2014 7:11 PM ET USA

    It can be argued that the prohibition against divorced and remarried Catholics receiving the sacraments is a matter of the ordinary magisterium, and thus infallible. If this doctrine is reversed, Katie needs to bar the door, because it will be flung open for a host of other desires from the Protestantizers and modernists. God help us.

  • Posted by: Defender - Jan. 20, 2014 6:06 PM ET USA

    Public undermining of a prefect by a prince of the Church? Things sure have changed....