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Cardinal Müller, German bishops clash on interpretation of Amoris Laetitia

February 01, 2017

The Vatican’s top doctrinal official has said that “Amoris Laetitia must clearly be interpreted in the light of the whole doctrine of the Church,” and reiterated the Church’s constant teaching on divorce and remarriage.

However, the German bishops’ confererence has issued a contrasting statement, saying that Catholics who are divorced and remarried may receive Communion in some cases.

Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told the Italian journal Il Timone that the teaching of St. John Paul II remains in force today, and Catholics who are divorced and remarried may be admitted to Communion only if they are living “in complete continence.” He stressed that when Pope John Paul II voiced his teaching, he was expressing not only his own stand by “an essential element of Christian moral theology.”

The interview with Cardinal Müller appeared just as the permanent council of the German bishops’ conference issued its own document on Amoris Laetitia, saying that in that document Pope Francis had cleared the way for allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion. This could be done, the German bishops said, as the conclusion of “a decision-making process, accompanied by a priest.”

The German bishops—whose conference had led the charge for a change in the Church’s stand on Communion for Catholics in illicit unions—thanked the Pope for his leadership in the matter.

But Cardinal Müller reiterated his own stand that Amoris Laetitia does not change Church teaching.

Moreover, Cardinal Müller—who, although German, is not included in the German bishops’ statements—said that it is wrong for individual bishops or episcopal conferences to issue their own interpretations of a papal document. He said:

I don’t like it, it is not right that so many bishops are interpreting Amoris Laetitia according to their way of understanding the Pope’s teaching. This does not keep to the line of Catholic doctrine. The magisterium of the Pope is interpreted only by him or through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Pope interprets the bishops, it is not the bishops who interpret the Pope, this would constitute an inversion of the structure of the Catholic Church.

Cardinal Müller also rejected the idea that in some cases a married Catholic could in good conscience form a second conjugal union. He explained:

For example, it cannot be said that there are circumstances according to which an act of adultery does not constitute a mortal sin. For Catholic doctrine, it is impossible for mortal sin to coexist with sanctifying grace.

For those who are confused by the conflicting interpretations of the papal document, Cardinal Müller recommended a careful study of the Church’s teaching—“starting from the Word of God in Sacred Scripture, which is very clear on marriage.”


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  • Posted by: Bveritas2322 - Feb. 04, 2017 3:20 PM ET USA

    I entered a previous comment, but if Catholic Culture will make an exception to allow a second one. I read several comments expressing hope that Pope Francis will act against ecclesial dissent. Unless one has been ignoring his many public statements, we need to be aware that we must first pray for Francis' conversion to Catholic orthodoxy.

  • Posted by: Bveritas2322 - Feb. 04, 2017 3:11 PM ET USA

    Even those who defend the faith have had a habit, over the past 50 years, of contesting dissent from doctrine on technical grounds. I'd give my life in a heartbeat to finally hear a bishop or cardinal emphasize the social damage, including many more slaughtered unborn children, by the moral sophistries of liberal theology.

  • Posted by: rjbennett1294 - Feb. 03, 2017 9:46 AM ET USA

    I'm very much afraid that Cardinal Müller will not be prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith much longer. Cardinal Reinhard Marx, head of the German bishops’ conference, was able to get rid of Matthew Festing, Grand Master of the Knights of Malta. It will be child's play for Marx to get rid of Cardinal Müller as well.

  • Posted by: bernie4871 - Feb. 02, 2017 10:17 AM ET USA

    How utterly evil. The German Bishops are moving in with all the other pagan fallen-away Catholics of Europe and elsewhere. 500 years ago they would have become Lutherans or adjuncts of the English Church. Today they will be just another schism. But who will shepherd those diminishing fragments of faithful Catholic believers? Holy Father please act and correct or step aside

  • Posted by: rjbennett1294 - Feb. 02, 2017 3:23 AM ET USA

    I think we've just about seen the last of Cardinal Müller.

  • Posted by: mwean7331 - Feb. 02, 2017 1:08 AM ET USA

    Ah yes now the German Bishops are disagreeing with other. It seems to me it now time for the Pope as head of the Church to speak out and clearly state the doctrine as established by Jesus Christ. Now every Cardinal and or Bishop is exercising his version That is the Protestant way isn't it. I don't understand the reluctance on the part of the Vatican to do so. It implies approval of this confusion. and leaves the laity like a ship without a rudder.

  • Posted by: Athelstan - Feb. 01, 2017 9:05 PM ET USA

    I thank God for Cardinal Müller's strong statement that “Amoris Laetitia must clearly be interpreted in the light of the whole doctrine of the Church,” and that Amoris Laetitia does not change Church teaching.

  • Posted by: MWCooney - Feb. 01, 2017 5:12 PM ET USA

    I'm now waiting for the news that Cardinal Muller has been removed from his position. I hope that I am wrong.

  • Posted by: ALC - Feb. 01, 2017 4:49 PM ET USA

    Confusion and conflicting information/interpretations is not good for the Church. The Pope must address all of these issues and clear up the confusion. Satan is the father of lies and loves chaos and confusion. Pope Francis is derelict in his duty if he continues to allow this to go on.