Cardinal Reinhard Marx has said he “cannot understand” why there should be different interpretations of Amoris Laetitia to the one favored by the German bishops as he believes the line taken by the Pope in the apostolic exhortation is “very clear.”

In brief comments to the Register Feb. 6 in Rome after accompanying an ecumenical delegation to the apostolic palace to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the Archbishop of Munich dismissed concerns about lack of clarity in the Pope’s apostolic exhortation on the family.

“I think, in our conference, there was unanimity”, he said. “Some bishops were asking [questions], but I think there is a clear position and the line of the Pope is very clear.” 

Among the passages considered ambiguous is whether some remarried divorcees should be admitted to Holy Communion. Last week, the German bishops’ conference released guidelines on Amoris Laetitia in which they controversially allowed some civilly remarried divorcees to receive Holy Communion on a case by case basis.

German Church sources, however, say there wasn't strict unanimity, and possibly the cardinal meant something else by the word “unanimity” as German has the two similar words for it: einhellig and einstimmig. They say that, on good authority, several bishops had “serious reservations” about the guidelines. 

The German bishops' published interpretation is at odds with that expressed by Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who upheld the Church's teaching on restrictions to admitting Holy Communion to remarried divorcees, telling the Italian monthly Il Timone that Amoris Laetitia must be interpreted in the light of the whole doctrine of the Church, that there cannot be “a contradiction between doctrine and personal conscience”, and that “the task of priests and bishops is not that of creating confusion, but of bringing clarity.” Thousands of priests have also publicly expressed the same concerns. 

But Cardinal Marx pointed out he was a "member of two synods, and the discussions between the synods, and the discussion in the synod, and then I read Amoris Laetitia and I said that it is in this line."  He added that he “cannot understand” why there are other interpretations. “The answer is, I think, clear.” 

He said he hadn’t received any letters from other cardinals about the German bishops’ guidelines. “We decided to underline some points, not because the Pope wasn’t clear, but to underline, for example, preparation for marriage, to go with the couples and to look at special situations of irregularity.” He said they added “no other points” that were not in Amoris Laetitia already.

As president of the German bishops' conference, Cardinal Marx, who is also a member of the Pope’s “C9” group of cardinals advising the Holy Father on curial reform, attended both synods. Along with the president of the French bishops' conference, he was also instrumental in holding a controversial “shadow synod” in Rome in 2015, during which participants pushed for admission of remarried divorcees to the sacraments and acceptance of those living in same-sex unions.

 

Catholic-Protestant relations

Asked whether a new phase in the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church has begun under Pope Francis, the cardinal replied that the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this year is a “special moment” in relations, “an opportunity for us to work together, pray together and to show that we are, in the center, unified, and the center is Christ.”

He said the Church and her ecumenical partners in Germany have decided to celebrate Christ this year. “That is the main point, not looking back always and discussing all the old questions. That’s necessary. We have to work in a theological, serious way, that is clear, but we have to work together.”

He said he thought it was also “very important for  ecumenism that we are willing to grow together, that we are living in friendship and that is the fundament of ecumenical discussion and work.” He said the meeting Feb. 6 “was a good opportunity” and Pope Francis “underlined it with his speech” which he described as “very good.”

On a joint commemoration, Cardinal Marx said until now “celebrations were always against each other.”

“It’s a great history of war and going against each other, and for the first time we are celebrating together, making memory together and looking forward to what is the meaning of the Gospel today, and in the center is Christ,” he said. 

 

Cardinal Kasper on the Pope and intercommunion

Meanwhile, Cardinal Walter Kasper, a close confidant of the Holy Father, has said he believes allowing intercommunion with Protestants in cases such as a mixed marriage is “the position of the current Pope.” 

In comments made to Italian television, the cardinal said of Holy Communion: “In certain cases, I think yes, if they share the same faith in the Eucharist, this is presupposed, and if they are interiorly disposed, they can refer to their conscience to go to Communion, and this, I think, is also the position of the current Pope.”

If there is a “couple or a family, you cannot divide them in front of the altar,” Cardinal Kasper said. 

Theologians have said that were the Church to change its rules on shared Eucharistic Communion, it would “go against Revelation and the Magisterium”, leading Christians to “commit blasphemy and sacrilege.” 

In the same interview, Cardinal Kasper also addressed the issue of women deacons, but his words were somewhat garbled. He said: “The issue of women is still in discussion, no. It is very difficult for us, [but] I wouldn’t say no.”  

Last year, Pope Francis instituted a new commission to take another look at the issue.

 

This article has been updated.