Recently one of the most prominent cardinals in the world made remarks regarding the head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office that could be taken as insulting.
The issue was receiving Communion following divorce and civil remarriage.
This kind of situation is a very rare event. We don’t normally see cardinals seeming to publicly take apparent swipes at each other.
The two involved in this case are Cardinal Rodriguez and soon-to-be Cardinal Muller.
Here are 12 things to know and share . . .
1) Who is Cardinal Rodriguez?
His full name is Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga.
He is the Cardinal Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
He is also the coordinator of the group of eight cardinals that Pope Francis has gathered to help advise him on reforming the Roman Curia.
This makes him one of the most prominent cardinals in the world.
2) Who is (soon-to-be) Cardinal Muller?
His full name is Gerhard Ludwig Muller.
He is currently an Archbishop, and he was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). He was subsequently confirmed in office by Pope Francis.
Recently, as expected, it was announced that he would be created a cardinal by Pope Francis on February 22.
Once that happens, he will also be one of the most prominent cardinals in the world.
3) What is the background to this situation?
For some time there have been calls—particularly in Germany—for a change in the Church’s discipline regarding Communion for those Catholics who have been divorced and civilly remarried.
Apart from extremely unusual circumstances, the Church requires Catholics to observe the Catholic form of marriage or get a dispensation from it, in order to be validly married.
For a Catholic to go to city hall and get married will not result in a valid marriage.
Consequently, the Church does not recognize the marriages of Catholics who have done this, and it must consequently regard them as living in a state of sexual sin (unless they are living as brother and sister).
This means that they are ineligible to receive Communion.
What should happen is this: Catholics who have obtained a civil divorce and who wish to remarry should pursue the annulment process to determine whether their original marriage was valid. If it is found to have been invalid, then they are free to remarry, provided they observe the Catholic form of marriage.
The annulment process exists because Christ was very firm on the permanence of marriage: “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” He went so far as to say that those who divorce and remarry commit ongoing adultery against their first spouse.
Adultery is a grave sin against man (and God), and so it makes one ineligible for Communion.
In response to calls for a change of the Church’s discipline on this point, Archbishop Muller published an article—first in a German-language publication and later in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, defending and explaining the Church’s position.
4) How did Cardinal Rodriguez get involved?
He was being interviewed by the German newspaper Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger.
You can read the full interview in German here.
During the course of the discussion, the interviewer alluded to Archbishop Muller’s article.
It was at this point that Cardinal Rodriguez made the remarks that raised eyebrows.
5) What did Cardinal Rodriguez say?
MARADIAGA: (laughs) I've read it, yes.
And I thought, "Okay, maybe you're right, but maybe not."
I think I understand it: He's 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.
But I say, my brother, the world isn't like this, and you should be a little flexible when you hear other voices. That means not just listening and then saying no.
So, I believe he will get there, to understand other views.
But now he's just still at the beginning, just listen to his senior staff.
Will you be offering him your advice?
MARADIAGA: Until now we have not spoken to each other.
6) Why would these remarks raise eyebrows?
Because they could be read as highly insulting. Consider:
a) Cardinal Rodriguez is saying this in an interview with a German newspaper. Archbishop Muller is German. This could be taken as trash-talking him in his native land, where he’s been trying to defend the Church’s position in spite of local opposition.
b) Cardinal Rodriguez invokes German stereotypes to explain Archbishop Muller’s attitude (“I think I understand it: He's 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.”)
Invoking ethnic stereotypes to explain someone else’s intellectual conclusions de-values (insults) their intellect and is very dangerous.
Imagine if the situation were reversed and Archbishop Muller attempted to explain Cardinal Rodriguez’s apparently looser position by invoking Honduran stereotypes.
c) The statement that “in his mentality there’s only truth and falsehood” could be taken to suggest that Archbishop Muller is narrow-minded and doctrinaire.
d) The statement “But I say, my brother, the world isn't like this” could be read as suggesting that Archbishop Muller is out of touch with reality.
e) The addition of “my brother” could be read as insincere and condescending over-familiarity.
f) The statement “and you should be a little flexible when you hear other voices.” Could be taken as suggesting that Archbishop Muller is not even a little flexible—i.e., is completely inflexible—when he hears other voices.
g) The statement “That means not just listening and then saying no” could be read as suggesting that Archbishop Muller just listens to people and then says no, not giving what they say serious consideration but only a perfunctory listen.
h) The statement “So, I believe he will get there, to understand other views” could be taken as a public prediction of future personal growth that seems to presuppose the conclusions Archbishop Muller will reach in the future. Presuming that someone else will come around to your point of view can come across as condescending and insulting.
i) The statement “to understand other views” could be taken as suggesting that Archbishop Muller presently does not understand other views. It’s not that he understands them and, after due consideration, disagrees with them. The apparent suggestion is that he hasn’t understood them in the first place.
j) The statement “But now he's just still at the beginning” could be taken as suggesting that Archbishop Muller—who was appointed head of the CDF by Pope Benedict and confirmed in office by Pope Francis precisely because of his intellectual and doctrinal acumen—is only at the beginning stage of learning how to understand other people’s viewpoints and has a long journey ahead of him.
k) The statement “just listen to his senior staff” could be taken as insulting the entire senior staff of the CDF as being at the same early stage of development with regard to understanding the views of others that Cardinal Rodriguez perceives the Archbishop to be at.
l) The statement “Until now we have not spoken to each other” could be taken as a truly astonishing admission.
It would be one thing to offer such a highly critical commentary on another person’s thought after long interaction and discussion with that person, giving one the opportunity to thoroughly understand how the other person thinks and where he is coming from.
It is another to offer such a critique without even having spoken to the person.
7) How can the above be summarized?
Cardinal Rodriguez made remarks about Archbishop Muller that:
invoked national stereotypes to explain Archbishop Muller’s intellectual conclusions
and could be taken as suggesting that he is
narrow-minded and doctrinaire
out of touch with reality
completely inflexible when he hears other people’s opinions
does not even understand the views of others
just listens to people and then says no, not giving what they say serious consideration but only a perfunctory listen
is only at the beginning of a journey of learning to understand others’ views (despite his renown intellectual achievements)
and is supported by a staff of similar dullards in the dicastery he heads (despite their known intellectual achievements)
but, despite this, he will evolve to the point that he understands other people’s viewpoints
and Cardinal Rodriguez feels comfortable offering this critique
without even having spoken to him
in a newspaper published in Archbishop Muller’s homeland, where he’s been trying to defend the Church’s position in spite of local opposition
and that included what could be taken as an as insincere and condescending over-familiarity (“my brother”).
8) How would you feel about this interview if you were Archbishop Muller?
I would be livid.
9) Do you think Cardinal Rodriguez intended this to come across the way it could be taken?
Not in the slightest!
I think he was trying to put a good face on things in the German press, which is even more hostile to the Church than the American press is, and in doing so he slipped into a particular mode of language without realizing the way it could be taken.
It’s even questionable how much of a difference there is between his view and Archbishop Muller’s.
Elsewhere he seems to downplay the idea of a complete reversal of the Church’s discipline.
10) What does he say?
MARADIAGA: 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.
After the failure of a marriage, for example, we can ask: Were the spouses really connected to God? [i.e., in a valid marriage?]
Well, there is still much room for a deeper insight.
But it will not go in the direction that [says] what is black today will tomorrow be white.
Cardinal Rodriguez thus appears to maintain the indissolubility of marriage and the fact that those who are having sexual relations apart from or in addition to a valid marital union should not receive Communion.
What he seems interested in is looking in a new way at cases where the validity of a marriage may be doubtful.
11) How would you feel about this interview if you were Cardinal Rodriguez?
I would be mortified.
I would immediately contact Archbishop Muller privately and offer my most sincere apologies.
I would then make a public statement (unless Archbishop Muller requested me not to) seeking to distance myself from the way my remarks might have been understood.
12) What will happen in this case?
It’s hard to know.
It depends on how seriously the parties take the case.
Archbishop Muller could shrug it off.
Cardinal Rodriguez could apologize privately, and both might conclude that it would be best for neither to say anything about it publicly.
Or there may be a public statement to Cardinal Rodriguez something like the one issued when Cardinal Schonborn got in a tiff with Cardinal Sodano during the reign of Benedict XVI that said:
It should be remembered that in the church, when there are accusations against a cardinal, the competence rests solely with the pope; others may have an advisory role, always with the proper respect for the person.
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