Archbishop Mueller Reaffirms Teaching on Divorced and Remarried Catholics

Archbishop Gerhard Mueller has again reaffirmed the Church’s teaching with regards divorced and remarried Catholics in response to efforts by some Catholics in Germany to subvert the Church’s doctrinal and pastoral positions on the matter.

In a recent letter to the German archdiocese of Freiburg im Breisgau, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said the Church’s practice of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried “is based on sacred scripture.”

And that while priests “must recognise the various situations well and must invite the affected faithful to participation in the life of the Church,” he restated the Church’s position remains unchanged.

Archbishop Mueller’s comments follow a proposal put forward by some members of the archdiocese to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the sacrament in certain circumstances.

The position of the Magisterium "is well-founded,” Archbishop Mueller wrote, and spelled out both doctrinal and pastoral reasons for it.

“Remarried divorcees stand in the way of their access to the Eucharist, insofar as their state of life is an objective contradiction to the relationship of love between Christ and the Church, which is made visible and present in the Eucharist (doctrinal reason)," he said. "If these people were allowed to receive the Eucharist this would cause confusion among the faithful about the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage (pastoral reason).”

He further rejected the Freiburg proposal to hold a prayer service for divorced faithful who enter into a new civil marriage, saying it would be a “sort of ‘rite’. Such celebrations, he said, were “expressly forbidden” by previous popes. He cited John Paul II who said they would “give the impression” of a celebration of a new sacramentally valid marriage, and Benedict XVI who stressed support for the faithful on this matter must not lead to “confusion [concerning] the value of marriage.”

“Due to the aforementioned discrepancies, the draft text [of Freiburg] is to be withdrawn and revised, so that no pastoral directions are sanctioned which are in opposition to Church teaching,” Archbishop Mueller instructed, adding that because their proposal had raised questions and uncertainties beyond Germany, he felt obliged to inform Pope Francis about it.

He also referred to his letter in L’Osservatore Romano which laid out in some detail the Church’s binding teaching on this question.

The publication of the letter follows pressure for a significant change in the Church's approach to the issue not just in Freiburg but in the German-speaking world more generally.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, a member of the so-called G8 group of cardinals appointed by Pope Francis to reform Church governance, recently said that Archbishop Mueller “cannot stop the discussions.”

Debate over the issue is one of the principal reasons for next year’s Synod of Bishops on the family and evangelization.

In view of Archbishop Mueller’s frequent reaffirmations and probable backing from Pope Francis, it appears highly unlikely Church teaching will be changed. To do so would arguably make his position untenable.