Cardinal Müller Expresses Support for Rocco Buttiglione’s Defense of Amoris Laetitia

The former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith agrees with philosopher Rocco Buttiglione that Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “must be understood in the orthodox sense.”

Cardinal Gerhard Müller.
Cardinal Gerhard Müller. (photo: Daniel Ibanez/CNA)

Cardinal Gerhard Müller has criticized both those who question the faith of Pope Francis due to the controversies over Amoris Laetitia, and those who say that, through the document, the Pope is presenting a “radical paradigm shift” in moral theology.

Such polarization, “schismatic temptations” and “dogmatic confusion” are “very dangerous for the unity of the Church,” he added, and insisted that chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia — its most controversial chapter dealing with the pastoral care of those in irregular unions including divorced and civilly remarried Catholics — “can and must be understood in the orthodox sense.” 

The former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith made the comments in the preface of a new book Risposte amichevoli ai critici di Amoris laetitia (Friendly Responses to Critics of Amoris Laetitia) by Rocco Buttiglione.

An Italian philosopher, politician and former friend of Pope St. John Paul II, Buttiglione has sought to defend Amoris Laetitia from its critics, insisting it is in continuity with previous magisterial teaching.

In the preface, Cardinal Müller agrees with Buttiglione that Amoris Laetitia can be read in an orthodox way and “does not imply any magisterial shift towards situation ethics,” and therefore the cardinal asserts it does not contradict Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, although the encyclical is not cited in  Amoris Laetitia.

He further argues that Amoris Laetitia does not teach or propose “in a binding way” that a person in mortal sin can receive the sacraments if they have not repented with a firm purpose of amendment.

Cardinal Müller also says Pope’s apostolic exhortation does not support the thesis that “an objectively bad act can become subjectively good” but adds there may be “mitigating circumstances” in an irregular union.

“An accurate analysis” of Amoris Laetitia, he says, “has not proposed any doctrine to be believed in a binding way that is in open or implicit contradiction to the clear doctrine of the Sacred Scripture and to the dogmas defined by the Church on the sacraments of marriage, penance and Eucharist.”

He adds that “nowhere” in the document does it say that a baptized Catholic, in a condition of mortal sin, is allowed to receive Holy Communion.

Furthermore, he says that the document’s statement “that no one can be condemned forever” must be understood “from the point of view of care, that never surrenders, for the eternal salvation of sinner rather than as a categorical denial of the possibility of an eternal condemnation which, however, presupposes voluntary obstinacy in sin.”

Later in the preface, the cardinal reinforces the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, while recognizing that “existential situations” can be “very different and complex.”

But he also criticizes parts of Amoris Laetitia, saying the controversial footnote 351 which opens the door for some remarried divorcees to receive Holy Communion, “suffers from a lack of clarity” which, he says, could have been resolved by referring to the Council of Trent and the Second Vatican Council on the “appropriate way of receiving the Eucharist.”

Nevertheless, he insists that the footnote “contains nothing that contradicts” the need to confess one’s own grave sins through the sacrament of penance.

Cardinal Müller writes that an important point in Amoris Laetitia, one that is “often not correctly understood in all its pastoral meaning,” is the “law of gradualness,” which, he stresses, is a “process of clarification, discernment and maturation” based on the recognition of one’s own personal relationship with God.

For someone who wishes to change, to turn the Lord saying “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner,” pastoral accompaniment “has a special importance,” the cardinal comments, adding it is, as the Pope says, “a way of love.”

He goes on to again emphasise that Holy Communion can only be received by those who have repented of their sins with the intent of no longer committing them again.

And he adds that a priest “cannot publicly humiliate the sinner by publicly rejection Holy Communion and damaging his good name in front of the community.” Instead, he must “warn everyone in general” of not approaching the table of the Lord before repenting.


Building Bridges

The cardinal said the “bitter controversy” over chapter 8 is “regrettable” and that he accepted Buttiglione’s invitation to write the preface in the hope it would contribute to “restoring peace in the Church.”

He praises Rocco Buttiglione as “an authentic Catholic of proven competence in the field of moral theology.” He also says Buttiglione's analyses “open doors and build bridges” to the critics of Amoris Laetitia, and call on those who “superficially” read the document in order to relativize the indissolubility of marriage and “shake the foundations of morals” to seriously rethink their position.