Cardinal Müller: Magisterium on Remarried Divorcees Unchanged by 'Amoris Laetitia'

Cardinal Gerhard Müller
Cardinal Gerhard Müller (photo: Edward Pentin/

Cardinal Gerhard Müller has spoken publicly for the first time about Pope Francis’ post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, saying that the document does not open the door to Holy Communion for civilly remarried divorcees, contrary to the claims of Cardinal Walter Kasper and others.

In a lecture at a seminary in Oviedo, Spain, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith emphatically pointed out that the magisterium of the Church still applies to those passages in Amoris Laetitia on pastoral care for remarried divorcees.

According to a May 2 article in the German Catholic newspaper Die Tagespost, Cardinal Müller said what Pope St. John Paul II taught on this subject in his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, and Benedict XVI in his exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, remain “unchanged.”

John Paul II stressed in Familiaris Consortio that “for the sake of truth”, pastors are “obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations.” Although they should participate in the life of the Church as much as possible, he affirmed in paragraph 84 of Familiaris Consortio the Church’s “practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried”, unless they are able to live in “complete continence”.  

In Sacramentum Caritatis paragraph 29, Benedict XVI writes that where “objective circumstances make it impossible to cease cohabitation” for a divorced and remarried Catholic, the Church encourages the couple to “commit themselves to living their relationship in fidelity to the demands of God's law, as friends, as brother and sister.” In this way, he writes, “they will be able to return to the table of the Eucharist,” supported by “pastors and by adequate ecclesial initiatives.”

The Church has always considered a Catholic, who has not had their first marriage annulled but engages in sexual relations with another partner, to be in an adulterous relationship as the first marriage remains indissoluble.

Cardinal Müller argued that if Amoris Laetitia really wanted to “rescind such a deeply rooted and such a weighty discipline, then it would have clearly expressed and stated its reasons.” But he pointed out that the document has “no statement to that effect.”

“At no point has the Pope called the arguments of his predecessors into question,” he said. Those arguments, he added, “are not based on the subjective guilt of these brothers and sisters, but on the visible, objective way of life, which is opposite to the words of Christ."

Cardinal Müller also addressed the issue of footnote 351 in which the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist are mentioned in the context of the pastoral care of remarried divorcees. Some have read this footnote as slyly giving the green light to admitting such couples to the sacraments.

Again, the cardinal prefect sees this as a general description and therefore not applicable to specific cases concerning the divorced and remarried. If that were the case, he said, then such a change would have to be expressed "concretely".

“Without going into detail, it is sufficient to point out that this footnote refers to objective situations of sin in general, not to the specific case of civilly remarried divorcees, because this latter situation has specific features which distinguish it from other situations,” Cardinal Müller said.

Remarried divorcees, he added, live in contrast to the Sacrament of Marriage and therefore the Discipline of the Sacraments. For this reason, he said, footnote 351 “does not touch on the former discipline” and the norms of Familiaris Consortio 84 and Sacramentum Eucharistia 29 and their application “remain valid in all cases."

Turning to the reasons behind the Church’s attitude to couples in “irregular” relationships, the Vatican’s doctrinal chief said that no one can really want to receive the Eucharist “without having at the same time the will to live according to the other sacraments, among them the Sacrament of Marriage.”

He also said that whoever lives the conjugal bond in a way contrary to the Church’s teaching opposes the visible signs of the sacrament of marriage, and shows himself bodily to be a contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage, even if he is not subjectively at fault.

“Precisely, therefore, because his life in the body gives an opposing sign, he cannot belong to the higher Eucharistic sign, in which the incarnate love of Christ is made manifest, by receiving Holy Communion,” Cardinal Müller said. “If the Church would allow him to Holy Communion,” he concluded “she would then be committing the act that Thomas Aquinas called ‘a falseness in the sacred sacramental signs."

Die Tagespost is to publish the full text of Cardinal Müller’s speech later this week.

Meanwhile, at a presentation of his new book "Report on Hope" in Madrid, Spain, this week, Cardinal Müller upheld marriage and the “impossibility” of changing that clear doctrine, according to the Spanish site Infocatolica, translated by Maike Hickson on the site One Peter Five. 

“It is not possible to live in God’s grace while living in a sinful situation,” he said, adding that people living in sin “cannot receive Holy Communion unless they have received absolution in the sacrament of penance.”

Cardinal Müller reminded those present that the “Church has no power to change the Divine Law” and that “not even a pope or council can change that.” He also said that it is a “misreading” of the Pope’s exhortation to say it has been the cause of polemics. He said his own book is dedicated to the Pope.