Cardinal Müller Reasserts Church's Teaching on Divorce-Remarriage

(photo: Screenshot)

In two new interviews, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the Vatican’s doctrinal chief, has put to bed any speculation that he might support admitting civilly remarried divorcees to Holy Communion.

In a Feb. 27 interview with Cologne diocesan radio, Cardinal Müller stressed that the indissolubility of the marital bond “is a dogma” and that “there cannot be a second marriage.”

“How could we make a compromise with the Word of God?”, he asked, adding one cannot work out a compromise on sociological terms. “I cannot go along with this,” he said.

He stated that the “teaching of the Church is not my property, it is given to us”, and that it is “our task also to speak clearly of the teaching of the Church, of the dogma of what God has revealed to us.”

The words of the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to, reported March 1 by Maike Hickson on the Rorate Caeli blog, are his first public and explicit comments on the issue since the final report on the Ordinary Synod on the Family was published last October.

Many have been curious to know his position as he belonged to the German language small group at the synod which is thought to have fought hard to "open the door" for civilly remarried divorcees to receive Holy Communion. During the synod he also appeared to suggest that some exceptions could be allowed. 

But the cardinal further upheld the Church's teaching and practice in a second interview with a Cologne newspaper Feb. 28, in which he warned that one “cannot make a compromise” through which men “would turn the clear Word of God into something vague”.

In comments to Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, he stressed how remarried divorcees can live chastely as brother and sister (nothing is "impossible with God’s grace", he said — a view contrary to that of the head of German’s bishops, Cardinal Reinhard Marx). But again, he underlined that the Church cannot “dissolve or suspend a validly contracted and true sacramental marriage.”

Some synod fathers, such as Cardinal George Pell and Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, head of the Polish bishops, were satisfied that the synod’s final report left no room for admitting remarried divorcees to Holy Communion. Others, such as Cardinal Raymond Burke, the former prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, were concerned that the document “lacked clarity” and that selective quotes taken from Pope St. John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio on the issue made the text “misleading”.

Soon after the end of the synod, Cardinal Walter Kasper and papal adviser Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, both claimed the text “opened a door” to such a possibility.

Pope Francis will clarify his position on the issue in his post-synodal apostolic exhortation, which he is expected to sign on March 19, the feast of St. Joseph. The document could then be published in various languages either before Easter on March 27, or after, possibly around the feast of Divine Mercy on April 3.

Vatican sources say the Holy Father has essentially three options regarding this issue:

  • Change the Church’s practice and admit remarried divorcees to Holy Communion, possibly along the lines of the “penitential path” proposed by Cardinal Kasper;
  • Formulate ambiguous passages that could be left open to interpretation for bishops’ conferences to decide;
  • Produce a document that introduces no objectionable innovations.

The third option is now thought the most likely, and may take the form of that practiced by a divorced and remarried couple he met in Mexico, who have sought to integrate themselves into the Church’s life through volunteering for the sick, needy and vulnerable but stopping short of receiving the Sacrament. The Pope commended them for “seeking to share God’s love through service and assistance to others.”

A further clue to the Pope’s preferences emerged last month when he invited an Italian diocesan group that ministers to remarried divorcees to attend a private audience. The group of 60 members tries to find ways to help divorced and remarried couples live within the present rules, rather than advocating for change in the Church’s practice and teaching.