Cardinal Müller’s TV Interview Causes Bewilderment

Vatican’s doctrinal chief criticizes making ‘dubia’ public but some critics say he is missing the point as it emerges that none of the CDF’s corrections of ‘Amoris Laetitia’ was accepted.

Cardinal Müller appearing on Tgcom24 on Jan. 8, 2016.
Cardinal Müller appearing on Tgcom24 on Jan. 8, 2016. (photo: Screenshot)

Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said in a live television interview on Sunday that a “fraternal correction” of Pope Francis regarding his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) is “not possible at this time” because the document poses “no danger to the faith.”

But the cardinal’s comments, made yesterday to Vatican correspondent Fabio Marchese Ragona on the Italian channel Tgcom24, contrast with revelations, affirmed by at least two senior Vatican officials to the Register last week, that the CDF lodged a large number of corrections of Amoris Laetitia before its publication last April, and “not one of the corrections was accepted.”

His remarks also follow widely divergent interpretations of the document, with some bishops’ conferences such as Germany’s saying it allows Holy Communion for some remarried divorcees living in what the Church has always taught is an objective state of adultery, and others such as Poland’s emphatically saying it doesn’t. Individual bishops around the world have similarly been at odds over the issue. 

Cardinal Müller did not refer to concerns over these differing interpretations in his Jan. 8 interview, but said instead that “at the moment, a correction of the Pope isn’t possible because there isn’t a danger to the faith.” He was referring to the dubia of four cardinals who asked the Pope Sept. 19 to clarify the teaching contained in Amoris Laetitia given these widely varying interpretations on crucial moral and sacramental matters.

The four cardinals — Carlo Caffarra, Walter Brandmüller, Raymond Burke and Joachim Meisner — sent the dubia (questions asking simply if 5 passages in the document are consistent with Church teaching) to the Pope “out of deep pastoral concern” in order to clear up “grave disorientation and great confusion” due to these different readings of the document’s teaching. The cardinals stressed they chose to highlight those points in “charity and justice,” for the sake of Church unity. 

So far the Holy Father has not formally responded to the questions and has made it known to Cardinal Müller that he is not to respond to them on his behalf. Francis has not publicly given reasons for not doing so, but has implied that the four cardinals and others “persist in seeing only white or black, when rather one ought to discern in the flow of life”.

The cardinals decided to make the dubia public as they took the Pope’s decision not to respond as “an invitation to continue the reflection and the discussion, calmly and with respect.” In Nov. 15 comments to the Register, Cardinal Burke said if the Pope continues not to respond then “it would be a question of taking a formal act of correction of a serious error.” Cardinal Brandmüller later told La Stampa the correction would first take place in camera caritatis (in private).


Surprised dubia made public

Cardinal Müller said Sunday that the cardinals had “every right to write a letter to the Pope”, but added he was “surprised this has become public, almost forcing the Pope to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

“I don’t like this,” he said. “Also a possible fraternal correction of the Pope seems to me very distant; it’s not possible at this time because it is not a danger to the faith as St. Thomas [Aquinas] said.”

He said he felt it was “a loss to the Church to discuss these things publicly”, adding that Amoris Laetitia is “very clear in its doctrine and we can interpret the whole doctrine of Jesus on marriage, the whole doctrine of the Church in 2000 years of history."

Pope Francis, the cardinal concluded, “asks to discern the situation of these people who live in irregular unions, that are not according to the Church's teaching on marriage, and to help these people find a way for a new integration into the Church according to the conditions of the sacraments, the Christian message about marriage.” He said he did not “see any opposition: on the one hand we have the clear teaching on marriage, on the other the obligation of the Church to be concerned about these people in difficulty.”

But the cardinal’s comments have been met with bewilderment in Rome, with some arguing that the cardinal has missed the point: the question, they say, is not whether Amoris Laetitia can be read in continuity with tradition but whether it is ambiguous enough that it can be read in a heterodox way.

His remarks also come after it has emerged the CDF had clear misgivings about the document before it was published — concerns which were never heeded. One informed official recently told the Register that a CDF committee that reviewed a draft of Amoris Laetitia raised “similar” dubia to those of the four cardinals. Those dubia formed part of the CDF’s 20 pages of corrections, first reported by Jean-Marie Genois in Le Figaro on April 7, the eve of the publication of the document.

Another senior official went further, revealing to the Register last week that Cardinal Müller had told him personally that the CDF “had submitted many, many corrections, and not one of the corrections was accepted”. He added that what the cardinal states in the interview “is exactly the contradictory of everything which he has said to me on the matter until now” and he had the “impression of someone who was not speaking for himself but repeating what someone else had told him to say.”


Strong previous record

Cardinal Müller has frequently spoken strongly in defense of the Church’s teaching on marriage and family over the past three years (see here and here). And in a speech in Oviedo, Spain, last year, he emphatically said that Amoris Laetitia does not open the door to Holy Communion for civilly remarried divorcees, reaffirming Art. 84 in Pope St. John Paul’s apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio which states that remarried divorcees cannot be admitted to Eucharistic Communion unless they are able to live in “complete continence”.  

But critics say he seems oblivious to the concerns about the divergent interpretations of the document — deep apprehensions reportedly shared far beyond the four cardinals — and suspect that after the Pope recently removed three of the cardinal's collaborators without giving a reason, and with a formal correction possibly imminent, he felt compelled, or was compelled, to show the Pope an unmistakeable sign of loyalty. Others argue that the Italian the cardinal uses in the interview is more nuanced than the English translation, that he knows what he is doing, and is trying to defend orthodoxy and Church unity in his own way. 

A significant number of episcopal conferences around the world have expressed their concerns to the Pope, the Register has learned, and like the four cardinals, have received no response. Also before the document was published, 30 cardinals, having seen an advance draft of the apostolic exhortation, wrote to the Pope expressing their reservations, especially on the issue of communion for remarried divorcees, warning that the document would weaken the three essential sacraments of the Church: the Eucharist, marriage, and confession. The Pope never responded to that letter either, a Vatican source told the Register.

The Holy See Press Office declined to comment on the rejection of the CDF corrections of Amoris Laetitia, saying Jan. 2 it “doesn’t comment on the iter [process] of papal documents”.

Cardinal Müller also did not respond when asked by the Register Jan. 9 whether he is aware of the reported confusion deriving from differing interpretations of Amoris Laetitia, or why he believes no formal correction is needed when his dicastery’s own corrections to Amoris Laetitia were not accepted.

Update 12 January 2016:

A spokesman for Cardinal Müller told the Register that he was "speaking out of his authority as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and was not advised by anyone to do so." He also said that a "recent interview with Carlos Granados published in Spanish entitled “Informe sobre la esperanza” (Madrid 2016) is forthcoming in English and entitled “The Cardinal Müller Report” (Ignatius…2017). In this book the third chapter is entitled “What can we hope for from the family?” This will be an excellent point of reference regarding the Cardinal’s comments on the Sacrament of Marriage."