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Cardinal Brandmüller on How the Dubia Should be Answered

In a new 30 December interview with Armin Schwibach, the Rome Correspondent of the Austrian Catholic website, German Cardinal Walter Brandmüller — one of the signatories of the dubia concerning Pope Francis’ document Amoris Laetitia — has again repeated the five questions of the dubia that were submitted to the pope over a year ago and proceeds to explain how, and implicitly why, they must be answered in accordance with the moral teaching of the Catholic Church.

The German prelate sums up the five dubia as follows:

1.) Can a person who is bound by an existing sacramental bond and who now lives with a new partner in a marital relationship (AL, no 305; footnote 351) receive, in certain cases, “absolution and Communion”?

2.) Are there absolute moral commandments, respectively, interdicts, which are binding without exception and under all circumstances (such as the killing of an innocent person)?

3.) Is it still true that someone who lives continuously in the state of adultery finds himself, objectively, in the state of grave sin?

4.) Are there situations in life which mitigate the moral responsibility to such an extent that an immoral act (here: adultery) can thereby be morally excused, or even justified?

5.) Can a personal decision of conscience permit exceptions from the absolute interdiction of intrinsically immoral acts?

Brandmüller then proceeds to explain how these five questions should be answered in light of the Church’s moral teaching:

As you see, these [five] questions are pertaining to the foundations of the Faith and of the [Church’s] moral teaching. According to those [foundations], the questions 1, 4, and 5 should be clearly answered with “No,” and the questions 2 and 3 with “Yes.”

The astute observer might notice that the answers to the summarized dubia proposed by Brandmüller are somewhat different than those commonly circulating in the English-speaking world, which are often phrased as “No, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes”. This discrepancy, however, is merely a matter of formulation. To avoid confusion, a brief explanation seems appropriate. Whereas, for example, in our own analysis of the five dubia the moral question was phrased such that it had to be answered in the affirmative on points 4 & 5, Brandmüller posits the same basic questions in such a way that they must be answered in the negative; i.e, “5. Does the Church’s teaching that an appeal to conscience cannot overcome absolute moral norms still hold true?” vs. “5. Can a personal decision of conscience permit exceptions from the absolute interdiction of intrinsically immoral acts?” The answer in the first case would be “yes,” the answer in the second would be “no,” but the same moral principle is being stated in both cases.

It is not the first time in recent months that Cardinal Brandmüller has spoken out on this issue. In October of 2017, he made strong remarks concerning those who claim that there might be exceptions with regard to adulterers and their possible access to the sacraments:

[H]e who claims that one may enter a new relationship while one’s own lawful wife is still alive is excommunicated because this is an erroneous teaching, a heresy. Whoever does make such a claim [is excommunicated]. […] Thus, if someone thinks he can contradict the defined Dogma of a General Council [e.g., Council of Trent], then that is indeed quite vehement. Exactly that is what one calls heresy – and that means exclusion from the Church – because one has left the common foundation of Faith. [emphasis added]

In the new interview, Schwibach also touches upon the matter of the recent praise of Martin Luther as it has been expressed by different prelates in Rome. For Cardinal Brandmüller, Martin Luther — while starting out with some reasonable concerns and criticisms — wound up not wanting to reform the Church, but to change her. However, “the Church of Jesus Christ can and shall always become ‘different’, that is to say, more perfect.” In quoting a Protestant Church historian, Franz Lau,  Brandmüller shows that Luther wanted a “radical revolt.” Luther intended specifically – as expressed in his own text addressed “To the Nobility of the German Nation” – to tear down three walls. As the German cardinals explains:

For him [Luther], the first wall was the priesthood based on the holy ordination; the second was the Magisterium of the Church based on the Mission given by Jesus Christ; the third was the existence of the papacy. That these three ‘walls’ have a firm biblical foundation, did not interest the angry Augustinian monk. Now that he has torn down all these three walls, Luther sees that the whole edifice of the papal Church has collapsed. To state that this total destruction is a “work of the Holy Ghost” is a thoroughly bizarre claim which can only be explained with the plain and simple ignorance of historical texts and facts – an ignorance which is more than astonishing for a bishop. [emphasis added]

A specific reference is being made here to Bishop Nunzio Galantino who had recently made such an erroneous statement about and praise for Martin Luther in October of 2017. (Galantino has been the Secretary-General of the Italian Bishops’ Conference since December of 2013.)

Beside this debate concerning the role of Martin Luther, Cardinal Brandmüller also discusses the current claim that man may chose his sexual orientation and may change it if desired. The prelate calls such an attitude a “nearly perverse revolt against the order of creation, against the nature of man as willed and created by God.” He adds: “To act against it [created nature] means the self-destruction of man. It would be a deceptive downplaying.” Brandmüller continues, saying:

It is indeed highly worrisome that the ideological confusion goes so far that one thinks one can carry subjectivism to extremes. That would then be the “No” to one’s own createdness and to the Creator. Man on the throne of God! A grotesque, absurd, and apocalyptic idea.

When discussing the question as to whether the Church should approach with an indulgent attitude those who are at her peripheries, leaving and allowing them to remain in the state they find themselves to be in, Cardinal Brandmüller makes it clear that “Jesus Christ Himself did not preach: ‘stay where you are’; rather, He said: ‘Convert and believe in the Gospels!’” The German cardinal, a Church historian and former President of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, then criticizes the Church’s current lack of missionary zeal to help these people when he says:

That one exhausts oneself with struggles within the Catholic Church, rather than being concerned about the eternal salvation of the many [outside], shows a shocking lack of spiritual vitality of the Catholics in our days.

Leaving the readers with some encouraging words, the cardinal adds: “The Lord was and is still in the boat, even if He seems to be sleeping.”

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