Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), keeps surprising us. After recently publicly speaking about the current atmosphere of fear and of censorship in the Vatican under Pope Francis, the German cardinal now suggests by way of implication that he himself never gave his consent to the decisive report of the German-speaking group at the second Synod of Bishops on the Family in Rome in 2015. If this were to be true, we would be facing now another large scandal since that Synod document was presented to the public as having had the approval of the Prefect of the CDF himself.
In a 13 October interview with the German Catholic newspaper, Die Tagespost, Cardinal Müller responds to a question about the German-speaking group and that group’s 2015 discussion of the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. He explains, as follows:
I myself had introduced into the discussion of this language group the reference to the questions 79 and 80 of the third part of the Summa theologiae, so that Cardinal Christoph Schönborn himself was happy about all that which his fellow friar has already said six [sic] hundred years ago concerning the topic of the legitimate and fruitful reception of the Eucharist. It was said that the final report had been approved with the help of one vote, that is to say with my vote. It is also true, however, that this ballot was secret.
Now these last two somewhat vague sentences are of some considerable importance inasmuch as Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the President of the German Bishops’ Conference, had then insisted, in a press conference at the end of the 2015 Synod on the Family, that the final report of the German-speaking group had been unanimously approved. Was this statement not quite true, after all? For, at that time, I had reported the following:
It was in the last of the three reports of the language-groups, as Edward Pentin reports, that the German-language group floated the idea of a resort to the internal forum “which critics say is a slightly modified version of the ‘Cardinal Kasper thesis’ that would admit remarried divorcees to Communion after a period of penance […].”
Significantly, when this German-language group report was presented on October 21 , it was Cardinal Marx himself who, speaking at a Synod press conference, insisted upon the fact that this report was written with the unanimous support of all the members of the group. More than once, he said: “Every text of the German-speaking group, every relatio, is unanimous. No vote against it. That is very important, I think.” He seemingly repeated this fact so that everybody in the room would realize that this meant that Cardinal Müller also supported the report. And Marx explicitly said that the idea of the “internal forum” was intended to be a means to help some “remarried” divorcees “to come to a full reconciliation with the Church,” which would include the access to the Sacraments. Cardinal Marx explicitly mentions at the press conference that there was a kind of agreement between Cardinals Kasper and Müller over the weekend, after they had each studied the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas as to how, with prudence, to “look at the different situations.” [emphasis added]
According to my report then, Cardinal Müller and Cardinal Walter Kasper had then come to some sort of agreement which led to the introduction of the idea of the “forum internum” which then entered the Synod’s summarizing final report, and which, in turn, was used by Pope Francis to justify in his Amoris Laetitia the idea that divorced and “remarried” couples might make a discernment about their situation in the “forum internum,” and that that very help of the Church might also at times “include the Sacraments.”
That is to say, Pope Francis was able, indirectly, to make use of the supposed Kasper-Müller compromise – as “moderated” by Cardinal Schönborn – in order to be able to implement his more liberalizing attitude toward the divorced and “remarried” couples with the learned “support” of the final document of the 2015 Synod. (As we still see, somehow the discussion of St. Thomas as initiated by Cardinal Müller still is being picked up by Pope Francis who now claims that Amoris Laetitia is “thomistic.”)
It was the radio station of the Diocese of Cologne, Germany, which declared hours after the end of the 2015 Synod on 24 October that the German-speaking group had been decisive:
In the end, it was the German language group which was able to overcome the obstruction and main blockage concerning the remarried questions.
A tiny little opening has been since made, and the central ideas of this group find themselves in the final report. If Pope Francis copies them later, it would be possible for those working in pastoral care to open up to those concerned – in certain “extreme cases” – the path to a “growing integration” into the communal life. Some of those who are responsible for pastoral care will also thus include the admittance to Holy Communion.
I remember hearing myself from sources in Rome at the time that Cardinal Müller had wanted to show mercy for certain extreme cases of “remarried” couples, as it was then also reported by the German magazine FOCUS. However, five months later, in March of 2016, Cardinal Müller had already distanced himself from the idea of a more liberalizing attitude toward the question of the divorced and “remarried” couples, i.e., by re-stating that they would have to abstain from sexual relations if they were to wish to have access to the Sacraments.
In spite of his subsequent distancing from the Kasper approach – and since that time – I have repeatedly, perhaps unfairly, held Cardinal Müller partly responsible for the ill fruits of Amoris Laetitia. For, without his approval of the German-speaking group’s final report at the Synod, the “forum internum” idea (which then did not explicitly mention access to the Sacraments yet) would not have entered the final report of the Synod and thus could not have been legitimately “picked up” and specifically used by Pope Francis.
Now I do not know what to think.
If, after all, Cardinal Müller did not give his consent to this German-supported compromise at the Synod, I would fittingly now have to retract all my ill-informed commentaries and criticisms of his person and role. But, so should many other observers who were all comparably misled.
But, why did Cardinal Müller not earlier speak up and show that Cardinal Marx was effectively speaking a falsehood when the latter insisted at the end of the 2015 Synod that the German-speaking report had been approved unanimously? Why does Cardinal Müller only now indicate such an implied correction or modification, now that he has been dismissed by Pope Francis – and quite abruptly so – from his position as the Prefect of the CDF?
This new and somewhat ambiguous Müller interview could well lead to another scandal. The scandal would be that leading figures at the Synod had falsely used Cardinal Müller’s name to implement more efficiently their own progressive agenda of reform. It would further take away “the fig leaf,” as it were, of legitimacy from that equivocal synodal process which was, in any event, quite heavily criticized.
Three days ago, I contacted Cardinal Müller’s secretary and asked him for some further clarifications as to whether or not the cardinal did actually vote to support the German-speaking group’s purportedly unanimous, final vote of concord. Should I receive a response from him, I shall update this post. I have also contacted Matthias Kopp, the press speaker of Cardinal Marx. He answered back by saying that I should, instead, now turn to the Secretariat of the Synods; and he thus declined my request to Cardinal Marx that he confirm his earlier public statement about unanimity. However, in a second answer a couple hours later, Mr. Kopp pointed out to me the official statement from Archbishop Heiner Koch – who was the relator of the German-speaking group at the 2015 Synod – in which Koch himself also states that the final report was unanimously approved by the members of the group. This makes a clarifying statement from Cardinal Müller himself even more urgent.