Did Cardinal Schönborn’s News Agency Selectively Edit Cardinal Müller’s Remarks on Amoris Laetitia?

Many Catholic observers were somewhat disappointed when Cardinal Gerhard Müller gave an interview published by the Austrian website kathpress at the beginning of December concerning the papal document Amoris Laetitia and the dubia of the Four Cardinals. For, to all initial appearances, he had essentially declined to comment upon the whole controversial matter. However, further research has now shown that Cardinal Müller actually made some decisively important and pertinent statements, after all, in that same interview, and more openly than had thus far come to light. This fact and this disparity of presentation might be, in part, due to Cardinal Christoph Schönborn himself. We shall later come back to discuss this possibility.

On 1 December, Domradio.de, the radio station of the Diocese of Cologne, Germany, published its interview with Cardinal Müller, which seems to be a substantively longer version of the same interview as was slightly earlier also published by the Austrian website kathpress.at on 1 December 2016. The Austrian version has thus received much more attention now in the English-speaking world.

The longer and fuller Domradio version of the interview was likewise conducted by the German Catholic news agency Katholische Nachrichten-Agentur (KNA). However, the published kathpress interview – which does not show all of the the posed questions and specific answers, but, rather, only sums up the interview along with a few intermittent quotes – expressly says that it had conducted that interview. Moreover, it seems now that the longer, more substantial Domradio interview was only put on the Internet some five hours after the shorter and more defective Austrian interview was published by kathpress. This time difference might thus account for the fact that, though less thorough, the kathpress interview itself has been mostly picked up and circulated by journalists in the English-speaking world.

In the following report, therefore, I shall present a translation of the inexplicably omitted or attenuated parts – either in substance or with specific quotes – not fully included in the version of the Austrian news website kathpress.at. That website, notably, is an organ of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference whose current President is Cardinal Christoph Schönborn.

As it has already been more widely reported, Cardinal Müller stated in this 1 December interview that the “Holy Father, at the same time, wishes to help all people whose marriages and families are in a crisis to find a path in accordance with the ever-merciful will of God. We can always assume that the just and merciful God always wants our salvation in whatever need we find ourselves.” However, what is to be found missing in the Austrian version of the interview is Cardinal Müller’s following sentence: “But it does not stand in the power of the Magisterium to correct God’s Revelation or to make the imitation of Christ comfortable.” [my emphasis]

As a follow-up question, the interviewer asks: “Would the bishops’ conferences thus then be asked to help? Francis himself, after all, writes in Amoris Laetitia that not all questions need to be clarified in Rome….” When answering this pertinent question, the German Cardinal first explains that bishops’ conferences “are merely working groups with certain competences” and, thus, are not of “Divine Law.” He continues: “The highest authority in magisterial questions has only the pope with the entirety of the episcopacy, especially in an ecumenical council.” Then follows Cardinal Müller’s important statement which was also omitted by the Austrian version of the interview as it was presented to the public by kathpress:

Only in fidelity to the teaching of the Apostles, to the whole of the revealed Faith, can the bishops of a conference speak, for example, about the pastoral application of Amoris Laetitia. Otherwise, the Church would disintegrate into national churches and, in the end, would atomize. The Sacrament of Marriage, however, is in Korea just as valid as it is in Germany. [my emphasis]

Cardinal Müller continues with the following doctrinally firm statement:

The binding declarations of the popes, of the Councils of Trent and of the Second Vatican Council and of the Congregation for the Faith on the essential characteristics of marriage and on the precondition for a fruitful reception of the Sacraments in the state of justifying [i.e., sanctifying] grace may not be pushed aside by anyone under the pretext that marriage is, after all, merely an ideal which only can be reached by a very small number of people.

Marriage is in truth not a wishful image produced by ourselves, but, rather, a Sacrament, that is to say a reality founded by God Himself. It is an expression of the Mercy of the Creator and of the Redeemer. God does not put excessive demands upon us so that he then can show His Mercy toward us in the face of our own failure. With the help of Grace, we are able to fulfill the Commandments – among them the Sixth Commandment – and thus find peace of heart in a life in accordance with God’s will. [my emphasis]

While still here speaking about the bishops, as such – the interviewer’s question specifically relates itself to whether the individual bishop may now make his own independent decision in this pastoral matter – Müller sets the guidelines for a Catholic response to Amoris Laetitia: “Nor can the individual bishops do whatever they want according to their own private taste. They are servants, not masters [Herren] of the Faith.” [emphasis added]. This last sentence is likewise entirely missing in context from the kathpress report of the interview.

After this very same quote there comes – as has already been reported in the media – Cardinal Müller’s own statement according to which Amoris Laetitia may not now be interpreted in such a way as if those previous statements of popes and of the Congregation for the Faith were not any more valid – among them being the 1994 official CDF answer to the 1993 Pastoral Letter of the three progressive German bishops (one of them being the then-Bishop Walter Kasper) who were then already pushing for Communion for the “divorced and remarried.” In this context, Müller then added – but, once again, this next passage, either in substance or with specific quotes, was also not reported by kathpress – the following words:

The applause coming from a published opinion is not a [sufficient] proof that one is correct in questions of the Faith. A bishop must – whether opportune or inopportune – teach nothing else but “the sound words and doctrines of Our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Tim 6:3). [my emphasis]

All these statements of Cardinal Müller are also very important in the current context of the Church’s discussion about Amoris Laetitia. They show how he tries to call back the entire Church to her traditional and Apostolic roots of doctrine. Such statements are lacking, however, in the kathpress interview’s published report. Not only are they missing, the very title of the kathpress article tendentiously indicates that Müller’s words were actually meant to be directed and deflected into a completely different direction. The title of the Austrian interview is: “Cardinals Critical of the Pope: Prefect for the Faith Fears a Polarization.”

What is the likely reason that such an unrepresentative (or selective) title was chosen? And why were many of the above-quoted forceful doctrinal parts of the fuller German interview later missing from the interview now published by the Austrian kathpress? Here we have kathpress, which is run by the Austrian Bishops’ Conference, and that very same website omits every single reference in its article concerning the moral duties and doctrinal limits of the bishops’ conferences, and also of the bishops individually. It also would seem that kathpress has mainly omitted those parts of the interview where Cardinal Müller makes it very clear that any application of Amoris Laetitia must first be in accordance with the teaching of the Catholic Church on marriage as it has come down to us from the time of the Apostles.

Therefore, I have now written a specific request to kathpress concerning the reasons for their sometimes partial and sometimes very significant omissions. I shall later report on their responses if I should receive the courtesy of a forthright answer.

In this same context, some additional pieces of elucidating information might now also be of interest. For example, the Austrian kathpress even shares an office in Rome with the German news agency KNA. According to Domradio.de, moreover, the interview with Cardinal Müller was conducted in Rome by the journalists and Rome Correspondents Thomas Jansen (who heads up the same KNA Rome office) and Stefanie Stahlhofen. Both journalists have contributed articles to KNA, as well as to kathpress. Kathpress and KNA are also working together as partner agencies.

Important to note here is the fact that Cardinal Schönborn himself is the official editor of kathpress. This might be one reason why kathpress has only published its somewhat selectively presented version of the longer substantive interview with Cardinal Müller. Is this not perhaps another way of bypassing Cardinal Müller’s own magisterial authority, just as it occurred when the pope had effectively bypassed the same head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith when he asked Cardinal Schönborn, instead of Cardinal Müller, to present to the public his own post-synodal document Amoris Laetitia? If this is the case – then, when will Cardinal Müller himself come to speak up more forcefully and more clearly so that he will not any more be so effectively bypassed or so selectively presented by someone else as to his own magisterial-doctrinal words?

Whatever the deeper reasons might be for the somewhat defective kathpress interview report, it is an unfortunate fact – and quite consequential perhaps – that the less thorough Austrian kathpress‘ selective report has now found such a wide dissemination in the English-speaking world, instead of the Domradio version of the interview with its fuller representation of Cardinal Müller’s own specific thoughts and words and obligations. May this defect now soon be more fully mended.

Update, 22 December, 2016: Dr. Paul Wuthe, the editor-in-chief of kathpress.at, responded to our inquiry. He repeated in two e-mails that Cardinal Christoph Schönborn had nothing to do with the article in question; he also added that Schönborn merely has the financial oversight over the news agency. The editor assures us that “standard journalistic rules” were followed in selecting the quotes, and that the quoted parts of the interview were chosen because they seemed to be of importance due to the current situation. No explanation was given as to the rationale for leaving out such important statements relating to the role and duty of individual bishops as well as whole bishops’ conferences — statements that clearly alter the context and meaning of Cardinal Muller’s words as reported. The website of kathpress.at states that Cardinal Schönborn is the publisher of kathpress.at in his role as the Austrian Bishops’ Conference’s bishop responsible for the media. To the question as to who specifically wrote the article as published by kathpress, we have not yet received an answer.

Update, 29 December, 2016: Dr. Wuthe requested that we add the information that the full interview with Cardinal Gerhard Müller was available from 2 December, 2016 on for the customers who buy kathpress.at’s services. He was not willing to give us the name of the journalist who wrote the kathpress article on Cardinal Müller.

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