Browse Our Articles & Podcasts

Did Pope Benedict Have a Role in the Müller-Kasper Compromise?


Editor’s note: as with all stories attempting to uncover what is transpiring behind the scenes at the Vatican, this report includes, by necessity, a certain amount of speculation based on information gleaned from unnamed sources. While the Italian press appears to have long-since accepted the blurring of the lines between reporting and rumor that is unavoidable in covering Vatican politics, this can be uncomfortable for the uninitiated. We present the following report as something plausible but unable to be definitively verified. We have chosen to share this information with our audience because it potentially sheds light on the new direction the Church is taking in relation to the Synod – and in a broader view, has been taking since the Second Vatican Council. 

As I reported at LifeSiteNews a few days ago, it seems that at the end of the Synod of Bishops on the Family in Rome, a sort of compromise took place between German Cardinals Gerhard Ludwig Müller – the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – and Walter Kasper. The concession concerned the possible admittance of “remarried” divorcees to Holy Communion. While Cardinal Müller always upheld the traditional teaching of the Church in this matter – namely, that those objectively living in the state of adultery are not allowed to receive Holy Communion –  it was Cardinal Kasper who proposed to loosen this rule with the help of an examination of conscience and an act of repentance on the side of the “remarried” divorcees – without, however, urging them or requiring them also to leave their sinful state.

The compromise which was agreed upon and attained between Cardinals Müller and Kasper – and which thereby facilitated its actual entry into the Final Report of the Synod – concentrated, though in somewhat vague terms, on recourse to the Internal Forum, in which the “remarried” divorcees were thereby to discern their specific individual situation and their own contribution to the failure of their first marriage, in order that they might be able, and permitted, to be more fully integrated “into the life of Church.” Even though access to Holy Communion is not specifically mentioned in this language of compromise, the concept of an Internal Forum, in its original meaning and context, did include the consequential permission to receive the Eucharist. Therefore, the paragraphs 84 to 86 of the Final Report of the Synod now remain especially open to speculation and ambiguity, as Cardinal Raymond Burke himself has recently stated in an interview with the Rome correspondent, Edward Pentin:

The section entitled “Discernment and Integration” (paragraphs 84-86) is, however, of immediate concern, because of its lack of clarity in a fundamental matter of the faith: the indissolubility of the marriage bond which both reason and faith teach all men.

Moreover, the Jesuit theologian, Professor Michael Sievernich, who had also been a participant of the German-speaking group of the Synod of Bishops – at the invitation of the pope himself – now publicly interprets this part of the Final Report in a more liberalizing way. In a 29 October interview with the official website of the German Bishops’ Conference,, he says the following, after first describing this concept of the Internal Forum:

Thereby [after this examination of conscience], also civilly divorced and remarried persons who are, in any event, part of the Church and who are not excommunicated, can integrate themselves again more fully into the ecclesial and sacramental life. Perhaps one child showed the way, concerning whom one of the synod fathers actually spoke: A child who had just received his own First Holy Communion then went to his parents, who are remarried divorcees, and shared with them the Host, the Body of Our Lord.

In two recent articles, the well-informed Vatican expert, Sandro Magister, points out that this concept of the Internal Forum – with its ambiguity also in its applications – was already once seriously considered by Pope Benedict himself. Magister says on 30 October:

It was at this point that the “Germanicus” circle, dominated by Kasper, made the decision to fall back on a minimal solution, which at that point was seen as the only one that could be presented in the [plenary]  assembly with a chance of success: that of entrusting to the “internal forum,” meaning to the confessor together with the penitent, the “discernment” of cases in which to allow “access to the sacraments.”

It is a solution that Benedict XVI himself had not ruled out, if only as a hypothesis still in need of “further study and clarification.” And in fact it was even endorsed in the “Germanicus” circle by Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith and a staunch Ratzingerian.

In the draft of the synod’s final document, in the three paragraphs on the divorced and remarried, the “German” solution is transcribed en bloc. But with a few key cuts, the only way it could pass the test of the vote [at the final plenary assembly].

On Monday, 26 October, Marco Ansaldo reported in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica that there is a possibility that it was the former student of Joseph Ratzinger, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn – a proponent of the liberalizing faction at the Synod and the head of the German-speaking group – who, in a recent meeting with the former pope during the last week of the Synod at the monastery Mater Ecclesiae, may have convinced Pope Benedict to influence Cardinal Müller in favor of a “minimal solution” (in Magister’s words).

It was indeed Cardinal Müller’s surprising support of this “Internal Forum” approach, as expressed in the third and last report of the German-speaking group – and which had already been unanimously accepted by all the Germanicus members – which then opened up further this form of finally accepted compromise.

As Sandro Magister pointed out in an earlier 27 October article, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger himself explored the idea of an Internal Forum in 1998 – and he republished this same idea as pope in 2011:

So then, in the German circle during the last week of the synod there was unanimity on precisely this last hypothesis that Ratzinger in his day presented as a study case: that of entrusting to the “internal forum” – i.e., meaning to the confessor together with the penitent – the “discernment” of cases in which to allow “access to the sacraments.”

Magister ends this consideration with a reference to the fact that “there was also [in the German-speaking group]  Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and a staunch Ratzingerian.”

As of this writing, I have not received a response from Cardinal Müller’s office with regard to this question. However, several well-informed sources in Rome have told me that there is a reasonable foundation for believing that Marco Ansaldo, a well-respected Vatican expert, is reliably correct with his recent story about the persuasive place of Pope Benedict XVI in forging an acceptable compromise between Cardinals Müller and Kasper.

I was able to receive further confirmation from Ansaldo himself, who generously told me about his source, whom he considers to be “very reliable.” According to information provided by a German cleric who spoke with Mr. Ansaldo, Pope Benedict and Cardinal Schönborn spoke about the then-ongoing proceedings when they met for lunch during the last week of the Synod. Cardinal Schönborn presented Pope Benedict with the possible compromise between the Cardinals Müller and Kasper. “Pope Benedict then gave a sort of benediction to this agreement,” said Ansaldo. “Cardinal Müller understood the message, and he and Cardinal Kasper met to find a solution [with regard to the “remarried” divorcees], which was based upon the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas,” he continued. Ansaldo also pointed out that no one has denied this story since he reported it publicly more than ten days ago. When I also then asked him whether he knew if Cardinal Müller and Pope Benedict had had any contact during the Synod concerning these matters, Ansaldo responded:

“I have no information about a possible meeting during the Synod between Cardinal Müller and Benedict XVI. But, of course, we all know the special relationship between the two, and I think that Cardinal Müller understands every single signal that could come from Joseph Ratzinger’s behavior.”

51 thoughts on “Did Pope Benedict Have a Role in the Müller-Kasper Compromise?”

  1. The words of Our Lords are clear, and we can be sure that any ‘compromise’ that leads away from them betrays Him, and that any institution endorsing such a compromise is no longer the Catholic Church.
    It would be a tragedy if Pope Benedict who did so much to uphold the truth is now, in his old and with failing health, made part of some machinations of the enemies of Christ and His Church.

  2. As a follow-up, it would be nice to see the context in which P.E. Benedict considered the internal forum, and also the definition used. Also, the “writings of St Thomas Aquinas” are referenced generally. A specific reference would be helpful. Unfortunately, Benedict is not in a great position to clarify or refute the positions attributed to him. While I greatly respect the mind of the Pope Emeritus, I would feel more comfortable reading his actual thoughts than just hearing his name dropped.

    • “While I greatly respect the mind of the Pope Emeritus, I would feel more comfortable reading his actual thoughts than just hearing his name dropped.”

      As would we all, I expect. He was in a unique position to do or say something during this God-forsaken Synod. That he did not, considering the fact that his silence is self-imposed, is a bit odd.

    • Here you go, Steven. Take a swim in the beautifully clear waters of Ratzingerian prose!

      Now I’m going to test Steve’s patience by excerpting the entire section dealing with the internal forum (my emphases in bold):

      Certain marriage cases, it is said, cannot be handled in the external forum. Some claim that the Church should not simply rely on juridical norms, but on the contrary ought to respect and tolerate the conscience of the individual,. They say that theological notions of epikeia and aequitas canonica could serve to justify, from moral theology as well as juridically, a decision of conscience at variance from the general norm. Especially regarding the question of receiving the sacraments, they claim that the Church should take some steps forward and not just issue prohibitions to the faithful.

      The contributions made by Professor Marcuzzi and Professor Rodríguez Luño throw light on his complex problem. To this end, there are three areas of inquiry which clearly need to be distinguished from each other:

      a. Epikeia and aequitas canonica exist in the sphere of human and purely ecclesiastical norms of great significance, but cannot be applied to those norms over which the Church has no discretionary authority. The indissoluble nature of marriage is one of these norms which goes back to Christ Himself and is thus identified as a norm of divine law. The Church cannot sanction pastoral practices – for example, sacramental pastoral practices – which contradict the clear instruction of the Lord.

      In other words, if the prior marriage of two divorced and remarried members of the faithful was valid, under no circumstances can their new union be considered lawful and therefore reception of the sacraments is intrinsically impossible. The conscience of the individual is bound to this norm without exception.[2]

      b. However the Church has the authority to clarify those conditions which must be fulfilled for a marriage to be considered indissoluble according to the sense of Jesus’ teaching. In line with the Pauline assertion in 1 Cor. 7, she established that only two baptized Christians can enter into a sacramental marriage. She developed the legal concept of the Pauline privilege and the Petrine privilege. With reference to the porneia clauses in Matthew and in Acts 15:20, the impediments to marriage were established. Furthermore, grounds for the nullity of marriage were identified with ever greater clarity, and the procedural system was developed in greater detail. All of this contributed to delineating and articulating more precisely the concept of the indissolubility of marriage. One can say that, in this way, the Western Church also made allowance for the principle of oikonomia, but without touching the indissolubility of marriage as such. The further juridical development of the 1983 Code of Canon Law was in this same direction, granting probative force to the declarations of the parties. Therefore, according to experts in this area, it seems that cases in which an invalid marriage cannot be shown to be such by the procedural are practically excluded.

      Since marriage has a fundamental public ecclesial character and the axiom applies that nemo iudex in propria causa (no one is judge in his own case), marital cases must be resolved in the external forum. If divorced and remarried members of the faithful believe that their prior marriage was invalid, they are thereby obligated to appeal to the competent marriage tribunal so that the question will be examined objectively and under all available juridical possibilities.

      c. Admittedly, it cannot be excluded that mistakes occur in marriage cases. In some parts of the Church, well-functioning marriage tribunals still do not exist. Occasionally, such cases last an excessive amount of time. Once in a while they conclude with questionable decisions. Here it seems that the application of epikeia in the internal forum is not automatically excluded from the outset. This is implied in the 1994 letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in which it was stated that new canonical ways of demonstrating nullity should exclude “as far as possible” every divergence from the truth verifiable in the judicial process (cf. No. 9). Some theologians are of the opinion that the faithful ought to adhere strictly even in the internal forum to juridical decisions which they believe to be false. Others maintain that exceptions are possible here in the internal forum, because the juridical forum does not deal with norms of divine law, but rather with norms of ecclesiastical law. This question, however, demands further study and clarification. Admittedly, the conditions for asserting an exception would need to be clarified very precisely, in order to avoid arbitrariness and to safeguard the public character of marriage, removing it from subjective decisions.

      In short, Ratzinger’s comments on the internal forum relate solely and specifically to those parts of the Church in which “well-functioning marriage tribunals still do not exist”, resulting in nullity petitions that take an excessive amount of time or render questionable decisions. None of these criteria (save perhaps the last!) obtain in the developed world.

      • Actually, let me modify my final comment. Cardinal Ratzinger is a little more ambiguous in that last section than I first read. He first refers to “mistakes [that can occur] in marriage cases”, and his subsequent comments are meant to provide (highly restrictive) examples of such mistakes. So I was mistaken when I wrote that he was referring “solely and specifically” to places where well-functioning tribunals do not exist.

        Regardless, it’s clear that Ratzinger regards the internal forum as a potential option for a small number of cases in which there are well-founded reasons to question the decision of the tribunal.

        • I think what matters is whether his position on this could reasonably be extrapolated, either by him or by others, to fit the scenario laid out in this report.

          And remember, Muller was the target of this information. He’s likely quite familiar with what you’ve cited, so whatever happened, it would have had to have been credible.

          • Well, the Kasperites are clearly using Ratzinger as the camel’s nose under the tent, in the same way as they used Familiaris Consortio. In both cases, they include the parts that everyone can agree on (though with wildly varying interpretations), but carefully omit the surrounding context that would tend to favor the orthodox interpretation.

            The question remains: why did Muller agree to this? Perhaps he thought it was the best achievable outcome, given that the alternative would have been to vote down paragraphs 84-86 and deal the pope a major humiliation. As a born rabble rouser, I have trouble understanding why our orthodox prelates regard such an outcome with horror, but apparently they do.

          • “Some theologians are of the opinion that the faithful ought to adhere strictly even in the internal forum to juridical decisions which they believe to be false.”

            Is it possible that we’re simply seeing an application of moral Probabilism, rather than the Probabiliorism (which I think we might prefer as traditionalists)?

          • Well, the section you quoted seems to be probabiliorist; to wit, if there is a finding against nullity, the parties should obey it even if they believe the decision to be wrong.

            The Kasperites, by contrast, might be strong probabilists, if it’s even possible to classify their incoherent and sentimental arguments as belonging to a particular intellectual category. But in the main, Ratzinger does not seem to be part of this group. He holds out the bare theoretical possibility of an internal-forum resolution only after stating in the clearest possible terms:

            In other words, if the prior marriage of two divorced and remarried members of the faithful was valid, under no circumstances can their new union be considered lawful and therefore reception of the sacraments is intrinsically impossible. The conscience of the individual is bound to this norm without exception.

            If we’re going to read doctrine through Ratzinger, this would seem to be the determining statement.

          • Actually, the Kasperites are strong laxists. From the Catholic Encyclopedia:

            Laxism maintained that if the less safe opinion were slightly probable it could be followed with a safe conscience.

            This is basically their exact position, when you get past all the figleaf verbiage.

    • I, too, would like to see the reference to the works of the Angelic Doctor. The idea that the bunch of Hegelians, Kantians, and Rahnerians that are the German Bishops would find justification in the writings of Saint Thomas strikes me as patently absurd. It further impresses me as being a cynical faux-pious veneer on a very ugly piece of furniture in the sanctuary of God.

      Yes, I know that +Schönborn is an O.P. But that does not in the least boost my confidence that the actualy thought of Saint Thomas Aquinas was used without being substantially adulterated. The Cardinal is, after all, theologically fluid and criticizes his orthodox brethren for their “obsession with intrinsece malum [intrinsic evil].”

  3. It is entirely plausible that Schönborn was sent in by the Kasperites to cajole and arm-twist Benedict with threats of schism and who-know-what assurances that “honestly, I’m totally on your side about this, but this is the best deal we could get, and besides Müller has asked me to tell you he’s fine with this solution, and isn’t here to tell you himself only because, uh, he had to take his turtle to the vet.” Whereupon Schönborn trotted back to Müller and said “the old man’s on board, and you are out on a limb by yourself”. At which point Müller caved and a signal was sent to the drafters that the fix was in.

    That is my guess.

    • Given that Schönborn was reportedly the cardinal who persuaded Benedict to resign based on the assurance that the Conclave would elect a like-minded successor, I wouldn’t be surprised if something like this occurred.

    • No-one can “do deals” with God’s Commandments which were given us for all time and not to be changed according to the whims of the day. These old men are heretics and should be called out as such. No messing about should be tolerated. The CC is in tatters and souls are endangered by these evil-doers. If there are no honest, upright Catholic men wearing red hats who are willing to stand up for Christ against Satan then the great Chastisement we were warned of by Our Blessed Lady will undoubtedly be upon us all.

  4. Sounds like a classic example of the Hegelian Dialectic. Thesis vs antithesis equals synthesis.

    We’re kidding ourselves if we think this is the last we’ve seen of this question. They will continue this fight, and the “conservatives” will seek to conserve the status quo–that is, the radically ambiguous paragraphs that allow for such a thing… and we will slip further into the desired synthesis.

      • Exactly my thoughts as well. The synthesis being a hybrid Mass. I seem to remember reading rumors about the creation of a hybrid Novus Ordo/Traditional Mass a few years ago.

          • Try this one: The celebrant, deacon, and subdeacon are priests of our local Ordinariate parish, good men all. In addition, Msgr. Wilkinson and Fr. Reid were among the signatories of the pre-synodal letter from prominent Catholic converts asking the Holy Father to reaffirm Catholic doctrine on marriage.

          • Of course, it helps that the people coming from Anglicanism actually take sacred music seriously. A missal alone can’t provide that.

      • There was a bishop who received much opprobrium for calling Benedict an Hegelian, but it is looking more and more like he was right. I think his name was Richard Williamson.

  5. For all of you experts in the biblical field, I would like to know how many times Jesus made an exception to one of his rules? I will tell you that these exceptions will send us to hell. Just as the road to hell is paved with good intentions, I think the same road is being repaved with exceptions.

    • This ‘compromise’ brought to my mind the words of Revelation 3:15-16:

      “…I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth…”

  6. Cardinal Schönborn going to Pope Emeritus Benedict to make peace between Cardinals Kasper and Müller? That had to stick in Pope Francis’ craw, regardless of whether he got the result he wanted or not. It makes you think that the real target of Cardinal Marx’s threat of schism was not Pope Francis, but Pope Benedict, who wants very much to be Consigliere, but….

  7. All I know is that it breaks my heart to see a picture of Pope Benedict with this article. It was a mistake for him to resign, even if we have to keep spinning it as a big act of “humility”. The Church is in shambles since Francis was elected and in more of a state of collapse each day.

  8. Once the “remarried” are admitted to Holy Communion without a decree of invalidity of a prior bond, what would be the justification for denying the “new” couple access to the sacrament of matrimony?

    With suitable examination of conscience, discernment, and repentence, why not eliminate Hell altogether!

  9. it was Cardinal Kasper who proposed to loosen this rule with the help of an examination of conscience and an act of repentance on the side of the “remarried” divorcees – without, however, urging them or requiring them also to leave their sinful state.

    It occurred to me in reading this line… Kasperism sets up many situations in which a sincere Catholic can end up being co-opted into adultery.

    A couple divorces. One of them gets remarried sans annulment. They do the whole penitential/private box forum/meet me where I’m at ceremony. All is forgiven. Meanwhile, the spouse who did not initiate the divorce is now lead to believe that he or she can freely marry again in the Church.

    What’s so sad about all this Kasperism is highlighted by a piece over at Crisis, where it’s been observed that people who hit a snag in their married life, if they endure and work on things, end up coming out happier and still together in the long run. Kasperism says “no, you don’t have to follow the sociological data or the pastoral experience of priests and skilled laymen, just get the divorce and remarry…”

    Remarry. We don’t know how many times the private black box of conscious reflection can be used in the commission of serial adultery. That will be for Synod 2022 to figure out, the maximum number of applications of Kasperism.

    7 times 70? With the God of Surprises and Mercy, who knows?

  10. Enough with the hair splitting, haggling, compromising, and, yeah, pontificating. When Jesus was asked about marriage and divorce he did not dialogue, soft pedal, or back track. He doubled down. When oh when will we realize, cleric and lay alike, that Catholicism is terminal. Jesus lasted only three years. You cannot negotiate yourself into a comfy old age. Suck it up, tell the truth and let them come after you. The Good News? The Church always resurrects. Always. She simply cannot, will not stay dead. But you have to die with her first.

  11. I am more and more dubious about Benedict. Some make him out to be a hero but I actually think Voris had a point: he abandoned ship and left us in the hands of Francis, under his pontificate many modernist bishops were consecrated. Benedict seems to me like the “controlled opposition” to Francis. Archbishop Lefebvre in his wisdom did refer to him as a “snake”…

  12. Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For amen I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot, or one tittle shall not pass of the law, till all be fulfilled. He therefore that shall break one of these least commandments, and shall so teach men, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. But he that shall do and teach, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

    For I tell you, that unless your justice abound more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

    — Mt 5:17-20

  13. Fascinating article, but no more than intelligent speculation. Intelligent speculation, by its nature, can often be wildly wrong. Meantime, I am with “James B”: it was a “mistake” for Benedict to resign. Indeed, I would go further: it was a castrophic error of prudential judgement.

  14. Pope Francis’ people have been spreading a lot of innuendo about Pope Benedict lately. They noticed that their protestant reforms are not doing so well and they are trying to discredit Benedict in order that Catholics who look to him for moral support begin doubting.
    It’s unfortunate that even writers who seem serious write and publish unverified speculation dressed as fact.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Popular on OnePeterFive

Share to...