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, Katholisch.de, 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.”