Reactions from Germany to Cardinal Gerhard Müller’s Defense of Amoris Laetitia

In the wake of the recent 8 January defense of the papal document Amoris Laetitia by Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), there have been an increasing number of faithful Catholics now coming forth with reluctant criticisms; others quote the cardinal in order to claim that the case of the dubia has now been closed for good. In the following, I shall concentrate on three major voices: the German pro-life activist and book author, Mathias von Gersdorff; the German theologian, Dr. Markus Büning; and Guido Horst, the Rome Correspondent and former editor-in-chief of the major national German Catholic newspaper, Die Tagespost.

As we recall, Cardinal Müller has claimed that the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia is in accordance with the traditional teaching on marriage and that there is no danger to the Faith coming from this document. He has also now issued a critique of the four cardinals who published their dubia with reference to this papal document.

First, let us consider those German Catholics who now criticize Cardinal Müller’s position and recent statement. Mathias von Gersdorff shows himself disappointed with Cardinal Müller’s rebuke of, as well as his distancing from, the Four Cardinals’ own Dubia, and he says that the words of this cardinal thereby now “increase the confusion concerning Amoris Laetitia.” Von Gersdorff, consequently, now raises an important issue and question when he says:

It is indeed remarkable that Cardinal Müller chooses an interview on television in order to criticize his brothers of the College of Cardinals [the Four Cardinals]. As Prefect of the Congregation of the Faith, he has at his disposal means that are more apt than an eleven-minute-short interview in which merely three minutes are dedicated to the Apostolic Exhortation. Does such a statement in a television interview have at all any relevant authority? One would have expected from a Prefect that he make such a grave statement – which has caused nearly an earthquake – either in L’Osservatore Romano or in an academic journal of theology. [my emphasis]

In von Gersdorff’s eyes, Müller did not even have “the time to give sufficient reasons for his critique.” [my emphasis] He continues, saying that “such a short format does not allow a larger explanation which would correspond to the weight of the statement.” The German author continues:

But that [a more careful explanation] would have been truly fitting. It is impossible that Cardinal Müller missed the fact that many bishops and bishops’ conferences already interpret the document [Amoris Laetitia] very differently from Tradition (and its own conceptions) and that they want to allow Communion for the remarried divorcees. That is also the clear tendency in Germany, the homeland of Cardinal Müller.

Von Gersdorff is also sound when he adds: “If he [Müller] thinks it is right to criticize the authors of the dubia, then it would be fitting also to criticize those who push ahead and interpret Amoris Laetitia (AL) in opposition to Tradition, with Cardinal [Reinhard] Marx being at the head of all of them.” [my emphasis]

(In this context, it might be worth noting that Cardinal Müller just recently declined to comment on Cardinal Marx’ own decision to remove his pectoral cross when visiting Jerusalem. Müller explicitly then said that he does not like to criticize his fellow prelates and cardinals in public: “I don’t think it is right to criticize my fellow prelates and cardinals in public, and I myself don’t do it.”) Mathias von Gersdorff, in his own article, rightly asks here why Cardinal Müller criticizes those who try to uphold the traditional Catholic teaching on marriage while being altogether silent about the heterodox interpretations of Amoris Laetitia. Von Gersdorff thus fittingly comments that “with his own selective criticism, Cardinal Müller has now unfortunately increased the confusion concerning Amoris Laetitia”; inasmuch as “the simple faithful see [and hear] a cacophony as they have never before seen it, concerning a moral theological question which had been clarified already by many popes, and for many centuries.” The German journalist ends his commentary with this piercing statement:

Many ask themselves: Why do the pope and the second man in the Vatican – that is to say, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Faith – not confirm and strengthen the teaching of the Church in this important question where there are so many people who now openly deny this teaching?

As a second German voice, Dr. Markus Büning – who has repeatedly raised in the recent past his passionate and principled voice of indignation concerning Amoris Laetitia and the silence of the prelates of the Church – discusses in a new article written for the German website the question of a well-formed conscience with regard to the matter of the “remarried” divorcees.

Dr. Büning criticizes Amoris Laetitia for the fact that it is not based on the traditional Catholic teaching that a Catholic’s conscience has to be formed according to the Church’s Magisterium – and also with the reliable help of that Magisterium whose duty it is to teach the faithful trustworthily. As Büning says: “Only the well-formed conscience judges rightly and truthfully!” After repeating the Church’s clear teaching with regard to the “remarried” divorcees and their being disallowed still to receive the Sacraments, as was laid out in paragraph 84 of the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, Büning concludes:

This text [FM 84] is not lacking any clarity. Here, nobody who knows the text can justly find an excuse, and nobody can thus come to the conclusion – with the help of a [purportedly] well-formed conscience – to seriously offer other solutions for the so-called remarried divorcees.

The German theologian continues by showing how the pope himself has taken now Amoris Laetitia on another path: “Pope Francis has now distanced himself with the publication of Amoris Laetitia from the clear teaching of his predecessor [John Paul II] and from his strict proscription as to the reception of Sacramental Communion, as was laid out in Familiaris Consortio 84.”

Here thus follows – and this appears especially important with regard to the discussion about Cardinal Müller’s own recent statements – Dr. Büning additional comment:

In this context, the repeatedly soothing comments by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Faith are not helpful, either, according to which the Church’s teaching has not been changed [in AL]. For the sake of clarity and truth, I cannot follow here the line of Cardinal Müller. One thing is indeed obvious: AL has not confirmed, but softened Familiaris Consortio n. 84. [my emphasis]

In the following, Dr. Büning shows how Pope Francis, with the help of footnote 351, does consider it possible for the “remarried” divorcees to have, in certain cases, access to the Sacraments. However, for this German theologian, the more crucial part of that section in AL is the fact that the document “does not any more present to mankind the Divine Law as unalterable precept.” On the contrary, “now the misguided, autonomous individual conscience is being celebrated by a pope!” [my emphasis] Büning concludes: “This teaching stands in clear opposition to the previous teaching of the Church concerning a well-formed conscience as it has been expressed in the Church’s Catechism which is still valid.” Thus, the German theologian does not only consider footnote 351 to be a problem, but, rather, the whole “paradigm shift” that is explicitly to be found in paragraph 305 of AL, which now “describes the Divine Moral Law not any more as an indispensable norma normans, but, rather, degrades it into being a mere source of inspiration for human conduct.”

In the face of such moral clarity and principled indignation and courage, one may only have wonder at a recent article written by the prominent Guido Horst in the conservative newspaper Die Tagespost. For him, Cardinal Müller’s own 8 January statement concerning Amoris Laetitia and the dubia has now closed the case, as it were. He sees that the debate within the Church has – with the recent words of the cardinal – reached “an intermittent end,” and thus adds: “After all, the words of the Prefect for the Faith stem from a qualified and competent source.”

After quoting Müller’s words, according to which there will be no public correction of the pope, Horst concludes with the following words:

Thus it is clear that, in the foreseeable future, there will be no further attempt coming out from the College of Cardinals or the world’s episcopacy to correct the pope formally, as Cardinal Raymond Burke once proposed it.

In a quite surprisingly authoritative fashion, Horst also declares that any continuing debates should now be ended: “Also the debate concerning the dubia (the doubts of the four cardinals) – as it had been led in the recent past, in public – is closed. It may continue among the experts, but it is not any more useful as a cause for irritation.”

As a little further surprise at the end of his article, the German journalist even proposes that Amoris Laetitia has, indeed, now set “stricter standards” [my emphasis] than before when it comes to the question of the “remarried” divorcees and as to how to discern their situation and accompany them. Prior to Amoris Laetitia, where some German dioceses had wished for an easier solution for everyone, the new papal document has now purportedly set the challenge of looking more carefully into each case individually. Thus, Horst says: “With Amoris Laetitia, the conditions for it [the pastoral care in individual cases] have become, rather, even stricter now.”

The future will likely disclose whether or not a Mr. Horst is shown to have had the proper advice – that is, the correct declaratory advice and even an authoritative prediction for the doctrinal and pastoral discussions within the Catholic Church. As for OnePeterFive, we shall continue to try to do our best not to allow the fuller and proportionate truth about Amoris Laetitia to be muted or proscribed.

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