In Light of Malta: Further Questions on the Müller Position

(Image: Malta Lighthouse)

Over the weekend – and especially after the troubling new public (and promiscuous) guidelines from the Bishops of Malta concerning Communion for the “remarried” divorcees – more questions have now been raised with regard to Cardinal Gerhard Müller’s own recent and explicit endorsement of the papal document Amoris Laetitia. For, the cardinal called that Apostolic Exhortation both “doctrinally sound” and “not a danger to the Faith.”

But at least two demurring voices have thus come to us now, one from Germany, and one from the United States. First, let us consider – and here I translate the entire post – what the German pro-life activist and book author, Mathias von Gersdorff, has politely written. On Sunday, January 15, he published a comment entitled: “The Guidelines of Malta Concerning Communion Refute Cardinal Müller’s Statement”:

Not a week after the Prefect of the Congregation for the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, has openly criticized the dubia Cardinals and has described Amoris Laetitia as clear and as not being dangerous for the Faith, the Bishops of Malta publish guidelines which contradict Müller in this matter completely. For, the Bishops’ Conference of Malta interprets Amoris Laetitia in an especially liberal way: if a remarried divorcee is of the opinion that he is at peace with God, then he may permissibly receive Holy Communion. Thereby, not only the remarried divorcees are being admitted to the Table of the Lord, but, at the same time, the subjective conscience of the individual person is being established as decisive authority. Is there still any difference with regard to Protestantism? The initiative of Malta shows just how little Cardinal Müller’s influence is anymore. Because, Cardinal Müller always upheld that Amoris Laetia is to be interpreted according to tradition, especially according to the clear rules of Familiaris Consortio. In this Apostolic Exhortation promulgated by Pope John Paul II, the remarried divorcees are denied access to Communion should they not live in continuous continence. The guidelines of the Bishops of Malta could have now a weighty impact and heighten the crisis within the Church. Because, by now it should be clear that Pope Francis has no problem with the admittance of remarried divorcees to Communion. Likewise, the pope seems not to be worried that in different regions there are being established now different guidelines. However, this would mean nothing else but that the traditional moral teaching on sexuality is not any more universally valid. Can one then justly speak any more of one single Church? In this context, the warning from Auxiliary Bishop Athanasius Schneider – himself a decisive supporter of the dubia cardinals – against a coming schism is far from being an exaggeration. One has to consider that the problem of Communion for the remarried divorcees is not at all “merely” a problem of discipline. This topic touches upon three Sacraments (Eucharist, Matrimony, and Penance) as well as Church teaching on Grace and on Christology (in addition to her moral teaching, as has already been mentioned). Should the initiative of Malta now catch on (which is to be expected), we are heading into troubling times.

In a similar vein, the U.S. canon lawyer Dr. Edward Peters is now saying that “The Maltese Directive Makes Answering the Dubia Urgent.” He himself now also brings into this discussion once more the role of Cardinal Müller himself when he says:

This ability of Amoris simultaneously to sustain orthodox, non-committal, and heterodox interpretations in matters of the gravest ecclesiastical import is exactly why the Four Cardinal’s dubia [sic] so urgently need answering—if not by Francis himself (and no one can force Francis’ hand) then at least by Francis’ right-hand man in matters of faith and morals, Cdl [Gerhard] Muller of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to whom the dubia was [sic] also (few seem to have noticed) addressed. Of course, the stakes involved in the dubia jumped dramatically over the weekend, not simply by the Maltese bishops making plain what sort of sacramental abuses Amoris could tolerate within its terms, but by the decision, taken at who-knows-what level, to publish the Maltese document in L’Ossevatore Romano, that [very same] “instrument for spreading the teachings of the successor of Peter.” [my emphasis]

Dr. Peters brings out an important fact – namely, that with the publishing of the Maltese guidelines in the Vatican’s own newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, the pope gives his own indirect approval of the novel teaching as it concerns the matter of the “remarried” divorcees.

In the meantime, Edward Pentin, the well-informed Rome Correspondent, has published an update concerning Cardinal Müller’s recent 8 January critique of the Four Cardinals’ dubia:

Update 12 January 2016: A spokesman for Cardinal Müller told the Register that he [Müller] was “speaking out of his authority as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and was not advised by anyone to do so.” He also said that a “recent interview with Carlos Granados published in Spanish entitled ‘Informe sobre la esperanza‘ (Madrid 2016) is [soon to be] forthcoming in English and entitled ‘The Cardinal Müller Report‘ (Ignatius…2017). In this book the third chapter is entitled ‘What can we hope for from the family?’ This will be an excellent point of reference regarding the Cardinal’s comments on the Sacrament of Marriage.”

Here we see that Cardinal Müller continues his own policy of showing that he interprets Amoris Laetitia in a more traditional way. Not long ago, I was able to publish a book review of that same 2016 book on Hope written by the German cardinal. When double checking the third chapter of that book as recently referred to by the spokesman for Cardinal Müller, one important aspect can be seen: Müller repeats in detail the teaching of Familiaris Consortio 84 concerning the divorced and “remarried” who are continuously bound to live chastely if they still wish to have access to the Sacraments. Here is an excerpt of these aspects, as summarized by me from the third chapter on hope and the family:

  • [Cardinal Müller] insists that, since the Church’s duty is to lead people to heaven, she has “never any authorization to dispense man (because of a purported compassionate or well-meaning attitude) from obeying God’s Commandments” (p. 194); [my emphasis]
  • reminds us that “marriage is a gift from the Lord,” that God will help us with the Sacrament and His Grace to live it, and that He thereby never fails any marriage. “He [God] promised us that His Grace will help us.” And he says that marital love “is a gift from God which has to be selflessly lived and daily preserved as the finest gift that one will ever hold in one’s hands” (p. 180; pp. 190-193); “With Jesus, a love is possible that lasts for the whole lifetime” (p. 205); [my emphasis]
  •  claims that gender theory is the essence of “the idea that man can create himself,” and without the Creator; thus the danger that “we turn our own desires into an idol and decide ourselves what is good and what is evil” (pp. 183-184); [my emphasis]
  •  importantly points out that the “fragmentation of man” and an “extreme individualism” is the twin of the totalitarian ideologies (p. 186);
  •  calls us not to accept “the different ‘family models’” which the “seemingly crazy Western society wants to impose upon us,” and also importantly says that there exists no human right to do what is wrong (p. 175); [my emphasis]
  •  speaks about the negative consequences of artificial birth control on marriage and the family – especially since it turns human sexuality into a mere self-serving idea, instead of seeing a “path to accept the Gift of Life” (p. 202-203);
  •  criticizes the Orthodox Church’s allowance of a second marriage, because he does not see it at all in accordance with the Gospels – “When I consider the words of Jesus about the indissolubility of marriage, I do not see how this [Orthodox Christian] practice [of allowing a second marriage] can be deduced from the Will of God” (p. 206);
  •  insists upon Familiaris Consortio’s teaching concerning the “remarried” divorcees and their not being able to access to the Sacraments, unless they practice continuous chastity; says that this document “confirms explicitly the dogmatic teaching of the Church on marriage” (pp. 208-209); [my emphasis]
  •  re-states that “the individual conscience cannot be separated from the Church’s Magisterium, just as the pastoral practice cannot be separated from the Church’s doctrine” (p. 211). [my emphasis]

And so, while Cardinal Müller presents – especially in the third chapter of his 2016 book on hope (which will be published in English in spring of 2017, according to Father Joseph Fessio, S.J., editor of Ignatius Press) – many beautiful and helpful statements and reflections, they will not likely bear good fruit as long as he is not also publicly resisting those irregular prelates – and even the pope – who now teach, and more laxly implement, guidelines concerning the “remarried” divorcees and their possible access to the Sacraments that all-to-clearly oppose the Church’s long-standing and articulate traditional Doctrine.

All things considered, it is my ardent prayer now to Our Lady and to Our Lord that the good cardinal may now receive the Graces necessary for a direct, public, and strong defense of Christ’s uncensored and merciful teaching – before it is too late to avert more confusion and ruin.

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