On Wednesday, 1 March 2017, the Belgian Catholic weekly, Tertio, published a new interview with Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This interview, entitled “Huwelijk blijft haalbaar project” (“Marriage remains an achievable project”) covers a wide range of topics, among them the question of marriage.
As an introduction to the interview itself, the journal presents a paragraph in which it mentions the debate about the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia and its manifold interpretations. It also repeats, with explicit reference to Cardinal Müller’s earlier 8 January statement to the Italian media, what the Prefect had said at the time about the four dubia Cardinals, namely that he thought Amoris Laetitia is clear teaching and that he did not like the publication of the dubia, which Müller said were “damaging for the Church,” according to Tertio.
Unfortunately, both the official website of the German Bishops’ Conference — Katholisch.de — as well as the news agency of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference — Kathpress.at — misrepresented this introduction in their reports, claiming that Cardinal Müller had again rebuked the dubia of Cardinals Caffarra, Brandmüller, Meisner, and Burke. If true, such a piece of news would be discouraging to many Catholics in the world.
Katholisch.de published on 1 March an article entitled: “Cardinal Müller criticizes dubia Cardinals” (“Kardinal Müller kritisiert Dubia Kardinäle“) and repeats, right at the beginning of its article, that Cardinal Müller has again rebuked the Dubia Cardinals in a new interview. Kathpress.at, on the same day, chose another title “Cardinal Müller: Mercy is No License to Continue to Sin” (“Kardinal Müller: Barmherzigkeit kein Freibrief für Weitersündigen“). The article reports on Cardinal Müller’s words on mercy and then adds:
At the same time, he [Müller] criticized the initiative of four cardinals who asked the pope in a letter for a clarification of several “doubts” (“dubia“) concerning Amoris Laetitia — among them the reception of communion for the remarried divorcees. This is damaging the Church, Müller stressed.
These two articles of two major European Bishops’ Conferences presented a potentially grave misrepresentation of the actual Müller interview which could now contribute to the further confusion and intensification of conflict within the Catholic Church. The prominent German national Catholic newspaper, Die Tagespost, ran a similiar story. The internet site Gloria.tv has already picked up on this story and has reported today on it. It is also being reported internationally; the website of the Belgian Church of Flanders, Kerknet.be, has also run a similiar story, independently of the German-speaking sources. (This fact might indicate that Tertio itself, by the nature of its introduction, contributed to this misunderstanding.)
I contacted Geert De Kerpel, the editor of Tertio, to receive a fuller clarification, and he promptly confirmed that the mentioning of the Dubia Cardinals was merely an editor’s introduction of the article, and that what follows is the new, “exclusive interview.”
I also contacted the German Bishops’ Conference’s website, Katholisch.de, and they answered, saying that they had relied on another news agency’s report (Katholische Nachrichten-Agentur KNA), and after verifying realized together that they had both committed an error. The article has now been honorably corrected, to include its title. (However, the article is not any more displayed on the website, so many people who originally read it will miss the correction. I also contacted Katholisch.de once more because they still claim in their corrected article that Cardinal Müller said in the Tertio interview that Amoris Laetitia is not contradicting the indissolubility of marriage. However, Cardinal Müller himself does not once mention that theme or papal text in any way in his interview.)
After contacting Kathpress.at, Dr. Paul Wuthe, editor-in-chief of Kathpress, answered back admitting the mistake and correcting the original article by removing the passage on the Dubia Cardinals.
Thus it seems that, due to this intervention, a prompt correction of the error has been undertaken. But, will this now be sufficient to stop the spreading of the false impression? A more emphatic public correction would perhaps be fitting here, for the sake of integrity. In some ways, such a misrepresentation as it has now occurred is also quite symbolic of our times since the atmosphere is so tense that swift and hasty mistakes are too often taking place. We also reported in the recent past on another case where Kathpress.at had omitted some important parts of another Cardinal Müller interview, which, however, was not corrected subsequently.
Let us now return to the new Tertio interview itself. Cardinal Müller, when speaking about truth and mercy, explicitly says that “there are no circumstances that would make adultery not be a mortal sin” [my emphasis] and that “The merciful God does not dispense of the Commandments.” Pastors “cannot remove the responsibility toward others” and cannot “exempt people from the Commandments.” Cardinal Müller also says that “the teaching on the indissolubility of marriage is clear” and stresses the importance of the “responsibility for the children.” While we all as human beings can commit errors and sins, the cardinal adds, “we need forgiveness for our sins” and have to “beg for mercy.” Cardinal Müller importantly explains: “Again, mercy is not a licence to sin or to live in sin” [my emphasis]. In Catholic terms, contrition of heart “must be accompanied by a willingness to convert.” The cardinal insists that “a just mercy helps us to live in truth, and a wrong mercy gives us false assurances, but does not make us free.” Thus, with God’s Grace, marriage can be for a lifetime, and we have to pray for that, and therefore “marriage is an achievable project that makes people happy.”
It is to be hoped that this set of authentic quotes from this latest interview of Cardinal Müller may now spread in lieu of the earlier misrepresentations.
I personally still also hope that Cardinal Müller himself will come to see that the dubia are, indeed, important and abidingly helpful for the Catholic Church. (After all, he did publicly distance himself from the dubia in February, and he has not yet in any way publicly corrected himself.) They are of great help in a situation where Pope Francis — by ambiguous and confusing passages in Amoris Laetitia and by his subsequently explicit encouragement of heterodox interpretations by certain bishops in the world (as in Argentina, Malta, and Germany) — encourages thereby an heretical understanding according to which acts of adultery would not any more be in each case a mortal sin.
Update, 2 March, 17:00: Gabriele Höfling from Katholisch.de responded to us a second time, confirming that she now also has removed that one sentence referring to Cardinal Gerhard Müller and Amoris Laetitia, as well, seeing that Müller did not at all himself mention that papal document in the interview.
Update, 3 March, 10.30: Geert De Kerpel, the editor of Tertio has asked us to add the following comment as sent to us: