Two German Theologians Defend the Four Cardinals and Their Dubia

(Image: The University of Freiburg, circa 1900)

Two German theologians – Professors Jan-Heiner Tück and Helmut Hoping – have now also raised their voices in support of the Four Cardinals and their presented dubia concerning Amoris Laetitia. What both men have in common is that they once worked together at the University of Freiburg in Germany and that they both now write for notably prestigious European newspapers and thus already have a larger audience for their published reflections.

Jan-Heiner Tück – a former Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the University of Freiburg who now teaches at the University of Vienna in Austria – is a regular contributor to the important Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. He is generally known for his expertise in questions relating the Second Vatican Council; he has also been very critical of any more generously proposed or allowed canonical integration of the Society of St. Pius X without their prior doctrinal retractions and corrections. Thus, his now public defense of the Four Cardinals’ dubia might have even some special weight, because he is not known to be a more traditional-Catholic theologian.

In an 17 December interview with the Austrian news portal KirchenZeitung im Netz, Professor Tück has nonetheless now said that Pope Francis should provide “further clarifications” with regard to his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia. For, the Church currently finds herself “in the middle of a controversy of interpretations” concerning this papal document, as Tück sees it. Importantly, the theologian even stresses that Pope Francis himself should make it clear if he aims at a “further development” of doctrine and practice in dealing with the “remarried” divorcees. Tück also said, with regard to the dubia of the Four Cardinals, the following:

That [i.e., the fact that the Four Cardinals issued their dubia] shows that Francis went one step further than his predecessors with regard to the question of how to deal with the remarried divorcees. He decided not to decide this question for all of the cases and recommends a path of accompaniment. Then, at the end, it is very well possible, in individual cases, to give Holy Communion to the remarried divorcees. This is a further development which one should clearly name as such. The fact that one has not done it is also a reason why the four cardinals have now raised their voices.

Thus, in his fairness, Professor Tück speaks up and says what many Catholic observers think, namely that Pope Francis should at least be clear and frank about what his reform plans are, instead of using his friends and favorable journalists to speak for him, and often in indirect ways. In Tück’s eyes, the initiative of the four cardinals, therefore, is not at all a scandal: “I consider it exaggerated to make out of this a scandal. Francis has always said that he welcomes criticism. At the same time, it is a unique procedure that cardinals [more critically and in public now] follow up on a matter after the pope’s publication of a post-synodal document. There thus exists a need for further clarification.” Tück repeats this statement in another part of the interview when he states that “it would be good if Pope Francis himself, while he is still in office, could bring about some clarifications [concerning Amoris Laetitia].”

This just and well-pondered line of argumentation as presented here notably comes from a theologian who admires Pope Francis. In the same interview, he praises the pope for having changed the perception of the Catholic Church in the world and for having promoted the idea of welcoming the refugees in Europe.

For a more detailed commentary on the matter of Amoris Laetitia and the Four Cardinals’ dubia, we may turn to Professor Hoping. Freiburg’s Professor Helmut Hoping – the second German dogmatic theologian who has now raised his voice in defense of the Four Cardinals – does not, however, seem so positively impressed with Pope Francis, and his own response is fuller and more substantive, as well as more detailed. One of his two articles concerning Amoris Laetitia, which he wrote for the prominent German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, published on 17 November 2016, is entitled “An Alleluia for Adultery” (Ein Halleluja für den Seitensprung) and it pertly is introduced with the following indignant words:

The papal document Amoris Laetitia concerning the teaching on marriage and the family is splitting the Universal Church. Just recently four cardinals rebelled with a detailed intervention (dubia) against this magisterial text. Can Pope Francis – as he claims – rely here upon the authority of St. Thomas Aquinas?

Hoping’s own rebuke of Amoris Laetitia is also explicitly aimed at Cardinal Walter Kasper’s own recent defense of the papal document (see here LifeSiteNews’ own report on it), especially in refutation of his claim that Amoris Laetitia is based upon the thoughts of St. Thomas Aquinas. For, Hoping stresses that Aquinas’ “teaching on the virtues is embedded in a normative ethics” – in contradistinction to the view of Francis and Kasper who see mainly, and much more subjectively, his teaching on the virtues. Thus any virtue – such as the first cardinal virtue of prudence – has to be oriented according to “the natural law and the Divine Law, in addition to the [positive] human law,” explains Hoping. Thus one may not make use of the teaching on the virtues “in order to replace them [these norms], but rather, in order to implement them.” Thus, according to Hoping, any virtue has to orient itself according to the ethical norms, and not be independent of them.

As Hoping also says, Aquinas’ teaching on marriage sees marriage as being “part of the natural law, but at the same time also part of the Divine Law.” Adultery is, therefore, “an intrinsically evil act in terms of nature.” Those acts that belong to this category, adds the German theologian, are never justifiable, unlike acts such as the killing of a person which might be justified in a situation of a just and proportionate self-defense. Hoping notices that Amoris Laetitia never quotes Aquinas with reference to these specific passages, nor even any other passage concerning marriage, as such, even if it openly claims to use Aquinas as a source for its new “pastoral approach” with regard to the “remarried” divorcees. The German theologian adds: “It is striking that not one single St. Thomas quote refers to marriage or to the reception of the Sacraments, even though this is the matter with which Amoris Laetitia is mainly dealing.” To summarize Hoping’s more detailed and solid argumentation: St. Thomas ought not and cannot justly be used “as an authority” with regard to the innovative teaching in Amoris Laetitia, especially its eighth chapter.

Hoping also states that – contrary to Kasper’s own claim that “Amoris Laetitia does not change an iota of the teaching” – the papal document does indeed change the Church’s teaching. He says:

The document does not any more consider a sexual relationship outside of an existing marriage in each case as being unlawful (AL 301). Rather, it is now dependent upon the circumstances as to whether a certain act is adultery or not. [my emphasis]

Importantly, Hoping concludes with the words: “Thus, Amoris Laetitia departs from a central point of Pope John Paul II’s own teaching on marriage and sexuality who himself here adhered, with St. Thomas himself, to the decisive magisterial tradition.” Hoping himself reminds the Church, in this context, of the importance of justice in relation to mercy. He also challenges Amoris Laetitia in asking whether or not there are now two valid marriages existing at the same time when there is a “remarried” couple that has found approval according to Amoris Laetitia‘s new guidelines. The German scholar concludes his article with these words: “The document Amoris Laetitia omits answering this central question which it has itself provoked.”

On the background of this well-pondered and well-reasoned refutation of Amoris Laetitia, it is very understandable that Professor Hoping then – after the publication of the dubia and the subsequent criticism oriented toward the Four Cardinals – came once more into the public with a defense of the Four Cardinals. In a 7 December, 2016 article, he declares that “because this [the question of how to deal with the “remarried” divorcees] is not clearly presented in the document [AL], which thus provokes world-wide contradictory interpretations, the Four Cardinals ask the pope for a clarification.” Hoping explains that the Four Cardinals present their questions in an objective tone, one of them being whether adultery still is considered to be an intrinsically evil act. For him, it is clear that the Four Cardinals “thwart the admission of the remarried divorcees to the Sacrament which Francis obviously has in mind but which is not the compelling conclusion of his document.”

In this context, Hoping thus shows himself surprised at the criticism made by Father Antonio Spadaro, S.J, according to which these Four Cardinals were actually acting in a “divisive way.” “Heavy weaponry” is also used by “high-ranking prelates” such as Cardinal Joseph William Tobin, of Newark, who now even accuses his fellow cardinals of “heresy.” In Hoping’s eyes, the latter, however, “overlooks in his zeal that questions as such – even if pertaining to a magisterial text – are [inherently] not capable of being heretical.” The German theologian then also reminds the readers of Monsignor Pio Vito Pinto and his earlier words that the initiative of the Four Cardinals is an “enormous scandal,” and that the pope might well remove their red hats – even though, Pinto added, Pope Francis will not do such an act because of his abundant petrine mercy.

Profesor Hoping also refers in this context to the intervention of Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), who reminded the Catholic Church and others of the indispensable teaching on marriage of previous popes, as well as of the 1994 CDF letter with regard to the “remarried” divorcees. Importantly, Hoping adds: “However, Müller’s intervention has not been authorized by the pope. Thus, the magisterial questions will be solved in a purely practical way [and differently, according to the individual bishops’ conferences], since a final and binding normative clarity fails to materialize.” [my emphasis] This observation is very important, and that is the reason why we at OnePeterFive have repeatedly asked Cardinal Müller to make an even clearer and more authoritative statement, for the sake of the salvation of souls.

As Hoping clearly says, the debate concerning Amoris Laetitia deals with the question of the teaching on the Sacrament of Marriage. “As long as one clings to it,” explains the Freiburg German theologian, “the union of the remarried divorcees cannot be a valid marriage in the eyes of the Church.” Hoping puts his finger in the wound when he says:

At the end, it is about the question as to how the Catholic Church wants to deal with the plurality of sexual relationships – be it a ‘wild marriage’, a civil marriage without an ecclesial ceremony, or a same-sex partnership. For liberal bishops and theologians the question of Communion for the remarried divorcees is a door opener for the [laxer] revision of the whole Catholic sexual morality. That is to say, once one gives up the binding traditional teaching – according to which a validly contracted marriage between a woman and a man is the exclusive place for practiced sexuality – the Church might as well, just like the Evangelical church, give her blessing, even within the frame of a religious ceremony, to relationships that are similar to marriage. [my emphasis]

For Hoping, this debate is about much more than a mere “ecclesial-political controversy”; “that is the reason why it is now conducted with such vehemence.”

It is to be hoped that the arguments of these two eminent theologians – especially Hoping’s – both of whose arguments have now received much attention in the German-speaking world, may now also find resonance in the English-speaking world. May their two names thus now be added to the many other theologians and varied scholars, such as the 45 theologians, who raise grave doubts about the papal document Amoris Laetitia.

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