Cardinal Gerhard Müller recently critiqued the head of the doctrine of faith for his response to Cardinal Dominik Duka’s dubia, saying its ambiguity could have dire consequences for Church teaching on Reconciliation and the Eucharist.
Müller’s in-depth analysis of the response of Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez, the head of the dicastery for the doctrine of the faith (DDF) was originally published by Vatican analyst Sandro Magister on October 13 on his popular media outlet, Settimo Cielo.
On September 25, Cardinal Duka raised questions about access to sacraments for divorced Catholics who have civilly remarried without the blessing of the Church in a dubia, i.e., a request for clarification from the DDF.
According to Müller, Cardinal Fernandez’s response, “Risposta a una serie di domande,” (Answer to a series of questions, referred to as “Risposta”) affirmed an interpretation of Amoris Laetitia by the Bishops of Buenos Aires, Argentina, that contains some ambiguity regarding the reception of sacraments by divorced people who have civilly remarried without the blessing of the Church.
In his new letter, Card. Müller wrote that the Risposta and the Buenos Aires text are “not precise” and therefore could lead to grave effects on the Catholic Church as a whole, from her teaching on Reconciliation to the unity of the Eucharist.
In a pastoral letter following the release of Amoris Laetitia, the bishops of Buenos Aires confirmed that Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried could be provided after a “proper discernment.” After receiving the guidelines, Pope Francis wrote back approvingly. “The document is very good and completely explains the meaning of Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia,” he told them, adding, “There are no other interpretations.”
In his Risposta to Cardinal Duka, Fernandez confirmed that the Bishops of Buenos Aires’s interpretation of Amoris Laetitia has been approved by Pope Francis. Müller noted in his letter that Pope Francis has called it “the only possible interpretation” of Amoris Laetitia.
Müller argues that because the Risposta is “theologically ambiguous” and its “coherence with the teaching of Christ is in question,” it is “problematic to demand from the faithful religious submission of intellect and will.”
Müller wrote that the requirements for admission to the sacraments in the document show a possibility of “rupture between the teaching of the Buenos Aires document and the Magisterium of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.”
“The rupture between the teaching of the Buenos Aires document and the Magisterium of John Paul II and Benedict XVI can be seen when one looks at the essential point, which, as I said, is the criterion for admission to the sacraments,” he wrote.
The Risposta said that Pope Francis “maintains the proposal of total continence for the divorced and [civilly] remarried in a new union, but recognizes that difficulties may arise in its practice, and therefore allows, in certain cases and after due discernment, the administration of the sacrament of Reconciliation even when one does not succeed in being faithful to the continence proposed by the Church.”
According to Müller , this statement can be interpreted in two ways:
“The first: these divorced persons try to live in continence, but because of the difficulties and because of human weakness, they do not succeed. In this case, the “Risposta” could be in continuity with the teaching of John Paul II. The second: these divorced persons do not accept to live in continence and do not even try to do so (there is no resolution to sin no more) because of the difficulties they experience. In this second case there would be a break with the previous Magisterium.”
The Buenos Aires text, Müller said, is “in discontinuity” with several of Pope St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI’s teachings, in addition to the Council of Trent. “The documents of the ordinary Magisterium of these two Popes must also be given our religious submission of mind and will,” he noted.
“For it happens that the teaching of the ‘Risposta’ is contrary to other teachings of the Church, which are not only affirmations of the ordinary Magisterium, but have been taught in a definitive way as belonging to the deposit of faith,” Müller wrote.
He continued, “All pastoral care for Catholics in second marriages after a civil divorce must be based on this witness, because only obedience to the will of God can serve the salvation of persons,” adding, “There is no lack of mercy here, quite the opposite, because the mercy of the Gospel does not consist in tolerating sin, but in regenerating the heart of the faithful, so that they may live according to the fullness of the love that Christ lived himself and taught us to live.”
Müller said that faithful Catholics can disagree with the Buenos Aires interpretation and the Risposta without being “accused of dissent” because “they find an opposition between different teachings of the same Magisterium.”
According to Müller, the Risposta’s logic has grave consequences, not only for divorced couples, but for the nature of the Sacrament of Reconciliation itself.
“It turns out that the faithful themselves decide whether or not to receive absolution, and the priest only has to accept this decision! If we apply this conclusion to all sins, the Sacrament of Reconciliation loses its Catholic meaning. Confession is no longer the humble request for forgiveness of one who stands before a merciful judge, the priest, who receives his authority from Christ Himself, but it is a self-absolution after having examined one’s own life,” Müller wrote.
“It is astonishing that the DDF could present to the Holy Father for his signature, in the course of an audience, a text with such theological flaws, thus compromising the authority of the Holy Father,” Müller added.
According to Müller, the Risposta encourages each diocese to “develop its own guidelines for this discernment” for divorced couples, which, Müller argues, could lead to some people being able to receive communion in one diocese but not the other.
“If a faithful Catholic can receive Communion in one diocese, he can receive Communion in all the dioceses that are in communion with the universal Church. This is the unity of the Church, based on and expressed in the Eucharist. Therefore, for a person to be able to receive communion in one local Church and not in another is an exact definition of schism. It is inconceivable that the DDF would want to promote such a thing, but these are the likely effects of accepting its teaching.”
Several cardinals have recently released dubium requesting clarification on Church doctrine from Pope Francis before the 2023 Synod on Synodality began.
Cardinal Müller, a Pope Benedict XVI appointee, led the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith until Pope Francis suddenly replaced him in 2017.