Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the Vatican’s doctrinal chief, has made one of his strongest statements yet on the controversial question of Communion for the divorced and remarried.
In an interview with the Italian magazine Il Timone, Cardinal Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was asked whether the teaching reaffirmed by Pope St John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio is still valid.
St John Paul said that the divorced and remarried cannot take Communion, except possibly when they try to live “in complete continence”.
Cardinal Müller said of this condition: “Of course, it is not dispensable, because it is not only a positive law of John Paul II, but he expressed an essential element of Christian moral theology and the theology of the sacraments.”
In Familiaris Consortio, St John Paul said that the prohibition was based on Scripture and the intrinsic link between the Eucharist and marriage: to live in a sexual relationship “objectively contradict[s] that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist”.
The cardinal told Il Timone that this made Communion for the remarried impossible: “For us marriage is the expression of participation in the unity between Christ the bridegroom and the Church his bride. This is not, as some said during the Synod, a simple vague analogy. No! This is the substance of the sacrament, and no power in heaven or on earth, neither an angel, nor the pope, nor a council, nor a law of the bishops, has the faculty to change it.”
Parts of the interview have been translated into English by Matthew Sherry for the newspaper L’Espresso. In it, Cardinal Müller also says the Pope’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia must be read “in the light of the whole doctrine of the Church”.
St John Paul was one of several popes, including Benedict XVI, to reaffirm the doctrine on Communion for the remarried. It has also been taught by theologians, Church fathers, early councils, and in recent decades by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Recently, the two bishops of Malta said that, instead, the remarried should receive Communion if they discerned that they were “at peace with God”. They claimed that their advice was based on Amoris Laetitia. The bishops of Germany have today approved Communion for the remarried in some cases, in their document on Amoris Laetitia.
In the new interview, Cardinal Müller says: “Amoris Laetitia must clearly be interpreted in the light of the whole doctrine of the Church.” He added: “I don’t like it, it is not right that so many bishops are interpreting Amoris Laetitia according to their way of understanding the Pope’s teaching. This does not keep to the line of Catholic doctrine.”
He said that many people needed to study more doctrine on the office of the bishop, which was not to offer novel accounts of papal teaching. “The bishop, as teacher of the Word, must himself be the first to be well-formed so as not to fall into the risk of the blind leading the blind,” the cardinal said. He also warned against “sophistries” and “casuistry” which would diminish Church teaching on marriage.