On the Cardinals Critical of the Pope: The Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Fears Polarization

Cardinal Müller: The Cardinals’ letter is directed to the Pope personally—but the Pope could commission the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “to mediate the differences of opinion ad hoc.”

Editor’s note: The following news article originally appeared in today’s edition of the German news site Kath.net; it has been translated for CWR by Dr. Leroy Huizenga.  

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On the Cardinals Critical of the Pope: The Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Fears Polarization

Cardinal Müller: The Cardinals’ letter is directed to the Pope personally—but the Pope could commission the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “to mediate the differences of opinion ad hoc.”

Rome-Madrid (Kath.net/KAP) For the time being, the Vatican will not answer the letter of the four Cardinals—among them the Germans Joachim Meisner and Walter Brandmüller—who sought more clarity from the Pope in dealing with the divorced and remarried. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith acts and speaks “with the authority of the Pope” and “cannot involve itself in disputes of opinion,” said its Prefect, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, on Thursday in a “Kathpress” interview in Rome. He sees here the danger of polarization.

Müller pointed out that the letter is directed to the Pope. But the Pope could commission the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “to mediate the differences of opinion ad hoc.” The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is responsible for all questions of ecclesial teaching on doctrine and morals. 

Along with Meisner and Brandmüller, signatories comprise the American Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke and the former Archbishop of Bologna, Cardinal Carlo Caffarra. They requested from the Pope among other things a clarification concerning whether Francis’ exhortation Amoris Laetitia grants permission for the divorced and remarried to receive communion in exceptional cases. The four Cardinals made the letter public because Francis decided not to answer them and they desired to encourage further debate on the subject.  

The Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith called for objectivity in the debate surrounding the papal exhortation Amoris Laetitia. “At the moment it is important for each of us to remain objective and not let ourselves be driven into polarization, and certainly not add fuel to the fire,” said Müller.

Cardinal Müller did not express himself directly on the controverted point in question, whether Amoris Laetitia permits the divorced and remarried to receive communion in individual cases for justifiable reasons. He did emphasize, however, that the document may not be interpreted in a way that would regard earlier statements from popes and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as no longer valid. 

Pointing to Ratzinger’s Answer of 1993

Müller expressly named the official answer of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to the pastoral document produced in 1993 by three south German bishops of the Oberrhein region [Kasper, Lehmann, Saier—ed.] dealing with the reception of communion on the part of the divorced and remarried. In that case, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, rejected the approach of the bishops, which would have made it possible for the divorced and remarried to receive communion in individual cases. [The CDF response appeared in 1994—ed.]

Müller emphasized that the indissolubility of marriage must be the “unshakeable doctrinal foundation for all pastoral accompaniment.” At the same time Francis wants to help all those whose marriages and families find themselves in crisis “find a way into conformity with God’s always merciful will.”

Müller rejected reports of alleged trench warfare in the Vatican. Rumors and stereotypes of “power struggles behind the scenes or the ‘high walls of the Vatican’ between reformers and those wanting to apply the brakes” revealed only “how thinking and perceiving according to the categories of power are rotten.” According to Müller, the concern is “the victory of truth and not the triumph of power.”

On Tuesday and Wednesday the case of the four cardinals precipitated a worldwide tempest as the Spanish internet site Religion Confidencial cited words of Pio Vito Pinto, the Dean of the Roman Rota, which is the Vatican’s marriage tribunal, to the effect that Meisner, Brandmüller, Burke, and Caffarra “could lose their Cardinalate.” On Thursday, however, the website offered a correction.

“This sentence is not correct,” stated Religion Confidencial. According to the audio recording of the interview the Dean of the Rota had actually emphasized that Francis was not like a pope from the past who would withdraw the title from the cardinals. “Francis will not do that,” Pinto is now cited as saying.

The website left further critical passages unchanged after review, among them Pinto’s question: “Which Church do these cardinals defend?” According to Pinto, their open letter to the Pope constitutes “a grave scandal.”