Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CNS photo)
Amid speculation that next
year’s Synod of Bishops will discuss the possibility of allowing divorced
and remarried Catholics to receive the Eucharist, the prefect of the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has published a
lengthy article arguing from Scripture and Church tradition that they
The piece by Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig
Müller was published in today’s edition of L’Osservatore
Romano, and comes on the heels of the Vatican’s expressing
disapproval of a move by the Archdiocese of Freiburg, Germany to allow
divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion.
Archbishop Müller outlines the
Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, starting with Sacred
Above all, it was his controversies with
the Pharisees that gave Jesus occasion to address this theme. He
distanced himself explicitly from the Old Testament practice of divorce, which
Moses had permitted because men were “so hard of heart”, and he pointed to
God’s original will: “from the beginning of creation, God made them male and
female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and ...
the two shall become one flesh. What therefore God has joined together
let not man put asunder” (Mk10:5-9; cf. Mt 19:4-9; Lk 16:18). The Catholic Church has
always based its doctrine and practice upon these sayings of Jesus concerning
the indissolubility of marriage. The inner bond that joins the spouses to
one another was forged by God himself. It designates a reality that comes
from God and is therefore no longer at man’s disposal.
Archbishop Müller also addresses the
differences between Catholic and Orthodox practices on divorce and remarriage.
These differences were briefly referenced by Pope Francis during his in-flight
Q&A with reporters as he returned from World Youth Day in Rio last
July. Müller writes:
In the Orthodox Churches today, there are
a great many grounds for divorce, which are mostly justified in terms of oikonomia, or
pastoral leniency in difficult individual cases, and they open the path to a
second or third marriage marked by a penitential character. This practice
cannot be reconciled with God’s will, as expressed unambiguously in Jesus’
sayings about the indissolubility of marriage. But it represents an
ecumenical problem that is not to be underestimated.
Archbishop Müller summarizes the
many instances of magisterial teaching on the question of remarriage after
divorce and the reception of Communion, up to the pontificate of Pope Benedict
XVI, who acknowledged that the issue is a “complex and troubling pastoral
problem” amplified by the distorted view of marriage held by many today:
[Pope Benedict] confirms “the Church's
practice, based on Sacred Scripture (cf. Mk 10:2- 12), of not admitting the
divorced and remarried to the sacraments”, but he urges pastors at the same
time, to devote “special concern” to those affected: in the wish that they
“live as fully as possible the Christian life through regular participation at
Mass, albeit without receiving communion, listening to the word of God,
eucharistic adoration, prayer, participation in the life of the community,
honest dialogue with a priest or spiritual director, dedication to the life of
charity, works of penance, and commitment to the education of their children”.
If there are doubts concerning the validity of the failed marriage, these are
to be carefully examined by the competent marriage tribunals. Today’s
mentality is largely opposed to the Christian understanding of marriage, with
regard to its indissolubility and its openness to children. Because many
Christians are influenced by this, marriages nowadays are probably invalid more
often than they were previously, because there is a lack of desire for marriage
in accordance with Catholic teaching, and there is too little socialization
within an environment of faith. Therefore assessment of the validity of
marriage is important and can help to solve problems.
In closing, Archbishop Müller expresses the need “to
show pastoral concern” for divorced and remarried Catholics:
path indicated by the Church is not easy for those concerned. Yet they
should know and sense that the Church as a community of salvation accompanies
them on their journey. Insofar as the parties make an effort to
understand the Church’s practice and to abstain from communion, they provide
their own testimony to the indissolubility of marriage.
the care of remarried divorcees must not be reduced to the question of
receiving the Eucharist. It involves a much more wide-ranging pastoral
approach, which seeks to do justice to to the different situations. It is
important to realize that there are other ways, apart from sacramental
communion, of being in fellowship with God. One can draw close to God by
turning to him in faith, hope and charity, in repentance and prayer. God
can grant his closeness and his salvation to people on different paths, even if
they find themselves in a contradictory life situation. As recent
documents of the Magisterium have emphasized, pastors and Christian communities
are called to welcome people in irregular situations openly and sincerely, to
stand by them sympathetically and helpfully, and to make them aware of the love
of the Good Shepherd. If pastoral care is rooted in truth and love, it
will discover the right paths and approaches in constantly new ways.
The full article in L’Osservatore Romano can be read here.