The Vatican’s doctrinal head has challenged several cardinals' public questioning of the doctrinal validity of Amoris laetitia, saying the document is “very clear” on doctrine, and that making the discussion public is harmful to the Church.
“Everyone, above all the cardinals of the Roman Church, have a right to write a letter to the Pope. However, I was amazed because this was made public, almost forcing the Pope to say yes or no,” Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said in a Jan. 8 interview with Italian TV channel Tgcom24.
“I don’t like this,” he said, adding that “it’s does damage to the Church to discuss these things publicly.”
The interview took place just two months after a letter signed by four prominent cardinals requesting that Pope Francis “resolve the uncertainties and bring clarity” was made public.
They submitted five “dubia,” or doubts, about the interpretation of Amoris laetitia to be clarified by its author, and also made a point to draw the dubia to the attention of Cardinal Müller.
The signatories were Cardinals Walter Brandmüller, president emeritus of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences; Raymond Burke, patron of the Order of Malta and prefect emeritus of the Apostolic Signatura; Carlo Caffarra, Archbishop Emeritus of Bologna; and Joachim Meisner, Archbishop Emeritus of Cologne.
Although they sent the letter privately in September, after receiving no response from the Pope they published it in November, saying in a forward published alongside the letter that they interpreted the Pope’s silence as “an invitation to continue the reflection, and the discussion, calmly and with respect. And so we are informing the entire people of God about our initiative, offering all of the documentation.”
Debate erupted after the publication of the dubia, and rumors have come out saying that should the Pope continue his silence, the cardinals could issue a formal correction of the Pope.
In his comments to Tgcom24, Cardinal Müller said that a correction of the Pope “seems very remote, it’s not possible right now because this is not a danger to the faith as St. Thomas said.”
“We are very far from a correction and I say it is a loss to the Church to discuss these things publicly. Amoris laetitia is very clear in its doctrine and we can interpret (in it) Jesus’ entire doctrine on marriage, the entire doctrine of the Church in 2000 years of history.”
What Pope Francis asks in the document, Cardinal Müller said, is “to discern the situation of these people who live in an irregular union … and to help these people to find a path for a new integration into the Church according to the conditions of the sacraments, of the Christian message of marriage.”
“I don’t see any opposition,” he said. “On one hand we have the clear doctrine on marriage, on the other hand the obligation of the Church to worry about these people in difficulty.”
Cardinal Müller has consistently maintained that Pope Francis' 2016 apostolic exhortation on love in the family has not changed the Church's discipline on admission of the divorced-and-remarried to Communion, and that it must be read in continuity with the preceding Magisterium.
In a May 4 speech, he countered arguments that Amoris laetitia eliminated Church discipline on marriage and allowed in some cases the divorced-and-remarried to receive the Eucharist “without the need to change their way of life.” He stated: “This is a matter of a consolidated magisterial teaching, supported by scripture and founded on a doctrinal reason.”
If Pope Francis' exhortation “had wanted to eliminate such a deeply rooted and significant discipline, it would have said so clearly and presented supporting reasons,” Cardinal Müller said during his address at a Spanish seminary.
The dubia and Cardinal Müller's response demonstrate the varied reception and interpretation of the apostolic exhortation within the Church.
Some, like Robert Spaemann and the cardinals of the dubia, have maintained it is incompatible with Church teaching; and others, like Cardinal Müller, that it has not changed the Church's discipline.
Still others, like Norbert Lüdecke, read Amoris laetitia as opening the way to a new pastoral practice, or even (e.g., Rocco Buttiglione, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn) as a progression in continuity with St. John Paul II.