During the past summer, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Müller, wrote two articles concerning Church teaching as it relates to divorce and remarriage among Catholics in a German journal. A slightly reworked text was later published in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.
Then, on his return flight to Rome from Rio de Janeiro, Pope Francis casually mentioned—in off-the-cuff remarks to reporters—that the Church might consider the Orthodox approach, looking toward divine economy (God’s mercy) to resolve the pastoral problem posed by divorce among Catholics. When that comment hit the press, it set off a flurry of speculation that the Church might admit divorced and remarried Catholics to the sacraments.
An office of the Archdiocese of Freiburg ran with the idea, formulating a 14-page pastoral policy and program that would pave the way for remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments.
That policy proposal earned a rebuke from Archbishop Müller. In a recent letter to the German bishops’ conference, Müller stated that if divorced and remarried Catholics are to receive the sacraments, they must conform to Catholic doctrine regarding the indissolubility of marriage. Müller specifically ruled out the Orthodox option implied in the Freiburg document, namely, a second marriage that is not “crowned,” because this option doesn’t conform to Catholic teaching.
While The Motley Monk would hope that a theological and canonical solution to the problem raised by divorce and remarriage among Catholics can be formulated—after all, it isn’t just liberal Catholics who have this hope—the recent pastoral solution proposed in Germany involves an important issue—call it a “head tax”—that liberal Catholics in the United States seem not to consider when advocating the adoption of a pastoral policy.
In Germany, the State collects a tax from every Catholic that is returned to the Church for the upkeep, maintenance, and running of its institutions. Many German Catholics who are in irregular marriages and can’t receive Holy Communion decide to stop participating in the life of the Church. As a result, the Church doesn’t receive the income it would otherwise receive from the State. If those marriages could just be regularized, the Church would reap the financial benefits.
This well-intentioned “pastoral” solution is, in part, a “financial” solution to the cost of maintaining the Church’s institutions in Germany. Archbishop Müller knows that and isn’t going to allow Church teaching to be compromised by financial gain.
Just to make sure everyone understands the Church’s position clearly, the Vatican spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, had this to say about the Freiburg policy:
Nothing changes, there is no news for the divorced who remarry. The document comes in fact from a local pastoral office and does not touch the responsibility of the bishop. Therefore, it has jumped the gun, and is not the official expression of diocesan authorities.
There is no doubt that this pastoral problem is one Pope Benedict XVI wanted to resolve and Pope Francis seems bent on resolving. The problem with the many policies that have been floated for decades—each attempting to “thread the needle” by calling marriage “indissoluble” while allowing it to be “dissoluble”—don’t work theologically or canonically. Likewise, with the Orthodox solution proposed in off-the-cuff remarks by Pope Francis.
Marriage either is or is not dissoluble, with one exception, the Pauline privilege. And that fact presents problems for those who want it both ways.
That said, this story may have taken a wrong turn.
According to an article by Andrea Tornielli in La Stampa, the Archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, has criticized Archbishop Müller’s article, writing: “The Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith cannot stop the discussions.” Marx also described Archbishop Müller’s as putting a “fence” around Pope Francis’ “field hospital” of mercy.”
Why “a wrong turn?”
Cardinal Marx is a member of Pope Francis’ eight-member advisory Council of Cardinals whose task is to reform the Curia. It may be that the Holy Father has appointed a group of cardinals who may share his vision of the Church’s first duty towards those in society (and especially Catholics) who are wounded by evil. In the name of divine economy, this group may decide to treat and bind up old wounds irrespective of the problems that doing so presents.
At least, that’s what many liberal Catholics hope. Why should theology or canon law—or even, Church teaching—get in the way of how they feel?
To read the official Vatican transcript of Pope Francis’ off-the-cuff comments, click on the following link:http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/speeches/2013/july/documents/papa-francesco_20130728_gmg-conferenza-stampa_en.html
To read Archbishop Müller’s letter to the German bishops’ conference, click on the following link:http://www.kath.net/news/43656
To read Andrea Torinelli’s article in La Stampa, click on the following link:
To learn about the Pauline privilege, click on the following link:
To read The Motley Monk’s daily blog, click on the following link: