- The case for mercy
The leading proponent of relaxing the ban on Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics tells Christopher Lamb that the Church too often appears rule-bound
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Seemingly contradictory statements from Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, who represents Europe on the Council of Cardinals (C8), and the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), Archbishop Gerhard Müller, are exposing seemingly deep fissures in the Church.
The statements, on the issue of Communion for remarried divorcees, are causing confusion and consternation among Catholics both within and outside Germany.
Archbishop Müller recently ruled out categorically that remarried divorcees could ever hope to receive the sacraments without an annulment of previous marriages.
However, Cardinal Marx said at a press conference after the gathering of the Bavarian bishops’ conference in the first week of November: “The prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith cannot put a stop to the discussion [of how the Church is to deal with remarried divorcees]. It will be discussed in its entire breadth and depth [at the Extraordinary Synod in October 2014].”
The Vatican questionnaire on the family, sent to bishops’ conferences last month, is designed to reflect the opinion of grass-roots Catholics, Cardinal Marx said. “‘Look, this is what the faithful think’ is what Rome expressly wishes to hear,” he explained and added: “While the majority of Catholics desire lifelong marriage, there are circumstances which lead to marriage breakdown and people expect the Church to understand this.”
Four days later, on 12 November, the conservative German daily Die Tagespost published a letter by Archbishop Müller to the president of the German bishops’ conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, saying that a Freiburg Diocese handout on allowing remarried divorcees to receive the sacraments – in individual cases, after consultation with a priest – had to be revoked.
“The Magisterium underlines the practice based on Holy Scripture that remarried divorcees may not be allowed to receive the Eucharist,” Archbishop Müller wrote in his letter, cautioning against “confusing the faithful regarding the Church’s teaching”.
However, the archdiocese’s spokesman, Robert Eberle, said Freiburg was “completely unperturbed” by Archbishop Müller’s demand. He recalled Pope Francis’ words to Religious from Latin America on 6 June: “Don’t worry if you get a letter from the CDF. Explain what you have to explain to the CDF but carry on.”
Above: Archbishop Müller and Cardinal Marx. Photos: CNS