- Trying to square the circle
The opening days of the Synod on the Family have revealed distinct differences of opinion between the participants. How can their commitment to church teaching be matched with compassion for those who struggle with it?
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The Church in the World
HEAD OF the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Müller, has warned that the Church cannot accept proposals “argued in terms of mercy” to readmit divorced and remarried Catholics to the sacraments. In a lengthy article published on Tuesday evening in L’Osservatore Romano (OR), he restated that the Roman Church was simply following the command of Christ by upholding its centuries-long exclusion of remarried divorcees from communion.
“An objectively false appeal to mercy also runs the risk of trivialising the image of God by implying that God cannot do other than forgive,” he said in the 4,600-word article, issued in several languages. German-language Vatican Radio said Pope Francis gave his permission for the article to be published in OR, but the archbishop’s comments stood in stark contrast to the persistence with which Pope Francis has made God’s mercy and forgiveness a guiding theme of his seven-month pontificate. “The Church is a mother and she must travel this path of mercy, and find a form of mercy for all,” the Pope said on his flight back from Rio de Janeiro in July when asked explicitly about the divorced and remarried issue.
But Archbishop Müller warned that while it is “correct” to say mercy is a “distinctive quality of true discipleship”, it “misses the mark when adopted as an argument in the field of sacramental theology”.
The archbishop’s article appeared to be an attempt to counter efforts by theologians and even some bishops, especially in his native Germany, to challenge the ban on giving communion to divorced and remarried Catholics. And it also looked like an effort to shape the debate when bishops are expected to discuss the issue at next year’s Synod on the Family.
Archbishop Müller, who was recently re-appointed CDF prefect by Francis, also criticised the Orthodox Church for allowing divorce and remarriage. He said their “liberal praxis” and “pastoral leniency” could not “be reconciled with God’s will, as expressed in Jesus’ sayings about the indissolubility of marriage”. But in his July interview Pope Francis seemed to indicate that the Orthodox practice needed to be “studied within the context of the pastoral care of marriage”.
“Clearly, the care of remarried divorcees must not be reduced to the question of receiving the Eucharist,” Archbishop Müller wrote. “There are other ways, apart from sacramental communion, of being in fellowship with God.”
He said rejection of the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility and “sacramentality” of marriage could be largely blamed on today’s “secularised environment” and mentality. “Because many Christians are influenced by this, marriages nowadays are probably invalid more often than previously, because there is a lack of desire for marriage in accordance with Catholic teaching, and too little socialisation within an environment of faith,” he said. The archbishop said only a church tribunal that grants annulments, and not simply one’s conscience, could determine if a marriage was invalid. However, during his in-flight press conference in July, Pope Francis said the “legal problem of matrimonial nullity [had] to be reviewed, because ecclesiastical tribunals are not sufficient for this”.