Vatican dogma chief rebuffs challenge of four cardinals on ‘Amoris Laetitia’

By Glen Argan

Very interesting are Cardinal Gerhard Muller’s comments on the four cardinals who issued the in-your-face “fraternal correction” to Pope Francis on the position of his apostolic exhortation The Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia) on the reception of Communion by divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.

Muller, the Vatican’s doctrinal chief, had earlier stated that the exhortation’s pronouncements on the issue are consistent with previous Church teaching.

One cannot call his new interpretation tortured, but there is surely a different emphasis in The Joy of Love than in say Pope John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio (Community of the Family). Pope Francis leans heavily on the pastoral, supremacy-of-conscience side of the issue while the sainted former pope leaned just as strongly toward the doctrinal, marriage-is-indissoluble end. No contradiction; just different emphases.

When the reactionary opponents of Pope Francis started picking and choosing between popes, you knew someone was going to have to sort out the issue.

Muller himself was perceived as giving a restrictive interpretation to The Joy of Love, one which sees no change in whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholic folks – these are real people we are talking about – can receive the Holy Eucharist.

Of course, “no change” takes on different shades of meaning depending on your parish or diocese. Since Pope Francis’ document was released last spring, there has been a loosening in some places, a change in practice, but not doctrine.

All this makes Muller’s comments earlier today (Jan. 9) on an all-news Italian TV channel (Tgcom24) fascinating. Muller has taken strong issue with the four correcting cardinals, saying there is no reason for a fraternal correction and accusing the cardinals of harming the Church with their public stand.

The pope has not put Church teaching and the faith in danger, Muller said.

Cindy Wooden of Catholic News Service, in her report on the TV interview, described the pope’s approach thusly: “Pope Francis affirmed Church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, but he also urged pastors to provide spiritual guidance and assistance with discernment to Catholics who have married civilly without an annulment of their Church marriage. A process of discernment, he has said, might eventually lead to a determination that access to the sacraments is possible.”

Muller told the TV interviewer, “everyone, especially cardinals of the Roman Church, has the right to write a letter to the pope. However, I was astonished that this became public, almost forcing the pope to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’” to the cardinals’ questions about what exactly the pope meant in Amoris Laetitia. This, I don’t like.”

(Wooden’s story can be read at

With Muller now making clear that he too endorses the pope’s interpretation, the issue should be settled. The pope is the Church’s ultimate authority on doctrine. But given that hardliners were becoming more Catholic than the pope, Muller’s televised intervention may help end the furor. Maybe.

Earlier post on this issue:

Dissident cardinals wound the Body of Christ:

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