A former prefect of the Vatican’s doctrinal office has weighed in on the Church’s theological debates regarding the reception of Holy Communion by divorced and remarried Catholics and by non-Catholic Christians, as well as speaking about the ordination of women to the priesthood and other theological issues.
“Today, many Christians are no longer even aware of the basic teachings of the Faith, so there is a growing danger of missing the path to eternal life. However, it remains the very purpose of the Church to lead humanity to Jesus Christ, the light of the peoples,” Cardinal Gerhard Müller wrote in a “manifesto of faith” he sent to CNA Feb. 8.
“In this situation, the question of orientation arises. According to John Paul II, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a ‘safe standard for the doctrine of the faith.’ It was written with the aim of strengthening the Faith of the brothers and sisters whose belief has been massively questioned by the ‘dictatorship of relativism,’” Müller added.
The cardinal was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 2012 to 2017. He was before that Bishop of Regensburg, Germany. When Müller’s five-year term as prefect of the doctrinal office concluded in 2017, the cardinal retired from active curial service.
Müller wrote that he issued the document in response to Catholics who have requested that he issue a “public testimony about the truth of revelation” in response to “growing confusion about the doctrine of the Faith.”
The “manifesto” addresses 5 areas of Catholic doctrine: Christology, ecclesiology, sacraments, morality, and eschatology, the branch of theology that addresses death, judgment, heaven, and hell. Each section draws heavily from references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
In the section addressing the Church’s sacramental life, Müller quoted the catechism, noting that “Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion.”
The cardinal added that “from the internal logic of the sacrament,” that norm applies to “divorced and civilly remarried persons, whose sacramental marriage exists before God, as well as those Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic Faith and the Church.”
“To point this out corresponds to the spiritual works of mercy,” Müller added.
The cardinal’s note regarding the reception of Holy Communion by divorced and remarried persons would seem to be a response to some interpretations of Pope Francis’s 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia.
That document has been often interpreted to teach that a Catholic who is divorced and civilly remarried, and engaged in a sexual relationship with his civil spouse, may in certain circumstances receive the Eucharist without discontinuing the sexual relationship. That interpretation has been criticized by some bishops and theologians as discordant with Catholic theology.
In a 2017 interview, Müller said that “Amoris Laetitia must clearly be interpreted in the light of the whole doctrine of the Church.”
It is not right that so many bishops are interpreting Amoris Laetitia according to their way of understanding the Pope’s teaching. This does not keep to the line of Catholic doctrine,” he added.
The cardinal’s mention of non-Catholic Christians receiving the Eucharist would seem to be addressing a 2018 proposal by German bishops to permit the non-Catholic spouses of Catholics to receive the Eucharist. That proposal was in May 2018 halted by the Vatican’s doctrinal office.
Müller also addressed theological discussions concerning the possibility of the ordination of women.
Citing the Catechism, Müller wrote that “with a view to receiving the ordination in the three stages of this ministry, the Church is ‘bound by the choice made by the Lord Himself. That is why it is not possible to ordain women’. To imply that this impossibility is somehow a form of discrimination against women shows only the lack of understanding for this sacrament, which is not about earthly power but the representation of Christ, the Bridegroom of the Church.”
Pope St. John Paul II’s 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis declared: “that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.”
The cardinal’s section entitled “Eternal Life” said that “Many wonder today what purpose the Church still has in its existence, when even bishops prefer to be politicians rather than to proclaim the Gospel as teachers of the Faith. The role of the Church must not be watered down by trivialities, but its proper place must be addressed. Every human being has an immortal soul, which in death is separated from the body, hoping for the resurrection of the dead.”
“Everyone has to face the particular judgement immediately after death. Either a purification is necessary, or man goes directly into heavenly bliss and is allowed to see God face to face. There is also the dreadful possibility that a person will remain opposed to God to the very end, and by definitely refusing His Love, ‘condemns himself immediately and forever.’"
“To keep silent about these and the other truths of the Faith and to teach people accordingly is the greatest deception against which the Catechism vigorously warns. It represents the last trial of the Church and leads man to a religious delusion, ‘the price of their apostasy;’ it is the fraud of Antichrist,” Müller said.
The document ended with a “call,” in which Müller exhorted Catholics to “ask the Lord to let us know how great the gift of the Catholic Faith is, through which opens the door to eternal life.”