In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI wrote a letter to bishops throughout the world explaining the reasoning behind his willingness to engage in dialogue with the Society of St. Pius X. Not a few bishops were concerned about why the Church should open a dialogue with the group. Realizing the antagonism that this move brought, Pope Benedict explained the situation to his brother bishops, writing:
And should we not admit that some unpleasant things have also emerged in Church circles? At times one gets the impression that our society needs to have at least one group to which no tolerance may be shown; which one can easily attack and hate. And should someone dare to approach them – in this case the Pope – he too loses any right to tolerance; he too can be treated hatefully, without misgiving or restraint.
Dear Brothers, during the days when I first had the idea of writing this letter, by chance, during a visit to the Roman Seminary, I had to interpret and comment on Galatians 5:13-15. I was surprised at the directness with which that passage speaks to us about the present moment: "Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’. But if you bite and devour one another, take heed that you are not consumed by one another."
I am always tempted to see these words as another of the rhetorical excesses which we occasionally find in Saint Paul. To some extent that may also be the case. But sad to say, this "biting and devouring" also exists in the Church today, as expression of a poorly understood freedom. Should we be surprised that we too are no better than the Galatians? That at the very least we are threatened by the same temptations? That we must always learn anew the proper use of freedom? And that we must always learn anew the supreme priority, which is love?
Initially, he had entrusted William Cardinal Leveda, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with these negotiations. When Cardinal Leveda retired, the task fell to his successor, Archbishop Gerhard Muller (pictured above) to continue the dialogue. Even though the talks are at a standstill, there could be some small inroads, we pray.
The "biting and devouring" that Pope Benedict alluded to (using St. Paul's words), have come back to the Church in a somewhat disturbing way. This time, the object of the biting is Archbishop Muller (soon to be created a Cardinal), with Honduran Archbishop Oscar Cardinal Rodriguez Maradriaga, seeming to snipe away at his brother bishop. At issue is the question of admitting divorced and remarried Catholics into Communion. German bishops have engaged in this practice, something that the Church does not allow. Last October, Muller, in his capacity as Prefect of the CDF, wrote a rather lengthy essay explaining why this should not happen. Fr. John Zulsdorf, in his excellent blog, www.wdtprs.com, extracted a quote from the essay that I believe shows a proper understanding of Muller's stance:
A further case for the admission of remarried divorcees to the sacraments is argued in terms of mercy. Given that Jesus himself showed solidarity with the suffering and poured out his merciful love upon them, mercy is said to be a distinctive quality of true discipleship. This is correct, but it misses the mark when adopted as an argument in the field of sacramental theology. The entire sacramental economy is a work of divine mercy and it cannot simply be swept aside by an appeal to the same. An objectively false appeal to mercy also runs the risk of trivializing the image of God, by implying that God cannot do other than forgive. The mystery of God includes not only his mercy but also his holiness and his justice. If one were to suppress these characteristics of God and refuse to take sin seriously, ultimately it would not even be possible to bring God’s mercy to man. Jesus encountered the adulteress with great compassion, but he said to her “Go and do not sin again” (Jn 8:11). God’s mercy does not dispense us from following his commandments or the rules of the Church. Rather it supplies us with the grace and strength needed to fulfil them, to pick ourselves up after a fall, and to live life in its fullness according to the image of our heavenly Father.
From what I understand, Pope Francis confirmed Muller's document. He did not contradict his Prefect. He did not issue any statements to the contrary.
About a week ago, Cardinal Maradriaga, in an interview with a German publication, launched an attack on Muller for the stance that he took concerning the issue of admitting divorced and remarried Catholics into Communion.
In response to a specific question about the Prefect Müller (in reference to the article - written ahead of the meeting on the family - in which the newly-nominated cardinal completely rejected any possibility of opening up the sacraments to remarried divorcees), Maradiaga said: “I think I understand him. He is German, it has to be said. He is above all a German Theology professor and he only thinks in black-and-white terms. But "the world isn't like that, my brother. You should be a bit flexible when you hear other voices, so you don't just listen and say, 'here is the wall'.” The Honduran prelate claims he is certain that Müller “will eventually come to understand other points of view as well,” even though for now “he only listens to his group of advisors.”
Yet, it seems to me that the Honduran cardinal does not take into account the fact that Christ spoke very specifically and forcefully about the issue of marriage, as evidenced in the Gospel according to St. Matthew.
3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" 4 He answered, "Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, 5* and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one'? * 6 So they are no longer two but one. * What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder." 7* They said to him, "Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?" 8 He said to them, "For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9* And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, * and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery." * 10 The disciples said to him, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry." 11* But he said to them, "Not all men can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it."
The Church cannot change what Christ, Himself, has taught. She has held on this teaching for centuries. In fact, such adherence to teaching caused King Henry VIII to break with the Church when he could not secure a divorce from his Queen, Catherine of Aragon. While there is commentary that in the first centuries, the Church, as noted by Sandro Magister in his blog, Chiesa, made provisions for those who divorced and entered into a second marriage, Magister notes the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, as Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, made several observations on the subject:
Ratzinger does not deny that there were times and places in which second marriages were admitted in the West as well. But he sees in the events of history a precise line of development. A sort of return to the origins.
The origins - he writes - are the unmistakable words of Jesus on the indissolubility of marriage. They are words “over which the Church has no power” and that clearly exclude divorce and new marriages.
For this reason, “in the Church at the time of the Fathers the divorced and remarried faithful were never officially admitted to holy communion after a time of penance.” It is also true, however - Ratzinger recognizes - that the Church “did not always rigorously revoke concessions in this matter in individual countries.” And it is true that “individual Fathers, for example Leo the Great, sought 'pastoral' solutions for rare borderline cases.”
In the West, this “greater flexibility and readiness for compromise on difficult marital situations" was extended and prolonged until the 11th century, especially “in the Gallic and Germanic sphere.”
In the East, this tendency was even more pronounced and widespread and “an ever more liberal practice” has asserted itself down to our own day. Starting in the 11th century in the West, however, “the original conception of the Fathers was recovered thanks to the Gregorian reform."
And this return to the origins “found sanction at the Council of Trent and was again proposed as the teaching of the Church at Vatican Council II.”
It seems to me that this sense of history and application is missing in Cardinal Maradriaga's observations on the subject. It is as though we are succumbing to popular opinion than to the teachings of the Church. Jesus, Himself, in the above reference Gospel account, notes that this teaching is a very difficult one to accept. However, many of His teachings were and are difficult, but, they are necessary for our salvation. Just as many found that teaching hard to accept, others had just as difficult a time accepting Christ's Bread of Life discourse.
Yes, family situations have changed down through the centuries; however, part of the problem is that, perhaps, we are no longer stressing and reinforcing the fact that marriage is permanent. Marriage is a bond that lasts until death. It is not some throw away notion, as Hollywood would have us believe. One party should not call it quits at the first sign of trouble. That is why the Church offers programs such as Marriage Encounter that help couples in their time of need. She also offers betrothed couples Engaged Encounter so that they will understand the sacrament that they will soon receive.
Cardinal-designate Muller rightly reminds us that those of us who receive mercy also bear the responsibility of avoiding sin. Whenever Jesus healed/forgave sins, He always admonished the recipient of the healing/forgiveness to avoid sin. Muller, (nor Benedict, for that matter) is not speaking as some "German theologian"; he is being rather pastoral, as Jesus was. Being pastoral means having the best interests of the sheep in mind, even if this includes admonishing them, whether they are laity or cardinals.