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A potentially difficult situation that is bound to raise more than a few eyebrows has developed in the Diocese of Bruges, as Bishop Jozef De Kesel has assigned a priest, who has been found guilty of at least one case of molesting a minor in the past, to the parish federation in Middelkerke, halfway between Ostend and Nieuwpoort on the Belgian coast.
Father Tom Flamez appeared in court in 2008 and 2009, where he was found guilty of sexual molestation of teenage boy. In January of 2009, the court, for reasons of its own, decided to waive any punishment, as Bishop De Kesel explains in a statement released today:
“For a period of five years, Tom Flamez was permanently monitored by the house of justice in Courtrai. Even during this time the probation commission had no objections to an eventual appointment as parish priest. Unlike the reporting of some media he never violated the probationary conditions. In January of 2014 the commission of the court of Courtrai decided that the trial period could be ended. Until this day Tom Flamez is sustainably and professionally supervised.”
In the meanwhile I have also presented this file to a higher ecclesial authority. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith agreed with an eventual appointment, starting on 15 January 2014. Tom Flamez has been working on occasion in the parish of Middelkerke since September of 2011. His work there was positively evaluated. All this led me to decide, after consulting the diocesan council, to appoint Tom Flamez as parish priest in the federation of Middelkerke. Convinced that everyone who has shown to be able deserves a second chance, I hope that Tom Flamez will be given the opportunity to properly fulfill the duties entrusted to him.”
This statement is a response to ongoing media speculations that Fr. Flamez did violate the conditions of his probation, something which the bishop denies. Additionally, many also link him to the disgraced former bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, who resigned in 2010 after admitting being guilty of years of sexual abuse. This subject, of the sexual abuse or violation of minors, is extremely sensitive and needs to be handled very carefully. In the first place for the sake of the victims, but also for all others involved with the perpetrator in his new duties.
Of course, Bishop De Kesel is correct that everyone deserves a second chance when he or she is able to take it. And our entire legal system is founded on the principle that once a person has been punished for a crime, he can’t be punished again for that same crime. He starts over with a clean slate, so to speak. But as Fr. Flamez has not been punished (for reasons we don’t know – perhaps the case was settled in some form outside court), many may feel that this principle does not apply to him.
Bishop De Kesel, backed by not only his own diocesan council, but also by the court and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith, which has authority in all abuse cases, has decided that there is no reason for Fr. Flamez not to be the priest in a parish, working with people of all ages, including children and youth. And in this he also seems to be supported by the church in Middelkerke, where Fr. Flamez has been a familiar face for these past three years.
Let’s hope his trust is justified, and that this is an example of how people who once made grave mistakes can leave those behind them.
Yesterday it turned out that the careful process followed by the bishop – consulting both his diocesan council and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith before appointing Fr. Flamez – was not as careful as it seemed. He forgot one all-important group: the victims of sexual abuse by clergy. And it was Fr. Flamez himself who made the best call possible in not accepting the appointment as parish priest of Middelkerke. A statement published yesterday says that the bishop realises that the appointment hurt the victims of sexual abuse, and that that was never his intention. Which begs the question: why did he not realise this beforehand?
The Belgian bishops use certain guidelines when dealing with clergy who have been found guilty of sexual abuse of minors. One of these is that they can never be allowed to work with children and young people again. The position of parish priest does entail working with people of all ages, including youth and children.
We can’t know what the exact motivation was for Fr. Flamez’ decision not to accept the appointment. Was it the questions in the media which made his position untenable, or perhaps a realisation that this was not the sort of duty he could take up considering his past mistakes? Yesterday’s statement only mentions “given circumstances”, which is as vague as it gets.
All in all, this whole situation, despite the apparent care expressed in certain areas, gives the impression of carelessness. The victims, be they of the priest in question or of other clergy, can not be ignored. The Church is under scrutiny in this area, and may well serve as an example to other institutions. But not when things like this happen.
In what could be called the most significant shakeup of the Curia since his pontificate began, Pope Francis today appointed Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera as the new archbishop of his native Valencia. This leaves the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments – which the cardinal headed since late 2008 – vacant, which is unusual in itself. Curial congregations usually only fall vacant when a sitting prefect dies. Reassignments are usually carefully planned so that when a prefect goes, his successor is already waiting in the wings.
To date, Pope Francis has not busied himself too much with reassigning the prefects and president of the dicasteries of the Curia. 17 months in, the Holy Father appointed Cardinal Parolin as Secretary of State, Cardinal Pell as Secretary for the Economy, Cardinal Piacenza as Major Penitentiary and Cardinal Stella as Clergy prefect. Divine Worship and Sacraments has one of the most important mandates in the Curia, perhaps comparable only to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in that it has direct influence on practice and understanding of the faith. Add to that the fact that it is extremely rare for Cardinal-prefects to leave the Curia for an appointment in an (arch)diocese (There is a single precedent from 2006 when Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe went from the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples to Naples).
As for his successor, the name of Archbishop Piero Marini continues being named. The erstwhile master of ceremonies under Pope Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI from 1987 to 2007 today heads the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses. As MC he was responsible for organising (and making significant stylistic choices for) the liturgical celebrations of the Pope, a task now performed by Msgr. Guido Marini, who is not related to the archbishop. Many have expressed serious concerns about the possibility that Archbishop Marini may succeed Cardinal Cañizares Llovera. Whereas the latter is known as the ‘little Ratzinger’ (shown above with ‘big’ Ratzinger), sharing the Pope emeritus’ focus on the Second Vatican Council as being in continuity with the past, Marini advocates it as a radical break with the past. And this shows in his liturgical choices.
Cardinal Cañizares Llovera’s appointment to Valencia is part of a chain of events that begins with the retirement of the Archbishop of Madrid. Aged 78, Cardinal Antonio Rouco Varela is well beyond retirement age and completes 20 years in the Spanish capital. His successor was generally expected to be Cardinal Cañizares Llovera, but he may have chosen not to accept an appointment to the demands of Spain’s largest diocese, instead accepting the smaller Valencia, which also happens to be his native archdiocese (he was a priest of Valencia from 1970 to 1992). Valencia own Archbishop Carlos Osoro Sierra goes to Madrid in his stead, although not as a second choice. Archbishop Osoro Sierra has been compared to Pope Francis himself, a man of practical faith and shepherding from the trenches, so to speak.
For both the cardinal and the archbishop, their new appointments are to their third archdioceses: Cardina Cañizares Llovera was archbishop of Granada and Toledo before going to Rome, and Archbishop Osoro Sierra headed Oviedo and then Valencia, and now Madrid. Below are full overviews of the ecclesiastic paths of all three players in this tale:
Antonio Cardinal Cañizares Llovera (68)
- Priest of the Archdiocese of Valencia from 1970 to 1992
- Bishop of Ávila from 1992 to 1996
- Archbishop of Granada from 1996 to 2002
- Archbishop of Toledo from 2002 to 2008
- Vice-President of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference from 2005 to 2008
- Created cardinal, with the title church of San Pancrazio, in 2006
- Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments from 2008 to 2014
- Archbishop of Valencia since 2014
Archbishop Carlos Osoro Sierra (69)
- Priest of Santander from 1973 to 1996
- Bishop of Orense from 1996 to 2002
- Archbishop of Oviedo from 2002 to 2009
- Archbishop of Valencia from 2009 to 2014
- Vice-President of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference since 2014
- Archbishop of Madrid since 2014
Antontio María Cardinal Rouco Varela (78)
- Priest of Mondoñedo-Ferrol from 1959 to 1976
- Auxiliary Bishop of Santiago de Compostela, and titular bishop of Gergis, a from 1976 to 1984
- Archbishop of Santiago de Compostela from 1984 to 1994
- Archbishop of Madrid from 1994 to 2014
- Created cardinal, with the title church of San Lorenzo in Damaso, in 1998
- President of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference from 1999 to 2005 and from 2008 to 2014
- Member of the Council of Cardinals for the Study of Organisational and Economic Problems of the Apostolic See from 2004 to 2014
Photo credit:  Osservatore Romano
Pope Francis added three new members to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith this week.Membership is not a fulltime job, but does entail regular visits to Rome to attend meetings. Virtually all the world’s cardinals are members of one or more congregations, councils or commissions, and others can also be appointed, be they bishops, priests or lay faithful.
The three new appointments are Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Secretary of State, Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki of Poznań in Poland, and Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg in Germany.
Bishop Voderholzer, pictured above with Pope Francis, is making a proper space in the spotlight for himself these days, as he is also the host of the 99th Katholikentag and thus the recipient of a personal message from Pope Francis, which I shared here in the blog earlier. The professor of dogmatics was the final German appointment of Pope Benedict XVI in December 2012, when he was tasked to head the Diocese of Regensburg. His predecessor there, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, now heads the Congregation for the Doctrine the Faith that Bishop Voderholzer is joining as a member. The bishop and the cardinal already had many things in common, from the see of Regensburg to the collected works of Benedict XVI, the publication of which Bishop Voderholzer now oversees. A sign of continuity, not just between the former and current bishops of Regensburg, but also those of Rome.
Photo credit: L’Osservatore Romano
In the run-up to the canonisation of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, Kath.net publishes the first part of an interview with Pope emeritus Benedict XVI about his recollections of his predecessor. In it, Benedict speaks about how he first met the future Pope, the latter’s attempts to get him from Munich to Rome, their way of working together, and the challenges he faced in working as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, especially when it comes to the works he did in close cooperation with the Pope. And he also pulls few punches in speaking about liberation theology.
Part 2 of the interview will be published tomorrow, but in the mean time, here is my English translation of the German original.
“…there was also always room for humour. The Pope loved to laugh…”
It is about five weeks before the consistory, so the announcement was expected any day, but Pope Francis managed to surprise again. At the end of today’s Angelus he announced his first batch of cardinals, 16 in all. The list is a mixture of the expected and the unexpected. Without further ado, let’s take a look at who’s who.
Archbishop Pietro Parolin (58), Secretary of State. No surprise here. The Secretary of State has traditionally always been a cardinal, and although the position looks to undergo some changes in Pope Francis’ curial reforms, but the title and rank of the occupant is not among them. In contrast to his important function in the Curia, Cardinal-designate is quite young. Only three current members of the entire College (Woelki, Tagle and Thottunkal) are younger.
- Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri (73), Secetary General of the Synod of Bishops and Secretary of the College of Cardinals. Also no surprise, but for different reasons. The important role given to him early on in Francis’ pontificate, organising the two upcoming Assemblies of the Synod of Bishops and already wearing the red skullcap that Pope Francis himself wore until his election to the papacy, indicated that he would be among the Pope’s first cardinals. Cardinal-designate Baldisseri will be the third Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops to be made a cardinal. The previous one was Belgian Cardinal Jan Pieter Schotte.
- Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller (66), Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Head of the first among equals of Curial dicasteries, Archbishop Müller was also quite certain to be among the new cardinals. Ever since the Popes were no longer heads of the Doctrinal office, all Prefects were cardinals. Some have made assumptions that Cardinal-designate Müller was not going to be made a cardinal, because the ‘orthodox’ prelate seemed to be at odds with the ‘liberal’ Pope, but those are evidently mere rumours. The Prefect and the Pope work closely and well together, and Müller has even hosted the Holy Father for dinner.
- Archbishop Beniamino Stella (72), Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy. Another sure candidate because of his function. The diplomat-prelate has made a rapid rise in the Curia last year, but that does not make his appointment surprising. Since as far back as the 16th century, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy has been a cardinal.
- Archbishop Vincent Gerard Nichols (68), Archbishop of Westminster, United Kingdom. Somewhat of a surprise, although the UK is now without any active cardinal electors, with Scottish Cardinal O’Brien in effective retirement. For some he is considered too liberal, but the fact remains that Cardinal-designate Nichols has been an archbishop for almost 14 years (first of Birmingham, now of Westminster), and in his current see he is the 11th cardinal. In fact, since its establishment in 1850, all ordinaries of Westminster were made cardinals.
- Archbishop Leopoldo José Brenes Solórzano (64), Archbishop of Managua, Nicaragua. Now we are getting into the more interesting and unexpected choices for red hats. Cardinal-designate Brenes Solórzano is only the second archbishop of Managua to be made a cardinal. He is also the second elector in all of Central America (not counting Mexico).
- Archbishop Gérald Cyprien Lacroix (56), Archbishop of Québec, Canada. The successor of Cardinal Ouellet in the French-Canadian capital, Cardinal-designate Lacroix could have been expected to be made a cardinal some day, but he did not feature on many lists. Québec has been a cardinal see before, but rarely automatically. At 56, he will also be the second-youngest member of the College.
- Archbishop Jean-Pierre Kutwa (68), Archbishop of Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. From the start of speculations a likely candidate in traditionally cardinal-deprived Africa, Cardinal-designate Kutwa is the third archbishop of Abidjan in a row to be made a cardinal, with his immediate predecessor, Cardinal Agré, still alive. Before being appointed to Abidjan in 2006, Archbishop Kutwa had been Archbishop of Gagnoa since 2001.
- Archbishop Orani João Tempesta (63), Archbishop of São Sebastião de Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Host of the most recent World Youth Days and head of one of global Catholicism’s largest communities, Cardinal-designate Tempesta follows in the footsteps of his predecessors since the late 19th century.
- Archbishop Gualtiero Bassetti (71), Archbishop of Perugia-Città della Pieve, Italy. The only Italian ordinary on the list, Cardinal-designate Bassetti is a bit of a surprise. Perugia has rarely supplied a cardinal. His appointment comes in lieu of other, more likely, sees such as Turin or Venice. Th vice-president of the Italian bishops’ conference was recently also appointed a member of the Congregation for Bishops.
- Archbishop Mario Aurelio Poli (66), Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Pope Francis’ own successor in the Argentinean capital and in fact the second ordinary appointed in his papacy, Cardinal-designate Poli need not have been a surprise choice. Five of his six predecessors in Buenos Aires also became cardinals.
- Archbishop Andrew Yeom Soo-Jung (70), Archbishop of Seoul, South Korea. As South Korea is one of the fastest growing Catholic countries in the world, and certainly in Asia, it is certainly fitting for its capital’s archbishop to be made a cardinal. Cardinal-designate Yeom Soo-Jung is the third of Seoul’s archbishops to be made a cardinal. In addition to the Archdiocese of Seoul, the cardinal-designate is theoretically also pastorally responsible for the Catholics of North Korea.
- Archbishop Ricardo Ezzati Andrello (71), Archbishop of Santiago de Chile, Chile. A main-stay on the lists, Cardinal-designate Ezzati Andrello heads a traditional cardinalatial see. His immediate predecessor, Cardinal Errázuriz Ossa, is a member of the Council of Cardinals. The Salesian cardinal-designate was previously archbishop of Concepción, also in Chile, before being appointed to that nation’s capital.
- Archbishop Philippe Nakellentuba Ouédraogo (68), Archbishop of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Only the second cardinal to hail from this western African country, he is a bit of a surprise. Cardinal-designate Ouédraogo is president of the bishops of Niger and Burkina Faso, and a welcome addition to the College, considering his nationality and heritage.
- Archbishop Orlando B. Quevedo (74), Archbishop of Cotabato, Philippines. A second elector from the Philippines was very welcome, but it being the archbishop of Cotabato is quite surprising. No cardinal has come from there before. Cardinal-designate Quevedo, however, has been archbishop of Nueva Segovia, and president of both the Philippine bishops’ conference and the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences.
- Bishop Chibly Langlois (55), Archbishop of Les Cayes, Haiti. Another young cardinal, and the first from Les Cayes. Cardinal-designate Langlois is even more noticeable for not being an archbishop and the first Haitian cardinal. The Haitian hierarchy, then, looks rather unique, with the bishop of a regular diocese wearing the red, while the nation’s two archbishop do not. Bishop Langlois has been the president of the bishops’ conference of Haiti since the end of 2011.
- Archbishop Loris Francesco Capovilla (98), Archbishop-prelate of Loreto, Italy. The oldest cardinal, Cardinal-designate Capovilla is a remarkable choice. He was Blessed Pope John XXIII secretary during the latter’s entire papacy, and we can therefore see his elevation in light of the Blessed Pope’s upcoming canonisation and the Second Vatican Council he convened. He will be the oldest cardinal of the College, and also the oldest to be created in the Church’s history.
- Archbishop Fernando Sebastián Aguilar (84), Archbishop emeritus of Pamplona y Tudela, Spain. A retired ordinary of a see which has supplied only one other cardinal in the past, the creation of Cardinal-designate Aguilar must be seen as Pope Francis personal choice as well as, perhaps, the importance he attaches to the mission. Cardinal-designate Aguilar is a member of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
- Archbishop Kelvin Edward Felix (80), Archbishop emeritus of Castries, Saint Lucia. Another first as no cardinals have ever come from the smaller Caribbean nations. Cardinal-designate Felix’s elevation is another step in creating a more representative College of Cardinals.
All in all, the biglietto fits well with the priorities of Pope Francis, as the new cardinals come from all corners of the world, from the Curia and (in larger part) from the world’s dioceses, and are not limited to the standard traditional cardinalatial sees. But it also tells us that Pope Francis is not willing to let go of tradition altogether. For the proper functioning of the Curia and the College of Cardinals, it seems, he recognises that he needs the Secretary of State and the Prefects of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and of the Clergy to be cardinals. But he also wants the important Synod of Bishops to be represented well, hence that body’s Secretary General’s presence on the list. He understands the importance of major sees like Westminster, Québec, Abidjan, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires and Seoul, but also Managua and Ouagadougou, all on equal footing. And lastly, it seems, there are cardinals who warrant the red for their personal qualities – Bassetti, Quevedo and Langlois, as well as the new impulse their elevation would give to their local faith communities.
And then, even the elevation of three non-electors tells us something. Archbishop Capovilla’s presence is especially poignant, as it connects the current pontificate with that of soon-to-be Pope Saint John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council he convened. Pope Francis is very clearly a child of the Council. Some have noted his physical likeness to Good Pope John, but here we see a hint that that likeness may well run deeper.
Of the 19 new cardinals, 16 will be electors, being under the age of 80. Only four of the new cardinals (Parolin, Baldisseri, Müller and Stella) will be Cardinal Deacons, as the are members of the Curia. The remaining 12 will be Cardinal Priests, being current or retired ordinaries.
In an interview with Die Welt, published yesterday, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, retired ordinary of Freiburg im Breisgau and President of the German Bishops’ Conference, spoke, among other things, about the proposal to allow remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments. His answers are somewhat disconcerting.
On the question if the topic is now off the table, after Archbishop Müller’s opposition to the proposal which originated in Archbishop Zollitsch’s Archdiocese of Freiburg im Breisgau, the archbishop replied:
“How can this topic be off the table? 35 to 40 percent of marriages end in divorce these days. As Church we ask ourselves: How should we relate to those concerned? This is the question that our pastoral care office’s proposal asks. I feel much strengthened by Pope Francis, who has called his own Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and Family for October of 2014. There we want to present what we in Freiburg have drafted.”
Archbishop Zollitsch is of course correct when he says that the numbers call for us to be concerned about the large number of marriages, both sacramental and civil, which end prematurely. And in that sense his efforts to draft proposals to put that concern into practice are only to be lauded. But it is good te recall that Archbishop Müller did not nix the proposal. He told the German bishops to withdraw it and revise two points – that faithful can decide for themselves whether or not they should receive Communion, and that a sort of ‘pseudo-marriage rite’ may be celebrated in the church for people who enter into a second civil marriage – but he maintained that the proposal as a whole contains “very correct and important pastoral teachings”. The interviewer’s suggestion that Archbishop Müller wants the topic off the table, and Archbishop Zollitsch’s failure to correct this assessment, suggests a serious misrepresentation of the facts.
The interviewer continues:
Archbishop Müller has written to you that the draft should be “withdrawn and revised”.
“That is the judgement of the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Archbishop Müller’s position corresponds with the Tradition he represents. But the majority of people who have approached us were positive about the proposal. That tells me that we are pursuing an important issue and that it is important to find a viable solution. Pope Francis often speaks of being close to people. I think that that can be a good direction, also in dealing with civilly remarried.”
Here it gets more serious, as facts are more distorted. Yes, Archbishop Müller represents a Tradition, but this is not because of his position as Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, but because of his identity as a Catholic Christian. That means, then, that we all represent that Tradition, which is the Church’s and which we all confess and reaffirm in every Mass. That many people are positive about the proposal means nothing in this case, as faith and Tradition are not decided by majority vote. Of course, the issue is important and a viable solution must be found. Not because many people want it, but because it is good for them.
Is your upcoming retirement or the general euphoria about Pope Francis the reason for being so relaxed about comments from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith?
“Neither. As President of the Bishops’ Conference I have, in recent years, after our spring and autumn meeting, travelled to Rome to explain our position. If a prefect of one the various Congregations would then oppose this position, I would think to go slowly. A Prefect is not the Pope. I look for dialogue, and for me that is the way of collegiality and the dialogue in the Church.”
So what Archbishop Zollitsch is saying here is that the opinions of Curial officials, who are tasked with specific duties in the Church (in the case of the Prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith this includes to make sure that the faith is represented completely and properly and shared in all its fullness), duties which come with the necessary amount of authority, do not matter? That it is simply a matter of diplomacy: Oh, if I can’t get my way like this, I’ll just try it like that? Ordinaries, of which Archbishop Zollitsch is one, have the same duty as I mentioned above for Archbishop Müller, but if they fail in performing them, corrections must come from a higher level: the Pope, who delegates some duties to those called to assist him in his. And among those are the members of the Curia. Simply saying, “a Prefect is not the Pope”, is tantamount to ignoring the entire existence, duty, authority and function of the Curia. And in this case, Archbishop Zollitsch also conveniently ignores the fact that Archbishop Müller clearly stated that he composed his article on the issue in L’Osservatore Romano, and the subsequent letter to the German bishops, after consultation with the Pope. It is therefore impossible to say that this Prefect is simply acting for himself. We can safely assume that Pope Francis is fully behind Archbishop Müller in this case.
Hiding behind bland statements like “collegiality” and “dialogue” (which are not meaningless in themselves, but they are as used here), is incredibly naive. Archbishop Müller, speaking after discussing hs beforehand with the Pope, has been very clear. He has the duty and authority to correct the German bishops. That is dialogue. Dialogue is not a collection of niceties without any consequences for anyone. It is the collegial correction of errors, which must be given and received in fraternity. Ignoring and pushing them aside as simple opinions of some Prefect who is just acting for himself is a distortion of facts, faith and duty.
One day before his 80th birthday, and his retirement from Curial functions that comes with it, Cardinal Joachim Meisner makes some bold and critical statements in an interview for Deutschlandfunk. The archbishop of Cologne is known to be in disagreement with most other German bishops about if, when and how divorced and remarried Catholics can be allowed to receive the sacraments. In that respect he is very much in agreement with Archbishop Gerhard Müller, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
He also speaks about being critical of Pope Francis, in a personal conversation no less. He says:
“During my last visit to Pope Francis I was able to speak very freely with the Holy Father about all kinds of topics. And I also told him that his proclamation in the form of interviews and short statements leaves many questions unanswered, questions which should be explained further for the uninformed. The Pope looked at me with surprise and asked me to please give him an example. And my reply was that, in his return from Rio to Rome, on the airplane, he was asked about the question of divorced and remarried people. And as the Pope said, divorced people can receive Holy Communion, remarried divorced people can not. In the Orthodox Church it is possible to marry twice. That was his statement. And then he spoke of mercy, which in my experience, which is what I told him, is only understood in this country as a substitute for all human failings. And the Pope very energetically replied that he is a son of the Catholic Church and is not saying anything but the teachings of the Church. And mercy must be identical to truth, or it doesn’t deserve the name mercy. And in addition, he emphasised that when theological questions remain, then there is the important Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to formulate and explain the details. And you must always remember that this Congregation, which before the Council was chaired by the Pope himself, is still the first in the Curial order. And you can’t relate to the Prefect as a private person, just because he was once a member of the Bishops’ Conference.”
This is pretty unheard of, that a cardinal so freely discusses his disagreements with the Pope. Pope Francis’ reaction is no less interesting, of course. It shows how he wants the Curia, with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the lead, to function. Not as a behemoth controlled by the Pope, but as a body assisting the Pope in his ministry. And I think that also shows us how we should all act as Catholics. We should be willing and able to explain and clarify in love, to proclaim, not just by speaking about Jesus Christ, but also by knowing and living our faith, even in the face of misunderstanding and adversity.
Cardinal Meisner was also asked about demands from certain groups that the Church should adapt to the times. Such sentiments were heard anew in the wake of the Synod of Bishops’ questionnaire. Although this was never intended as a means to ask the faithful for their opinions on Church teaching, many have used it as a chance to express theirs nonetheless.
“The Church must conform to the Word of God and not to the opinion of people. As Church we must know the opinions of people, to be able to proclaim the Word of God accordingly. But conforming, as they are asking, is not a part of the Gospel. It is amazing that the Evangelical Church has defined, with her position paper on questions of sexuality, a total alignment to the so-called spirit of the times. And what does the state of the Evangelical Church look like? As I understand, the number of people leaving it are even higher than ours. That can’t, ultimately, be because of the question of sexuality.”
Isn’t the cardinal afraid to stand alone, to become isolated, because what he says is not in accordance with what others are saying?
“I am not afraid to stand alone. During my school days in Thuringia I was the only Catholic boy, pupil. And I was always a part of everything and never allowed myself to be isolated. The mission of the ZdK (Central Committee of German Catholics) is to make the Gospel visible and have effect in the secular dimension, as it’s called, in the world. And here this group must seriously ask itself if they have remained true to their mission and vocation? You are asking if, in this context, I have no fear of being isolated? I have real concern for those people who bend their faith to themselves and who make their own faith, and who do not accept in awe what Christ Himself has entrusted to us. There is no solution there.”
In a recent interviewer for the Passauer Neuen Presse, to be published on Thursday, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller comments directly on the criticism levelled against him by, among others, Munich’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who claimed that the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith tried to stop discussion on the topic of divorced and remarried Catholics receiving the sacraments. Kath.net reports.
Archbishop Müller wrote extensively – and after consulting with Pope Francis – on the subject in November (read my translation of the subsequent letter sent to Germany’s bishops here). Several German dioceses and bishops then expressed the wish and intent to allow remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments (if they hadn’t done so already). Current Church doctrine teaches that these faithful – if their previous marriage is not nullified – can’t receive the sacraments, although the pastoral implementation, and even the canons of the law itself, may well be changed by the joint teaching authority of bishops and Pope. Such changes, however, have not been made or implemented, so any one-sided decisions on the part of individual bishops are, at the very least, premature, and at worst cause for scandal.
About the claim that he is trying to stop discussion, Archbishop Müller now says that he, “as one can easily see, did not speak of any end to the discussion, but of its basis in the teaching of Christ and the Church, which is not under discussion.” He also adds that the confession of faith “is not to be confused with a party program, which can be adapted in accordance with the wishes of members and voters”. Responsible pastoral teaching, he concluded, is always built “upon sound doctrine”.
It is not unlike what I have been saying: Archbishop Müller simply reminds us of the current situation and the possibilities it offers. And it turns out that there are many who need such a reminder, among them bishops and cardinals.
It quite frankly boggles the mind that anyone who has read the archbishop’s article and letter would conclude that it is simply an attempt to stop all debate. It is not as if the Church has nothing to say about these issues, or that Archbishop Müller simply came up with some reasons why it is not possible, at this moment, for remarried faithful to receive Communion. Sure, in the pastoral reality of every day, these are not enjoyable things to come across, to have to inform anyone that they can’t receive the sacraments. But it is no different for any of us. Every single faithful has to be in the right disposition and in a state of grace before he or she can receive the Lord in Holy Communion. Much can be remedied by the Sacrament of Confession, but some obstacles are a bit harder to remove.
This is the task of any bishop: to safeguard and communicate the faith, including all those bits we may not like. Archbishop Müller is doing his duty, and it is our duty to receive his teaching with an open mind.
Jesus never said that following Him would be easy, but He did promise to guide us, come back for us when we lost our way and never burden us with more than we could carry.