A rebellion developing in Germany?

Bischof Gebhard FürstMarx, Zollitsch, Ackermann… and now Fürst? A string of names which reflect the opposition to the statement (not a request: the language is pretty clear that it expects to be followed) from the Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith ordering a withdrawal of the Freiburg document on divorced and remarried Catholics and their access to the sacraments.

The first three names are those of the Cardinal Archbishop of Munich, the Apostolic Administrator (and retired Archbishop) of Freiburg and the Bishop of Trier, who have all responded to Archbishop Gerhard Müller’s statement with a reminder that he can’t stop the debate. Bishop Gebhard Fürst (pictured at left) of Rottenburg-Stuttgart has said no such thing, but has been exploring options to allow divorced faithful to hold official functions in the Church, and stated that the German bishops will release a statement on the topic of the sacraments and the divorced after their spring meeting in March (perhaps not coincidentally, the last one during which Archbishop Zollitsch will act as president). Per the current draft, Bishop Fürst says, these faithful will be allowed to receive the sacraments in individual cases, and after careful discernment of conscience and a conversation with a pastor.

MüllerThere is a  serious problems with this scenario. It shows both the misunderstanding and the disregard of an authoritative statement from the Church. Archbishop Müller (at right) does not intend to stifle debate, but wants to present the current state of affairs. That has not changed, despite the wishes of many, and the solitary actions of a diocesan official in Freiburg. The pastoral approach to divorced faithful may certainly be changed and adapted to existing situations, but that is not what Archbishop Müller is writing about. He discusses the doctrinal teaching of the Church on the sacraments and marriage. And that may not be changed by a solitary bishop, or even a bishops’ conference. Church doctrine can certainly be changed… or, rather, be adapted according to a developing understanding of truth. But this can be done by the Pope, in full accordance with the bishops. Bishops can’t  do it alone, and nor can the Pope do it alone.

Pope Francis seems to be having a clear idea of what a Pope and the Curia should do. He teaches by example, while the Curia reminds and, where necessary, enforces. A dirty job, perhaps, but an essential one, as it protects the truth of our faith in all its aspects. What these German bishops are doing is putting the Pope against Archbishop Müller, creating an opposition where there is none. In my opinion, the path they are following will eventually lead to a confrontation with the Holy Father directly. The bishops of Germany are due for an ad limina at any time between 2014 and 2016, but of course he can call them to Rome earlier. Benedict XVI did it in 2009 with the Austrian bishops…

For now, this situation seems to be developing into a rebellion of sorts, and that can never end well. It’s bad for the faith, for the bishops themselves and most of all for the faithful, divorced and otherwise.

Photo credit: [1] KNA

Müller: Freiburg proposal on Communion for remarried “to be withdrawn and revised”

ringsShortly after the retirement of Archbishop Robert Zollitsch as ordinary of Freiburg im Breisgau, someone in that archdiocese pushed through a proposal to allow remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments. This caused some consternation, not least in the Vatican, since no such changes in doctrine had been proposed, let alone come into effect. Simply put, the archdiocese was out of line, doing something which it simply could not. Last month, Archbishop Gerhard Müller wrote an article outlining the Church’s  teaching about marriage, divorce and the sacraments in L’Osservatore Romano.

Today, he wrote a letter to Archbishop Zollitsch, who still manages the affairs of Freiburg as Apostolic Administrator, in which he presents his conclusions about the proposal In short, it needs to be withdrawn and revised. Below is my translation of he letter, which will also be sent to the other diocesan bishops of Germany.

MüllerYour Excellency!
Honourable Lord Archbishop!

With the Document Prot. N. 2922/13, of 8 October 2013, the Apostolic Nuncio has communicated the draft of the guidelines for the pastoral care of separated, divorced and civilly remarried people in the Archdiocese of Freiburg, as well as your newsletter to the members of the German Bishops’ Conference prior to the publication of this letter, to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. A careful reading of the draft text reveals that it does contain very correct and important pastoral teachings, but is unclear in its terminology and does not correspond with Church teaching in two points:

“Remarried divorced people themselves stand in the way of their access to the Eucharist”

1. Regarding the reception of the sacraments by divorced and remarried faithful the proposal from the bishops of the Oberrhein area is recommended anew as a pastoral direction: after a process of discussion with the parish priests, people concerned can either reach the conclusion to participate much in the life of the Church, but to deliberately refrain from receiving the Sacraments, while others can in their concrete situations achieve a “responsibly reached decision of conscience” and be able to receive the Sacraments of Baptism, Holy Communion, Confirmation, Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick, and this decision is “to be respected” by the priest and the community.

Contrary to this assumption the Magisterium of the Church emphasises that the pastors must recognise the various situations well and must invite the affected faithful to participation in the life of the Church, but also “reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred  Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have  remarried” (cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, of 22 November 1981, N. 84; also compare the Letter of this Congregation of 14 September 1994 about the reception of Communion by remarried divorced faithful, which rejects the proposal from the Oberrhein bishops; and Benedict XVI, Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis of 22 February 2009, N. 29).

This position of the Magisterium is well-founded. Remarried divorcees stand in the way of their access to the Eucharist, insofar as their state of life is an objective contradiction to the relationship of love between Christ and the Church, which is made visible and present in the Eucharist (doctrinal reason). If these people were allowed to receive the Eucharist this would cause confusion among the faithful about the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage (pastoral reason).

2. In addition to this a prayer service is suggested for divorced faithful who enter into a new civil marriage. Although it is explicitly stated that this is not some “semi-marriage” and the ceremony should be simple. but it would still be a sort of “Rite” with an entrance, reading from the Word of God, blessing and giving of a candle, prayer and conclusion.

Such celebrations were expressly forbidden by John Paul II and Benedict XVI: “The respect due to the sacrament of Matrimony, to the couples  themselves and their families, and also to the community of the faithful,  forbids any pastor, for whatever reason or pretext even of a pastoral nature, to  perform ceremonies of any kind for divorced people who remarry. Such ceremonies  would give the impression of the celebration of a new sacramentally valid  marriage, and would thus lead people into error concerning the indissolubility  of a validly contracted marriage” (Familiaris Consortio, n. 84).

The affected faithful are to be offered support, but it must be avoided that “confusion arise among the faithful  concerning the value of marriage” (Sacramentum Caritatis, N. 29).

Due to the aforementioned discrepancies, the draft text is to be withdrawn and revised, so that no pastoral directions are sanctioned which are in opposition to Church teaching. Because the tekst has raised questions not only in Germany, but in many parts of the world as well, and has led to uncertainties in a delicate pastoral issue, I felt obliged to inform Pope Francis about it.

“Going paths which fully agree with the doctrine of the faith of the Church”

After consultation with the Holy Father, an article from my hand was published in L’Osservatore Romano on 23 October 2013, which sumarises the binding teaching of the Church on these questions. This contribution was also published in the weekly edition of the Vatican newspaper.

Since a number of bishops have turned to me and a working group of the German Bishops’ Conference is dealing with the topic, I would like to inform you that I will send a copy of this letter to all the diocesan bishops of Germany. Hoping that on this delicate issue we are going pastoral paths, which are in full agreement with the doctrine of the faith of the Church, I remain with heartfelt greeting and blessings in the Lord.

Yours,
Gerhard L. Müller
Prefect

German Church ponders reforms, but does she go the right way?

eb_zollitsch_juli2003_700A conference in Germany, held last week, in which the Catholic bishops of that country participated alongside some 300 experts to discuss reform in the Church, led to some worrying developments. Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, president of the bishops’ conference, presented some of this at the conference’s closing.

The first suggestion is to allow women to be ordained as deacons. According to Archbishop Zollitsch, this would be one of the reforms that would  allow the Church to regain credibility and strength. But, as Regensburg’s Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer (the last German bishop to have been appointed by Benedict XVI) rightly commented, the diaconate is inextricably bound to the priesthood, which is only open to men. Allowing women to be deacons would make them different deacons than men: unable to progress on to priestly ordination, it remains to be seen what their duties in liturgy and parish would and could be. Whatever the case, they will not be deacons like men are deacons.

A second suggestion regards the position of divorced and remarried people in the Church. Their rights to sit on parish councils and the like is certainly open to debate, but their partaking of Communion and the other sacraments is another topic altogether. Archbishop Zollitsch said that he doesn’t intend to undermine the sanctity of marriage, but also wants to take these faithful seriously and make them feel welcome and respected.

Personally, I think that much greater progress may be made by the Church, as far as her credibility is concerned, in presenting her faith seriously and acting on it. But in the end, the Church is not in the business of being credible and liked. She is in the business of saving souls, and that purpose is not served by pandering to majority opinion, especially when that opinion does not gel with the faith of the centuries. In that respect, divorced and remarried faithful will be better served by good teaching and compassionate guidance, and not by pretending that there is no problem. Problems are not solved by ignoring them.

Throwing the diaconate open to women, even if this were possible, also will not solve any problem, assuming there even is a problem. Instead, it will only confuse people as to what is true and real; it will be a pretense.

Conferences on reform in the Church are actually bound to fail if they limit themselves to one country. The German bishops, for example, are not able to change the faith and teachings of the world Church. At most, they can create a rift between themselves and the rest of the Church. So what if a conference finds that there is a widespread desire for one thing or another? The standard response of the Church to that should not automatically be to agree and go along. Rather, she should consider it in the light of the faith and then decide of that desire is something she can work towards making reality. If she finds she can’t, her task is to teach, always motivated by love, and present the faith that Christ has given her to protect and communicate.