Updated: Apr 15, 2020
Saying church leaders have allowed the spread of “doctrinal confusion,” German Cardinal Gerhard Mueller has published a “manifesto of faith” that reasserts traditional church teaching on several issues, including a ban on Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.
Although Mueller does not specifically mention Pope Francis, the text is clearly aimed at the more flexible stance taken by the pope and some progressive bishops. Two years ago, Mueller was let go by Francis as head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The document was issued in multiple languages through conservative Catholic media, which have themselves been critical of the pope, saying his teachings and pronouncements on pastoral mercy have left Catholics confused. Mueller said he had taken the step at the request of “many” bishops, priests, religious and lay people.
On the question of Communion for divorced Catholics, Mueller said that “civilly remarried divorcees, whose sacramental marriage exists before God, as well as those Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic faith and the church, just as all who are not properly disposed, cannot receive the Holy Eucharist fruitfully because it does not bring them to salvation. To point this out corresponds to the spiritual works of mercy.”
The cardinal said this clearly follows from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states: “Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of reconciliation before coming to Communion.”
In his post-synodal document “Amoris Laetitia” in 2016, Pope Francis appeared to open the door to reception of Communion by Catholics who have divorced and civilly remarried, through pastoral accompaniment on a case-by-case basis.
Cardinal Mueller said the task of the church’s teaching authority is to “preserve God’s people from deviations and defections” so they can profess the faith without error.
Mueller’s text is essentially a string of citations of the Catechism, published in 1992 as a way to firm up doctrinal understanding among Catholics. (In contrast, it quotes from the Gospel only a handful of times.)
The remarkable thing is not the content, but the fact that a formerly high-ranking Vatican cardinal has allowed himself to be used by a conservative faction in opposition to a reigning pope. The implicit accusation is that when it comes to defense of doctrine, Mueller is filling a leadership void left by Pope Francis.