top of page

The Blog

Click on titles below to read the entire post, access the archive, and make comments.

  • John Thavis

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.

Updated: Feb 18, 2020

When he was elected in 2013 at the age of 76, Pope Francis was not expected to be a globe-trotting pope. After all, this was a man who, as archbishop of Buenos Aires, traveled infrequently to Rome because he considered such trips an extravagance.

But in Panama last week, the pope logged his 26th foreign trip – and he shows no sign of slowing down. He plans to make four more trips before the middle of this year, including a February visit to the United Arab Emirates, the first by a pope to the Arab peninsula.

In the second half of 2019, the pope is said to be considering trips to Uganda, Mozambique and Japan.

Francis is putting on miles at a rate faster than any pope in history. Even Pope John Paul II, whose international travels turned the papacy into a global ministry, didn’t reach his 30th foreign trip until nearly eight years in office.

Most of Pope Francis’ trips have been outside Europe – meaning long-distance flights, jet lag and plenty of time for airborne press conferences.

Speaking to reporters on his first such trip in 2013, Francis seemed to accept international travel as part of the modern papal job description. He said John Paul II had made it clear that the pope must first of all be a “great missionary.”

“He was a missionary, a man who carried the Gospel everywhere, as you know better than I. How many trips did he make? But he went! He felt this fire of carrying forth the Word of the Lord. He was like Paul, like Saint Paul, he was such a man; for me this is something great,” Francis said.

Updated: Feb 18, 2020

Pope Francis has offered some clarity about how far he’ll go on the issue of married priests.

Speaking to reporters aboard his flight from Panama to Rome Jan. 27, the pope said he did not agree with those who want to make priestly celibacy “optional” throughout the Latin-rite church.

The pope was asked whether he could envision the Catholic Church adopting the practice of Orthodox Churches, in which priestly candidates can choose whether to marry or remain celibate – a choice made before they are ordained as deacons.

“My decision is: optional celibacy before the diaconate, no,” the pope said. “That is what I think. I will not do it and this remains clear. Am I closed minded? Perhaps, but I don’t feel that I can make this decision before God.”

But he left the door open to ordaining married men as an exception to the celibacy rule, in local areas of great pastoral need.

“I think the question should be open in places where there is a pastoral problem because of the lack of priests. I’m not saying that we have to do it, because I have not reflected and prayed about this sufficiently, but theologians have to study this,” he said.

He said that for local church communities, the essential question is access to Mass and the sacraments. “Where there is not the Eucharist … who will make the Eucharist?” he said.

The issue is expected to be raised during a regional Synod of Bishops from the Amazon region, to be held at the Vatican in October. The region faces a severe shortage of priests, and a preparatory document for the synod has called for “courageous, daring and fearless” proposals to deal with pastoral challenges.

If such an exception is granted in the Amazon region, many believe it will place the church on a path of change regarding the overall celibacy rule.

The Catholic Church already has married priests. Generally, Catholic Eastern churches allow married men to be ordained. Celibacy in the Latin-rite church – to which the vast majority of Catholics belong – has been a tradition for many centuries, and a topic of increasing theological debate for decades.

bottom of page