The Hope of the Family: Dialogue with Gerhard Cardinal Müller. Editor: Carlos Granados Garcia. 90 pp. Ignatius Press 2014.
The upcoming Vatican Synod on the Family and “[t]he question about the participation of divorced and remarried Catholics in the sacraments will oblige us to rethink as a whole the place of the Sacrament of Matrimony in our Churches and, more broadly, the authenticity of the process of Christian initiation of our young people.” Ignatius Press is contributing to that discussion by publishing a number of books that explore marriage and family life from traditional Catholic perspective that has been applied to topical interests.
One of these books is The Hope of the Family: Dialogue with Gerhard Cardinal Müller. In the small volume, Cardinal Müller, who currently serves the Vatican as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, answers a number of questions posed by Father Carlos Granados García, editor-in-chief of Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos (Library of Christian Authors, a collection of classical Catholic books).
The interview begins by asking Cardinal Müller to set the stage. What are the contemporary challenges that the Church faces when it speaks about family life?
The first is that “young people no longer marry,” having little or no trust that “love” can last for the life of the two spouses. (p. 15-16) Much is made of “postmodern individualism” – an overemphasis of individual interests to the detriment of a common good, such as family life –and the resultant “privatization of the family,” which denies the family’s fundamental contribution to creating a healthy society. A marvelous descriptive term, “orphans of divorce,” is introduced that captures something of the poignancy of the family’s situation. (p. 76) And, as one might suspect, the discussion considers the destructive forces of “sexual revolution” and widespread “crisis of faith” that walk hand-in-hand with the family’s collapse.
The conversation turns to the pastoral responses the Church can offer struggling families. Father García astutely recognizes that many of these responses have been designed for individuals, not the family and makes the wry aside that the pastoral care of young people is too often “recreational” rather than “teaching life skills”…and doesn’t seem to have done much to foster family life. (see p. 35-36)
Strengthening formation of priests
One section deals with the specific question of divorced and remarried Catholics, who may not receive sacramental communion. Father García acknowledges the twin problems people in this situation face, namely that they are in a state that objectively contradicts “that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist” and that their reception of the Eucharist who confuse the faithful concerning the “Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.” He asks Cardinal Müller, “Is it possible to hope that there might be a change of doctrine in this matter?”(p. 42)
As might be expected, Cardinal Müller’s response is unambiguous: “Not even an ecumenical council can change the doctrine of the Church…. the Church cannot allow divorce in the case of a sacramental marriage that has been contracted and consummated.” (p. 43-44)
However, that isn’t the real question. Even Cardinal Kasper, who has proposed radical changes to Church discipline, has never proposed that the Church could change her dogma. The Church cannot deny the goods of a sacramental marriage, which are its “exclusive, personal, reciprocal fidelity (the bonum fidei), the good of welcoming children and educating them to know God (the bonum prolis), and the good of the indissolubility or indestructibility of the bond, the permanent foundation of which is the indissoluble union of Christ and the Church, which is sacramentally represented by the marriage (the bonum sacramenti).” (p. 52) What is sought, rather, is a way to adapt doctrine to “pastoral reality.” (p. 59) Couldn’t the Church, as an act of “mercy,” open Eucharistic communion to those who “desire it.”
Again, Cardinal Müller is very clear. There is no mercy, he insists, in trivializing the reality of sin and its consequences. On the contrary, divine mercy provides the grace to “Go and do not sin again,” reconciling the sinner and God. (p.56) Nor does the “desire to receive sacramental communion” constitute a right. (p. 58)
As for “adapting” doctrine to support a “pastoral praxis” that contradicts it, Cardinal Müller explains that doctrine is the Word of God, not a “theoretical system.” We cannot profess doctrinally that ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ and then not do his will.” Such “adaptations would transform the Christian heritage “into a new, politically correct civil religion, reduced to a few values that are tolerated by the rest of society.” (p. 60)
As at least one of the other volumes Ignatius Press is releasing on this topic, The Hope of the Family spends time explaining the writings of the Church Fathers, particularly those who have been cited as supporting second marriage during the lifetime of a first spouse. In the first place, Cardinal Müller notes, there is very little ambiguity in any of their writings that sacramental marriage is exclusive and indissoluble. The few that seem to contain such ambiguity are taken out of context. (pp. 63-64) But most to the point, as Father García succinctly puts it: “there can be no development of dogma that finally leads us to deny dogma itself.” (p. 65)
Father García and Cardinal Müller devote the last part of their interview to practical considerations, particularly the “educational emergency” today’s Catholics face, the negative value given to the procreative elements of family life, and a general hedonism that makes sacrifice and Christian virtue unattractive and counter-cultural. “In my opinion,” Cardinal Müller summarizes, “one of the most serious pastoral problems currently is rooted in the fact that many people today judge marriage exclusively according to worldly, pragmatic criteria.” (p. 72) There is very little understanding about the sacramental nature of a Catholic marriage.
“Rather than a facile ‘pragmatic adaptation’, we are called to opt for the martyr’s ‘prophetic Boldness’. With that we will be able to witness to the ‘gospel of the sanctity of marriage’.” (p. 73)
Spero columnist Stephanie Block is the author of the four-volume 'Change Agents: Alinskyian Organizing Among Religious Bodies,' available at Amazon.