Doctrinal chief dismisses idea of ‘fraternal correction’ of pope

| Cindy Wooden | January 9, 2017 | 9 Comments

Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is pictured in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in this Nov. 19, 2014, file photo. Cardinal Muller said the Catholic Church is “very far” from a situation in which Pope Francis is in need of “fraternal correction.” He made his comment in an interview about the pope’s apostolic exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia,” with Italian news channel TGCom24. CNS photo/Paul Haring

The Catholic Church is “very far” from a situation in which the pope is in need of “fraternal correction” because he has not put the faith and church teaching in danger, said Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Interviewed Jan. 9 on the Italian all-news channel, TGCom24, Cardinal Muller said Pope Francis’ document on the family, “Amoris Laetitia,” was “very clear” in its teaching.

In the document, the cardinal said, Pope Francis asks priests “to discern the situation of these persons living in an irregular union — that is, not in accordance with the doctrine of the church on marriage — and asks for help for these people to find a path for a new integration into the church according to the condition of the sacraments (and) the Christian message on matrimony.”

In the papal document, he said, “I do not see any opposition: On one side we have the clear doctrine on matrimony, and on the other the obligation of the church to care for these people in difficulty.”

The cardinal was interviewed about a formal request to Pope Francis for clarification about “Amoris Laetitia” and particularly its call for the pastoral accompaniment of people who are divorced and civilly remarried or who are living together without marriage. The request, called a “dubia,” was written in September by U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, patron of the Knights of Malta, and three other cardinals. They published the letter in November after Pope Francis did not respond.

In an interview later, Cardinal Burke said the pope must respond to the “dubia” because they directly impact the faith and the teaching of the church. If there is no response, he said, a formal “correction of the pope” would be in order.

Cardinal Muller told the Italian television that “a possible fraternal correction of the pope seems very remote at this time because it does not concern a danger for the faith,” which is the situation St. Thomas Aquinas described for fraternal correction. “It harms the church” for cardinals to so publicly challenge the pope, he said.

In his letter on the family, Pope Francis affirmed church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, but he also urged pastors to provide spiritual guidance and assistance with discernment to Catholics who have married civilly without an annulment of their church marriage. A process of discernment, he has said, might eventually lead to a determination that access to the sacraments is possible.

The possibility reflects a change in church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and the sinfulness of sexual relations outside a valid marriage, in the view of the document written by Cardinals Burke; Walter Brandmuller, a German and former president of the Pontifical Commission for Historical Sciences; Carlo Caffarra, retired archbishop of Bologna, Italy; and Joachim Meisner, retired archbishop of Cologne, Germany.

In the TGCom24 interview, Cardinal Muller said, “everyone, especially cardinals of the Roman church, have the right to write a letter to the pope. However, I was astonished that this became public, almost forcing the pope to say ‘yes’ or ‘no'” to the cardinals’ questions about what exactly the pope meant in “Amoris Laetitia.”

“This, I don’t like,” Cardinal Muller said.

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  • Dominic Deus

    Hats off to Cardinal Müller. I been very open in my criticism that The Four Cardinals are engaged in disingenuous concern and false fraternity, acting more like crows with their relentless pestering. Nothing like a good German Cardinal to dispense with their puffery. BTW, I rather like *actual* crows, so no offense to them. Their relentless pestering always has a purpose and they are entirely sincere.

    • tschraad

      Dominic Deus – I disagree with your opinion. Cardinal Mueller is misleading Catholics on what Pope Francis said or confused in what he said in regards to people living in adultery receiving the Eucharist. This itself is very wrong. He should be speaking the truth.

      Why would people even marry when the Pope suggests that shacking up with another person may be sinful, but if you shack up often, then in our compassion, this sinfulness is actually a grace filled relationship.

      Pope Francis also discarded the sacrament of confession as he has openly stated that those who “think” that the Eucharist is for them regardless of the state of grace the recipient is in, doesn’t matter.

      The Pope is more Protestant in his beliefs than the Catholic Cardinals who are defending our 2000 year old belief that Jesus forgave sins but he then said “sin no more”. The Pope acknowledges that the sinner if he goes to confession, knowingly knows he will sin again (which makes the confession null and void if the effort not to sin is not serious) is contrary to all Catholic teachings.

      In my opinion, the Pope must answer these 4 questions which a clear yes or no. We have a schism in our Church now as some Bishops and Cardinals are passing out the Eucharist like candy in a school yard. Scandal yes and damage to all people who should believe we all are one and all believe.

      • Dominic Deus

        Dear tschraad,

        Thank you for your post! It’s always good to be suspicious of my arguments. I am, too. I am taking the weekend off as I have sole householder duties with JoAnn of Arc off to visit her family and I have to tend the dogs, clean the house, meet with a group of hereticals Sunday night and, hopefully, watch the first episode of Victoria. Also, I have been exchanging words with Augustine Thomas and I need to stop thinking for a while and indulge in coffee.

        Your comments suggest to me that I need to know more about how you see these matter and learn if there is a possible accommodation that can be made between traditionalists and futurists, for the good of the Faithful and the Church. I will get back to you Monday or Tuesday.

        • Dominic Deus

          Dear tschraad,

          Here are the key issues as described in the Catholic News Service story:

          According to Cardinal Muller, in *Amoris Laetitia*, Pope Francis asks priests “to discern the situation of … persons living in an irregular union — that is, not in accordance with the doctrine of the Church on marriage — and asks for help for these people to find a path for a new integration into the church according to the condition of the sacraments (and) the Christian message on matrimony.”

          MY opinion? In other words, the Holy Father was asking priests to involve themselves in acts of mercy in reconciling, in whole or in part, the tension between doctrine on marriage and compassion for those who experience one outside of sacramental marriage. Francis was teaching that mercy trumps doctrine and vests his faith in good priests to imagine how to do so.

          The Four Cardinals chose to be doctrinaire and pedantic, showing their disconnect from their pastoral calling, putting it in writing as a *dubia*, a “doubt”, and not only sending it to the Pope but publishing it when he did not personally respond. That last is inexcusable, discourteous and very disingenuous. They *did* receive a reply but not from the Pope and rather than realize their error, they went public. Then they suggested they might have to Issue a “fraternal correction” (curia-speak for “stab in the back”)

          Poor form, bad judgment, arrogance and presumptuousness. Benedict would have reduced them to being Patrons of Obscure Studies in the second basement of Castel Gandolfo or possibly being caddies at the golf course located there.

          As to substance, Francis was very diplomatic in his discussion of “irregular’ relationships and yes, they include living together, marriage after divorce, non-sacramental marriage, same sex relationships, married and otherwise. They also include much love, devotion and fidelity, mercy, and comfort in time of suffering. Francis asks what the call to mercy requires and a Cardinal would have to be quite clueless not to realize that he wanted to hear about mercy rather than doctrine. Sure enough, the Four Cardinals delivered *Nihil obstat* –nothing stood in the way of their lack of understanding.

          Now here is an interesting and important backstory. There are very few parish priests anywhere who are not aware that, within their congregations, there are plenty of Faithful in the pews who are “irregulars” but they show up, tithe, serve food, sweep the church and are, by all standards faithful stewards and kind souls who approach the Eucharist with great devotion and pray to the saints and Mother of God. No priest with an ounce of sense will insult them, demean them or demand they leave because the congregation would collapse without them. It’s like “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Francis is saying “Enough! How do we welcome then openly and honestly? Show me.”

          The Four Cardinals responded by fomenting an inquisition! No, the Pope does not owe them yes or no answers because there are none on the path of mercy.

          Now, I need help and my question for you is “Can traditionalists shelter comfortably in their faith and allow ‘irregulars’ to shelter in theirs?”

          The storms of life blow upon all of us: let us be merciful to each other and offer shelter.

          • Franc

            You said “Francis was teaching that mercy trumps doctrine….” But what is mercy? Mercy is only needed if one has sinned. If one has not sinned mercy is not needed, because if one is sinless and pure his eternal inheritance is already the Father’s eternal rest.
            When one confesses one’s sin God always offers merciful forgiveness, and takes the sin away. Jesus puts that sin upon his own body, becomes sin for us, and dies with it upon the cross. There in death He throws our sin away as far as east is from west and remembers it no more thus making us sinless and in line for our eternal reward again. This doctrine is the perfect mercifulness of God. God is eternally merciful. But mercy when offered is not always received.
            The merciful acts of Christ have enthroned the doctrine of mercy in our Catholic faith of the same Christ our Lord. The truth that God offers mercy to the world is, therefore, a doctrine of the faith, and thus it can not trump itself nor our need for mercy because of sin in the first place. Thus Francis can not be teaching a false concept that mercy trumps doctrine for it is a nonsensical concept.

          • Dominic Deus

            Dear Franc,

            Thank you for most excellent challenge to my less than perfectly explained position. “Less than perfect” is what happens with me most of the time!

            Actually, I think you made my case better than I did. Your eloquent explanation of mercy not only reads well but would resonate when spoken from the pulpit, providing hope and comfort to those listening. Well done!

            Allow me to offer some clarification:

            “Thus Francis can not be teaching a false concept that mercy trumps doctrine for it is a nonsensical concept.”

            My contention was that he was teaching a true concept, in that engaging in pastoral acts of mercy takes primacy over the pedantic “doctrine-ology” of the Four Cardinals. Mercy is, indeed doctrinally proclaimed in the Church but the Four saw the concept of “doctrine” being more important than acts of mercy. Red hat posh–nothing more.

            (That said, I admit to my fair share of non-sensical concepts in the past however, I was right about continental drift.)

            Now about there being no need for mercy in the absence of sin…… Setting aside the fact that most of us need never worry abut such circumstance, are you *sure* you want to say that? It seems to me that any grace of God or virtue of humanity exists on its own terms and is certainly not dependent upon Divine Judgement or human failing. Mercy exists for multiple reasons, one of which is to shelter us from the full ferocity of the storm. Mercy is the compassionate manifestation of love and all that is necessary for mercy to exist is love.

            Our Muslim brothers and sisters really reinforce this point, repeating, “Allah is merciful” again and again in their daily prayers and conversation with each other.

            I need to take a break and go to the gym–you know, “Body, Mind and Spirit.” (The picture below is of my guardian angel Jim, reminding me it’s time to play basketball. He carries that weird basketball everywhere.)



          • Charles C.

            There may be no yes or no answers on the path of mercy, I won’t address that, but there are on the path of truth.

            The dubia simply ask for clarification that the Pope’s letter does not contradict divine teaching, as it appears to for the average reader.

            “Don’t ask, don’t tell?” What in the world????? This isn’t about how an individual in an adulterous marriage appears to the other parishioners or feels about himself, this is about Eternity, God’s laws, and that individual’s final destination.

            Feeling shamed is absolutely nothing compared to an Eternity in Hell.

    • Charles C.

      How do you know that their concern and fraternalism is false? On what basis do you judge them? Had the Pope answered their private letter, this would have never occurred. The Pope made his choice, whether it was good or bad, the consequences are at least partially his responsibility.

      Your condemnation of them, in your response to tschraad, is not persuasive.

      Of course it was called a “Dubia.” First, that’s the proper name for such a communication. Second, there was serious doubt and confusion over the meaning of His Holiness’ statement, there still is.

      To paraphrase the Dubia, the Cardinals said “Holy Father, we’re not clear on the meaning of your words. They are causing confusion among the faithful ans, as you know, we have an obligation to teach and shepherd them. These five questions, which can be answered with a “yes” or “no,” plus whatever additional comments you care to make, summarize the confusion afflicting us and many of the faithful. As they are your words and you are the head of the Church, we await your personal response. We are sending this letter privately so as to avoid any further confusion or concern among the flock.”

      The Pope’s response was “I don’t have time for you guys.”

      Responding to that, the Cardinals said, in effect, “Your Holiness, this is so important and the confusion and discord is so great that we have to go one step up on the procedural ladder, and in accordance with precedence make this public.”

      The Pope’s response was “I still don’t have time for you guys, but I’ll get some minion to take you on in the press. He can say things which would be improper for a Pope to say to a Cardinal, but he can insult all he wants.”

      Here’s a comment on Dubia in general:

      “A dubium is an inquiry on a
      canonical, liturgical or doctrinal question that is sent to the Holy See with a request for an authoritative and final response. It
      is a prerogative of bishops to send such dubia,
      since the answers to the questions in them can be necessary for the exercise of
      their office. They are formulated in such a way as to be susceptible of a ‘yes’
      or ‘no’ answer, since the response to them is an authoritative act of ruling as
      well as of magisterial teaching. Dubia from
      bishops are in consequence always answered, and the refusal of the Holy See to
      answer these dubia is thus an
      extraordinary act.”

      Now, as to the substance of the letter. I understand that the current position is to claim that the Pope’s words have been clarified so that everyone can understand them and that any further questioning constitutes harassment. Great, except that’s not true.

      The dubia themselves, as well as the paragraph quote above can be found here:

      My question is, what are the Pope’s answers to these questions? What are your answers? Certainly, if the Pope’s words are clear there should be no difficulty in providing answers to the Cardinals. If they weren’t clear, this is the time to make them clear.

  • DebraBrunsberg

    Judging by the Cardinal’s statement on clarity, I can only presume he is senile and should retire, along with the other remnants of an era that chose to follow themselves rather than God. Germany’s empty churches are a pretty strong testament to what comes out of that country. Pope Francis has created a very serious problem and his refusal to address it gives the appearance of a problem with pride. Confidence in him among the faithful is falling at a rapid rate. The Bishops of Malta have already opened the doors for all those living in adultery to come on in and receive the Eucharist. That might be a sign that some are confused.