Cardinal Marx: “The Prefect of the CDF Cannot Put a Stop to the Discussion”

In the opinion of Cardinal Marx of Munich, the debate on the Catholic Church’s handling of those divorced and remarried is entirely open. “The prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith cannot put a stop to the discussion,” he said Thursday at the conclusion of the meeting of the Freising Bishops’ Conference, Kathweb reports. This conference consists of the Bavarian bishops from Munich and Freising, Rebensburg, Passau, Augsburg, Bamberg, Wurzburg, Eichstatt, and Speyer.

Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, former bishop of Regensburg and now prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, recently wrote an article in L’Osservatore Romano strongly defending the church’s ban on communion for those who remarry and seeing no possibility of change in church discipline. In response to this, Cardinal Marxsaid that “we will see that it is discussed very broadly; as for the result, I do not know.” Cardinal Marx is on the committee of eight cardinals appoints by Pope Francis to advise him in the reform of the Roman Curia and the governance of the Catholic Church.

Cardinal Marx said that it is the express wish of Rome that there be widespread discussion throughout the church in preparation for the special synod on the family in October 2014. The cardinal believes that there are some questions for which the position of the majority of Catholics, including practicing Catholics in particular, is clear. He named the issue of the divorced and remarried as an example. A large number of the faithful cannot entirely understand “that a second union is not accepted by the Church.” He thinks it is inadequate to speak of divorce as simply a “moral failure.”

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  1. In the opinion of Cardinal Marx of Munich, the debate on the Catholic Church’s handling of those divorced and remarried is entirely open. “The prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith cannot put a stop to the discussion,” he said…

    Well, that sounds about right. The only person who can “put a stop” to anything is the Pope, and he hasn’t said “stop,” so.

  2. Good, this is what I hoped would happen, the beginning of a PUBLIC discussion of issues like divorce and remarriage among the cardinals.

    Hopefully our bishops will join the PUBLIC discussion not only of divorcee and remarriage but also of the New Missal, and we will see disagreement among cardinals and bishops.

    Or they could stay in their bunkers until the winds of hurricane Francis subside and hope that their pet projects and ideas have not disappeared.

  3. Reinhard Marx is entitled to an opinion. Reinhard Cardinal Marx is called to uphold the Catholic Faith as it has been received, on matters concerning Faith and Morals.

    I think Cardinal Marx’s comments, at least as they are presented here, give false hope — we have no right to tell people that the Church’s teaching will change concerning the adulterous nature of remarriage after validly married spouses divorce.

    Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery. (Mt. 19:8-9).

    Lest Fr. Anthony call me a fundamentalist again, there remains plenty to discuss without attempting to change the unchangeable teaching. There is plenty to discuss to deepen our understanding and improve our practice:
    – how we form young people to prepare for marriage
    – how we present the teachings about marriage and sexuality to parents, so they can teach their children in the domestic church.
    – how we minister to those who are divorced, and help them to live a life of chastity.
    – how we minister to those abandoned by a spouse, and find themselves divorced without having chosen it.
    – how to minister to children of divorced couples and give them positive examples of successful marriage, in order to break the cycle we are in.

    There are others, I’m sure, but that is a beginning.

    But the overarching issue is that we need to contextualize our society’s difficulties concerning marriage back into the Paschal Mystery — uniting the suffering of loneliness and loss involved in a failed marriage or with same-sex attraction with the suffering of the Cross, so we can (in earthly life or more likely in eternal life) come to the glory of the Resurrection.

    As it is, all this easy talk of “marriage is hard” and “people don’t understand the teaching” that leads to saying “we need to change the teaching” is an utter denial of the Cross. “Get thee behind me Satan.”

  4. @Matthew
    I find it interesting that in your qoute from Matthew 19 you replaced “fornication” (nisi ob fornicationem) with “unless the marriage is unlawful”.
    I’m no expert, so I’m asking here, why is this exception overlooked?
    How is it interpreted?

  5. Matthew (at #3): […] uniting the suffering of loneliness and loss involved in a failed marriage or with same-sex attraction with the suffering of the Cross, so we can (in earthly life or more likely in eternal life) come to the glory of the Resurrection. [my ellipsis]

    I am not a parent, and will never be a parent, but I know from my childhood that good parents walk a wire-thin tightrope between proper education and mercy. There is time for stern admonition and then a time for forgiveness. Suffering requires a balancing measure of levity. This balance is often elusive.

    Is it the same with Jesus? The Son didn’t become incarnate of the Virgin Mary only to go about his ministry issuing blanket anathemata to all he encountered. Yes, our Lord admonished, “sin no more”, but only after clearly communicating to his disciples and those about him that he understood the social and cultural situation before him. A good father (after all, does not Jesus emphatically state that he is ἐγώ εἰμί, egō eimi throughout John?) delineates boundaries while also presenting boundaries with kindness and loving care best suited for the moment. Would Jesus leave us out to hang and dry with only a seemingly interminable and pointless suffering to endure? Christ’s suffering is boundless love and mercy, not masochism.

    Spiritual fathers, and indeed all leaders in churches, have a duty to be good “parents” to the community. Priests who rant about contraception at Mass instead of delivering a homily, or shame with homophobic sermons, are not good spiritual parents. Teaching is meaningless, even alienating, without empathy. I support Cardinal Marx, as he is a spiritual father intent on finding a mean between mercy and sacrifice. Cdl. Marx does not appear to be afflicted with the prurient self-aggrandizing which often masquerades as “orthodoxy”.

  6. Abp Müller’s comments are a contribution to the dialogue, rather than an interruption of it.

    For instance, Müller offered a principle saying marriage is “a reality that comes from God and is therefore no longer at man’s disposal.” This is a wonderful principle that both sides can agree on, though they differ on its application.

    In fact, those who remarry nust come to the Church with a sense of that reality, seeking confirmation of the healing love they have encountered. OTOH Müller says that a divorced person must be able to “objectively prove” that the prior relationship was not a marriage. I have no problem saying that the first implements Müller’s principle better than the second. Standing against a love that God has forged is not good; basing the opposition on a process marked by human imperfections, as every process is, certainly seems to put marriage at man’s disposal.

    Not every second marriage is from God, but the possibility is always there. I dont get the logic of making recognition of this depend on the judgment of others.

  7. Jesus was speaking to disciples willing to do God’s will on earth asit in heaven. Choosing to be joined to another is a natural right since it is not good for men or women to be alone. But we know that even patriarchs and kings had varied understandings of what that meant. There is no evidence that Jesus was establishing a canonical structure which could only be lived up to by perfect human beings. The clergy would attend to that much later when they felt compelled to save the crumbling empire in the West by lording it over their subjects. Marriage would not be regarded as a sacrament until the late medieval period although there were theological principles spoken of earlier. The hierarchy’s hegemony over marriage discipline was occasioned primarily by the need to safeguard property and inheritance rights among emperor’s and other royalty. Finally, let me say that it sounds fundamentalistic to maintain that the words from Matthew admit of only one narrow meaning. The word was not “unlawful” but “porneia” which encompasses the propensity of human beings to not be very good at distinguishing lust from love. Lots of couples have taken up with each other not to be signs of Christ’s love, nor to enrich the church with their children but just to “be there for each other” until circumstances may change. Some of these people experience a conversion even though their names have long since appeared on church registration forms. How do we care for them?

    1. @Fr. Jack Feehily – comment #7:

      Fr. Jack (and also Janko)
      – the translation “unlawful” is the one used in the NAB, the approved liturgical translation of the United States. If you don’t like that, please take it up with them.
      – but to the point (and that Fr. Jack should already know), ‘porneia’ is a complicated word that Scripture scholars can’t quite agree upon — the Latin “fornicationem” certainly doesn’t translate 1:1 with “porneia”. I will trust the Church’s long discernment that it is something more significant than “not being very good at distinguishing lust from love”

      Choosing to be joined to another is a natural right since it is not good for men or women to be alone.

      A man and a woman choosing to be joined to one another is a natural right. And natural reason alone is unable to tell us that adultery (or even polygamy) is wrong — but we have revelation to inform us. This is a chip shot — one that doesn’t require a theology degree or ordination to understand.

      Lots of couples have taken up with each other not to be signs of Christ’s love, nor to enrich the church with their children but just to “be there for each other” until circumstances may change. Some of these people experience a conversion even though their names have long since appeared on church registration forms. How do we care for them?

      Here you have a good point and a good question, which require much discussion and consideration — here is where the development and growth will take place. But simply chucking the Church’s teachings on marriage can’t and won’t be the solution.

      1. @Matthew Morelli – comment #9:

        λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν ὅτι ὃς ἂν ἀπολύσῃ τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ μὴ ἐπὶ πορνείᾳ καὶ γαμήσῃ ἄλλην μοιχᾶται. (Mt. 19:8 NA 28)

        The word “unfaithful” does not derive from πορνείᾳ, porneia, but the verb μοιχᾶται, moichatai. moichatai, a verb which when passive is not classical but from the Septuagint, roughly means “unfaithful” in the sense of adultery (cf. LSJ sv. μοιχᾶται). Janko Veselković (at #4) is quite correct to translate μὴ ἐπὶ πορνείᾳ or nisi ob fornicationem as [unless from] “fornication”. [my addition in brackets] moichatai or unfaithfulness/adultery refers first to “unless from fornication” and then to καὶ γαμήσῃ ἄλλην, “and wed another”.

        ———

        Matthew, the main reason why the issue of divorced and remarried persons, as well as gay and lesbian relationships, tears at the heart of the Church today is because these issues are of the heart. Issues which involve human affection and sexuality cannot be parsed into discrete moral problems because human affection and sexual desire between consenting and mature adults most often occur together. Two responses are available: snow the Others with talking points, or attempt to enter together into a question which is fraught (both positively and negatively) with all the confusions inherent in emotional discovery. I am convinced that clerics who enter metaphorically into the lives of the Others will succeed in teaching the Gospel more effectively than clergy who create moats and drawbridges from the evangelists.

      2. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #11:

        When it comes to the meaning of ‘porneia’, there is no consensus, even among the Scripture scholars — so attempting to make a point that divorce and remarriage is justifiable ob fornicationem is futile. The weight of the Church’s magisterial teaching (including in its interpretation of that passage) is too great toward the understanding that remarriage while one is otherwise validly married constitutes adultery.

        —–

        As to the other problem, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head: the reason why so many misunderstand/ignore/dissent from the Church’s teaching is because they, like you, are starting at the wrong point of human affection/sexual desire.

        Love is not a feeling Jordan — Love is a choice for the highest and best for the one loved. It begins at the level of intellect and will.

        When we begin at the wrong point of human affection/sexual desire, without the controls that reason and will formed by practice of virtues provide for us, then it should be no surprise that we end up with the problems that we have.

        I think this is at the root of the “marriages don’t fail, some just have ended” concept that Paul is suggesting. It truly is a failure of morals, because too many Catholics (among others) are not given the tools to grow in virtue as single people, let alone to cope with the challenges of a marital commitment. How to help the faithful grow in those virtues necessary to live chastity in their state of life (whether single or in the commitment of marriage, religious life, or orders) would be a worthwhile discussion to take up at the Synod.

      3. @Matthew Morelli – comment #15:

        Thank you Matthew for pointing out the semantic meaning of the sentence. In the previous example, I commented on the Greek syntax. Classical linguistics is on my mind eight days a week. I should not go off on these tangents on PTB.

        Love is not a feeling Jordan — Love is a choice for the highest and best for the one loved. It begins at the level of intellect and will.

        No, love is not a feeling, or at least “love” according to the way pop hit singles depict love. However, I did not mention love in my earlier post (at #11). Rather, I mentioned affection and sexual desire. Both of these concepts influence love, but neither is the concept of love entirely.

        I realize that Catholic theology is mostly blind to human motivations outside what is dictated by sacred anthropology and natural law. Per the latter concepts, Catholics who divorce and remarry outside the Church are capable of forming love (in the midst of the turbulence of human attraction) because of the intrinsic order of their sexuality. Gay persons are entirely unable to love one another in a comprehensive relationship because their affective precursors are objectively disordered. When the will and intellect are disordered, so are its fruits (love etc.) This I have gathered.

        Even the education of virtues and the strengthening of grace through the sacraments cannot be parsed from human affection and libido. To consider virtue and grace but not basal emotional need is a temptation to view one of the most profound needs of human beings, such as companionship, as a sum of parts. Even if affection and libido are concupiscence (the tendency to sin), this tendency must always be considered regardless of virtuosity or sacramental preparation.

      4. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #16:

        “Gay persons are entirely unable to love one another in a comprehensive relationship because their affective precursors are objectively disordered.”

        I hope and pray that one day soon, the Church will jettison this kind of extremely hurtful rhetoric in her pastoral approach to sexual and moral issues.

  8. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #4:

    Proper discipline involves both teaching and mercy — this is what is necessary in forming healthy children and healthy disciples. I will agree that suffering requires the balance you have mentioned, and that such a balance is difficult.

    You are right that we find this balance too with Jesus and His teaching and His entire ministry. But this does not preclude difficult teaching — the difficult teaching concerning marriage that I quoted from St. Matthew’s Gospel is but one example.

    And you are right that priests who rant about contraception during Mass or shame with homophobic sermons are not good parents. However, the priests who are unwilling to speak about the moral evil of contraception or the distortion of sexuality inherent in homosexual acts are not good spiritual parents either. The former are abusive, the latter are negligent. I pray that Cardinal Marx is neither.

    When it comes to evil acts, there can be no mean between “mercy and sacrifice”. A good parent will not allow his child to play in the street just a little, or poke at a rattlesnake just a little. When we speak of adultery or homosexual acts or contraception, a good spiritual father will not say “a little is ok”. To do so would also be negligent.

    I reiterate — there are plenty of things that can be said about marriage and family, and addressing the modern challenges that exist, without attempting to change the Church’s teaching. I believe Pope Francis when he says that he is a loyal son of the Church — and in doing so, I refuse to accept that he would attempt to change the unchangeable. To suggest so is to be a bearer of false hope, and to refuse to take Pope Francis at his word.

  9. I’m glad Marx is challenging Muller’s view on marriage/divorce. Muler wrote that love isn’t a feeling, that it is better for the children of bad marriages if their parents don’t divorce, that the victims of domestic violence shouldn’t be allowed to divorce, that people can’t trust their consciences, and that God can’t show mercy but must punish instead … I think all of this is wrong.

    Andrew Brown wrote … “Everyone knows the official position [of the Catholic Church on divorce] is a pernicious nonsense … Ever since the ban on artificial contraception was restated in 1967, the official Catholic teaching on sexual morality has overlaid and crushed the lived experience of the laity the way that the Greenland icecap forces the island beneath it into the sea.”
    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/andrewbrown/2013/oct/22/catholics-remarried-communion-pope-francis

  10. I’m not sure I like the parent metaphor here. But let’s leave it be for the moment.

    Marriages today are lasting, on average, about twice as long as they were two centuries ago. Huge numbers of Christians, millions in fact, have what was a rarity in most of Christian history: marriages that last more than, say, a third of a century.

    What our “parents” have not provided are tools for maintaining marriages for decades. Or years, really. Archbishop Müller and those on the “adultery” kick have conceded to the graduation model which seems to be working so effectively to keep young people in church after First Eucharist and Confirmation. They are soaked in a hermeneutic of entitlement, speaking of rights and their responsibility to “defend” the sacrament.

    If I cut lose my daughter at age 18 the day after high school graduation, I probably couldn’t be prosecuted in a court of law, but my actions would be negligent. Foolish. Short-sighted.

    On reflection, it has always annoyed me that so many clergy are very chummy with engaged couples. Until after the wedding. Then nothing.

    Too often this Church’s clergy have been pastorally and morally negligent in their monopoly on preparing and witnessing marriages and presuming to know best for people they don’t even know.

    It’s good to see the discussion open. Ad multos annos–we need it.

    1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #12:

      Marriages today are lasting, on average, about twice as long as they were two centuries ago. Huge numbers of Christians, millions in fact, have what was a rarity in most of Christian history: marriages that last more than, say, a third of a century.

      This is a dangerous argument. The reason marriages are lasting longer is largely physical: people’s life expectancy is much longer than it was.

      I grew up in the south-east of England in the 1950s-60s. A man growing up in that area only 100 years earlier would have had an average life expectancy of 26. He would have died of either tuberculosis or peritonitis. (In fact my father almost did die of peritonitis as late as the 1920s.) Modern medical science has wrought a sea-change, and people now live on average three times as long as they did in the 19th century.

      So the words “till death do us part” now mean something completely different from what they did even in the latter half of the 19th century. Then, a young couple would marry in their late teens, and the duration of the marriage would be perhaps 10 years. That is manageable in a way that a lifetime commitment may not be for today’s couples.

      We often see couples separating in their 30s and 40s — perhaps a reflection of a second physical life that formerly they would not have expected to have. It’s not limited to marriage: that is also the age when priests leave the priesthood, when people throw in their jobs and go back to the land, when people discover their true gender or sexuality, and similar dramatic changes in lifestyle.

      I have also observed this happening to people in their 60s and even 70s, reflecting the onset of a a third physical life.

      It is very easy for the Church and for us to be condemnatory of people who don’t make it all the way through today, and indeed people who do make it all the way through are perhaps the exception rather than the rule. They are just very lucky. The rest of us are simply reflecting our former physical life-spans. We are the “normal” ones, the others are the “exceptional” ones.

      Having said that, there is an element of truth in Todd’s implication that we are getting better at making marriages last. We are indeed getting better at it because living longer has provoked us into doing so, but the majority of marriages do not in fact last for the lifetime of the spouses.

      What we need to do is stop characterizing these marriages as having “failed”. They have simply ended, and new marriages have begun in their place. Until the Church also gets this message, the debates will continue.

      1. @Paul Inwood – comment #13:
        A man growing up in that area only 100 years earlier would have had an average life expectancy of 26.

        This is not strictly true: the greatest cause of shortened average life expectancy of those born alive was infant mortality, which seriously skews the figures. What was considerably higher (though admittedly not as high as present day expectancy) was the life-expectancy for those reaching the age of 21. I fear I cannot quote figures, which are difficult to track down.
        However, disease was no respecter of rank, so one could take the children of
        Henry VIII as an example – 11 children – average life expectancy at birth – 13.5, or, excluding 3 stillbirths, 19. But of those attaining 21 – 56.

        Kind regards,
        John Henley

      2. @John Henley – comment #14:

        John, thanks for the reminder about infant mortality. It is a significant factor, but does not take away from the fact that the two big killers for many who survived infancy were, as I stated, TB and peritonitis, which did fell many in their late teens and early 20s. Until medical science was able to deal with those, large numbers of people died young who today live into their 70s and beyond without problem. If diagnostic skills had been as great as they are today, we would probably also see different forms of cancer recognized as another “big killer”.

        I’m not sure that citing individual cases is very helpful. Only 9 of J S Bach’s 20 children by two marriages survived him (3 out of 7 and 6 out of 13), but to extrapolate from those figures that about 50% of children lived to enjoy normal adulthood in Southern Germany in the 18th century would be erroneous. The figure is apparently more like 25%. Bach beat the average because he fathered so many. The descendants of Henry VIII are probably another exceptional case, given the quality of medical care that royalty would have enjoyed compared with the vast majority of the population.

        I believe that my observations concerning what often happens to people in their 30s and 60s remain valid.

  11. “Love is not a feeling — Love is a choice for the highest and best for the one loved. It begins at the level of intellect and will.”

    Love *is* a feeling. You can’t will it to be and you can’t reason it into being. But once it exists, it manifests itself as a desire for the best for the loved one. The church should be honest and admit that it is redefining duty as love.

  12. Is the meaning of the Gospel that the obligation to live together should last also when it become morally and juridically impossible? The Church’s answer is yes, but it seems only a belated and legalistic interpretation of the words of Jesus.

  13. In these discussions, who carries the heavier fire power, a pastoral cardinal or an apparatchik archbishop? And who is more likely to be familiar with pastoral realities and the power of divine mercy?

  14. Archbishop Carol Vigano, Apostolic Nuncio to the USA gave a strong keynote address to the USCCB which is well worth reading and digesting. It is a rebuke to heterodoxy and those who listen to everything but the truth, a culture that is becoming more and more “anti-Gospel”, “anti-Church” and “anti-Christ.” He also refers to what Pope John Paul II said as an obscure cardinal from communist Poland to the Eucharistic Congress in 1976 in Philadelphia referring to the anti-Gospel, antii-Church, anti-Chirist” as a part of God’s Divine Providence for this age and the culmination of human history and final victory.
    He also highlighted why Pope John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council. The purpose of the Council couldn’t be more clear, but which heterodoxy has obscured:
    Pope John Paul II goes on to say, with reference to the Second Vatican Council:

    “… nothing is more enlightening than to recall the exact words which, on the opening day, John XXIII wished to spell out the orientation of this great ecclesial event: ‘The greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be more effectively guarded and taught’.”

    Pope John Paul II continues:

    “This farseeing vision of Pope John is alive today. It was the only sound basis for an Ecumenical Council aimed at pastoral renewal; it is the only sound basis for all our pastoral endeavors as Bishops of the Church of God. This then is my own deepest hope today for the pastors of the Church in America, as well as for all the pastors of the Church: ‘that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be more effectively guarded and taught’.”

    And Pope John Paul II further commented:

    “The sacred deposit of God’s word, handed on by the Church, is the joy and strength of our people’s lives. It is the only pastoral solution to the many problems of our day.”

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