Cdl. Burke Debunks Cdl. Müller’s Exception for Divorced and Remarried

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by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  January 9, 2018   

Cdl. Burke: "Such cases do not exist"

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DETROIT (ChurchMilitant.com) The former head of the Vatican's highest court has debunked a so-called exception floated recently by Cdl. Gerhard Müller that supposedly allows some divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion while still living as husband and wife.

Church Militant reported on statements made by the former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during an interview published December 31. During the interview, Cdl. Müller stated, "It is possible that the penitent may be convinced in conscience and with good reasons of the invalidity of the first marriage even though they cannot offer canonical proof." Speaking of such Catholics living as husband and wife in a second civil marriage, the cardinal stated, "In this case, the marriage that is valid before God would be the second one, and the pastor could grant the sacrament."

Cardinal Raymond Burke was asked last September by the Hungarian independent Catholic news website, Katolikus Válasz, "Are there really such cases? His Eminence responded, "Such cases do not exist." He further explained:

No priest has the authority to declare a marriage null in the internal forum. Marriage is a public state in the Church, and the judgment regarding an accusation of nullity of marriage must be made in accord with the long practice of the Church. If a college of judges in a matrimonial tribunal is not able to arrive at moral certitude regarding the nullity of a marriage after a careful and thorough examination of the petition of nullity, how can an individual priest be capable of making such a judgment having to do with the eternal salvation of the soul in question?

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Cardinal Burke then reiterated the Church's unbroken discipline of requiring that Holy Communion is granted only to those not living in an objective state of sin:

The only case in which a priest could admit a person living in an irregular matrimonial union to receive the sacraments of penance and Holy Eucharist is the case of a couple who agree to live "as brother and sister," that is to respect the marriage to which they are bound by not living in a marital way with another person.

His words match identically with remarks made Sunday to Church Militant by Fr. Dean Perri, who works in the marriage tribunal for the diocese of Rhode Island. Asked specifically about Cdl. Müller's so-called exception, Fr. Perri replied:

If a Catholic has been married before in the Catholic Church ... then that Catholic is not permitted to enter into a new sacramental marriage bond without an annulment. If the Catholic parties divorce and attempt to marry civilly to another person, then that marriage is invalid. The second marriage is not sacramental and therefore not valid in the eyes of the Church. ... If the Tribunal and all the appeals declare that the first marriage is valid, then, no, there is no second marriage, and the couple will either have to bear the Cross of Christ and live as brother and sister in order to receive Communion.

Cardinal Müller is well respected by all including Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who last month insightfully said of the cardinal: "You have defended the clear traditions of faith, but in the spirit of Pope Francis, you have tried to understand how they can be lived today." The cardinal is seen by some members of the faithful as staunchly defending traditional Church teaching on marriage and the sacraments while trying to interpret current papal remarks in the light of that tradition.

You have defended the clear traditions of faith, but in the spirit of Pope Francis, you have tried to understand how they can be lived today.

This hesitancy on the part of Cdl. Müller to clarify teaching in the current hierarchy was evidenced in the same above mentioned interview. The cardinal was asked about the highly controversial guidelines on the papal exhortation Amoris Laetitia that were presented by the Buenos Aires bishops last year. Current papal approval of those guidelines preceded a strong response last month by the bishops of Kazakhstan. Asked to weigh in on the debate concerning the guidelines, Cdl. Müller responded, "This is an issue on which I would not like to comment."

Instead of bringing up rare or impossible exceptions to Church teaching, concerned Catholics are calling for clear and faithful teaching to clear up the confusion plaguing the Church. They want Church leaders to preach and teach, instead, on the indissolubility of marriage, mortal sin, the Real Presence of Our Lord in Holy Communion and what a terrible sacrilege it is to receive Him in a state of mortal sin.

Now, there's a widening division among prelates on how to address the issue of divorced and civilly remarried couples receiving Holy Communion. This hearkens back to another approved apparition by Our Lady of Akita, who in 1973 predicted, "The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against bishops."

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