WARSAW, Poland (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Vatican's chief doctrinal watchdog is once again saying the Roman Pontiff can't change church teaching on marriage and the sacraments.
During an interview published Friday, Cdl. Gerhard Müller was asked about the the debate ensuing over the papal exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (AL). The prefect for the Congregation for the Doctine of the Faith (CDF) noted the debate unfortunately boiled down to the question of admitting to Holy Communion divorcees who are living in non-sacramental unions.
The question, said the cardinal, can only be approached "from the perspective of the fullness of the teaching of the Church." He added, "The pope has not, will not and cannot change Revelation."
The interview took place at the offices of the Polish Bishops' Conference in Warsaw. Cardinal Müller had travelled to Poland April 19 for a conference honoring the 90th birthday of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. The cardinal was asked a wide range of questions during the interview.
One of the issues was AL, the Pope's document believed by many to have changed Church teaching or at least Church practice regarding the reception of the sacraments by divorced Catholics, who were living as husband and wife in a civil marriage.
Speaking to this point Cdl. Müller affirmed, "Some claim that the pope has changed the foundations of Church morality and has relativized the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. This he would not and cannot do."
This echoed the same sentiments expressed by Cdl. Müller in an interview with the Italian magazine II Timone. During that interview, which was published in February, the cardinal was asked if the stipulation that such couples "strive to live in continence" prior to reception of confession and Holy Communion — as required by Pope St. John Paul II — was still required. The head of the CDF responded, "Of course, it is not dispensable."
The cardinal at that time also emphasized that the Church has no ability to alter this law. "[N]o power in Heaven or on earth, neither an angel, nor the pope, nor a council, nor a law of the bishops, has the faculty to change it." He reaffirmed then what he restated in this recent interview, namely that, "Amoris Laetitia must clearly be interpreted in the light of the whole doctrine of the Church."
Many people disagree with Cdl. Muller that Pope Francis hasn't changed doctrine or practice on this issue. Many people have also criticized Pope Francis for his lack of clarity on these issues. For the record there were two occasions on which Pope Francis did answer the question on whether Holy Communion could be given to those living in sin. Both times his answer was no.
The first instance was when the Holy Father was flying back from Juarez to Rome February of 2016. The Roman Pontiff was asked by a reporter on the plane if "integrating in the Church" meant those who are divorced and civilly remarried could now be understood to "mean receiving Communion?"
The Pope immediately gave an anecdotal story to make clear his point:
I know married Catholics in a second union who go to church, who go to church once or twice a year and say I want Communion, as if joining in Communion were an award. It's a work towards integration; all doors are open. But we cannot say from here on they can have Communion. This would be an injury also to marriage, to the couple, because it wouldn't allow them to proceed on this path of integration.
The Pope gave a similar response in March 2015, concerning the admittance to Holy Communion of the divorced and remarried during an interview conducted by Vatican Radio with a Mexican correspondent from Televisa. The interview was published one week later in L'Osservatore Romano on March 13.
The journalist, Valentina Alazraki, asked Pope Francis, "Will the divorced and remarried be able to receive Communion?"
The Pope responded, "What the Church wants is for you to integrate yourself into the life of the Church. But there are those who say, 'No, I want to receive Communion, and that's it — like a rosette, an honorary award. No. Reintegrate yourself."