Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, says 'Amoris Laetitia' is not up for personal interpretation. CNS photo/Paul Haring

'Amoris Laetitia' not up for personal interpretation, says Vatican's doctrinal chief

By  Junno Arocho Esteves, Catholic News Service
  • February 1, 2017

VATICAN CITY – The Vatican's doctrinal chief said some bishops are interpreting Pope Francis' document on marriage and family in a way that is not in accordance with Catholic doctrine.

"I don't like it. It is not correct that many bishops are interpreting Amoris Laetitia according to their own way of understanding the teaching of the Pope. This is not in line with Catholic doctrine," said Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In an interview published Feb. 1 with Italian magazine Il Timone, Cardinal Muller said the interpretation of Amoris Laetitia falls solely to the Pope or the Vatican's doctrinal congregation.

"To all these (bishops) who are talking too much, I urge them to study first the doctrine (of the councils) on the papacy and the episcopate," the cardinal said. "The bishop, as teacher of the Word, must himself be the first to be well formed so as not to fall into the risk of the blind leading the blind."

In their directives on how to apply the Pope's teachings in their dioceses, some bishops have indicated a possibility that after a serious process of accompaniment and discernment, some divorced and civilly remarried couples may be able to receive sacramental absolution and the Eucharist; other bishops have said the pastoral accompaniment and discernment should help those couples recognize they are still part of the church and encourage them to live without sexual relations if they want to receive the sacraments.

Cardinal Muller, who said in an interview Jan. 9 that the teaching in the Pope's exhortation is clear, told Il Timone that a contradiction between personal conscience and doctrine "is impossible" and that no circumstances exist where "an act of adultery does not constitute a mortal sin."

If a Catholic has not obtained an annulment of their sacramental marriage, entering into a new relationship would be considered adultery.

While the Pope's apostolic exhortation emphasizes the importance of the sacrament of reconciliation in accompanying penitents on the path to receiving the Eucharist, Cardinal Muller said that contrition, the resolve to sin no more and confession are requirements that must also be respected.

"This is the dogmatic doctrine of the church, independent of the fact that people may or may not accept it. We are called to help people – bit by bit – to gather the fullness of their relationship with God, but we cannot make concessions," he said.

Pope Francis' teaching on the family, he continued, is a help for those living in situations that are not in keeping with the "moral and sacramental principles" of the church, but want to comply.

Nevertheless, he added, the church cannot justify" irregular situations "that are not in accordance with divine will."

When asked if the abstinence requirement for divorced and remarried couples who cannot separate still stands, Cardinal Muller said that the requirement is "not dispensable."

Cardinal Muller highlighted the need for bishops to read Amoris Laetitia in its entirety rather than choosing and citing brief passages. He also said that the "task of priests and bishops is not to create confusion but to clarify."

"It is not Amoris Laetitia that has provoked a confusing interpretation, but rather some of its confused interpreters," the cardinal said. "We must all understand and accept the doctrine of Christ and of his church and, at the same time, be ready to help others to understand it and put in practice even in difficult situations."

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