Semiduplex

Müller’s latest on “Amoris laetitia”

We have posted several times about Rocco Buttiglione’s arguments concerning Amoris laetitia. Buttiglione, a confidant of John Paul II, has come out against the critics of the exhortation, including the cardinals who submitted dubia, on several occasions. It seems that his various essays have been collected into a book. Of great interest is the fact that Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller, former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and a cardinal without portfolio at the moment, has written a preface for the book. The preface has been excerpted at Vatican Insider. The relevant passage is this:

The formal element of sin is the departure from God and his holy will, but there are different levels of gravity depending on the type of sin. Spirit’s sins can be more serious than flesh’s sins. Spiritual pride and avarice introduce into religious and moral life a more profound disorder than impurity resulting from human weakness. The apostasy of faith, the denial of the divinity of Christ weighs more than theft and adultery; adultery among married people weighs more than among the unmarried and, the adultery of the faithful, who know God’s will, weighs more than that of the unbelievers (cf. Thomas Aquinas, th. S. I-II q. 73; II-II q). Moreover, for the imputabilty of guilt in God’s judgment, one must consider subjective factors such as full knowledge and deliberate consent in the serious lack of respect for God’s commandments, which has as a consequence the loss of sanctifying grace and of the ability of faith to become effective in charity (cf. Thomas Aquinas S. th. II-II, q. 10 a. 3 ad 3).

This does not mean, however, that now Amoris laetitia art. 302 supports, in contrast to Veritatis splendor 81, that, due to mitigating circumstances, an objectively bad act can become subjectively good (it is dubium n. 4 of the cardinals). The action in itself bad (the sexual relationship with a partner who is not the legitimate spouse) does not become subjectively good due to circumstances. In the assessment of guilt, however, there may be mitigating circumstances and the ancillary elements of an irregular cohabitation similar to marriage can also be presented before God in their ethical value in the overall assessment of judgment (for example, the care for children in common, which is a duty deriving from natural law). 

(Emphasis supplied.) This is essentially the argument Buttiglione himself has propounded, which is essentially that Amoris laetitia implements the traditional moral analysis, particularly with respect to deliberate consent.  There is a more interesting passage, however, when Müller goes on to argue:

In paragraph 305 and in particular in note 351, which is the subject of a passionate discussion, the theological argument suffers from a certain lack of clarity which could and should have been avoided by referring to the dogmatic definitions of the Council of Trent and Vatican II on the justification, the sacrament of penance and the appropriate way of receiving the Eucharist. What is at issue is an objective situation of sin which, due to mitigating circumstances, is subjectively not imputed. This sounds similar to the Protestant principle of simul jus et peccator, but it is certainly not intended in that sense. If the second bond were valid before God, the marriage relationships of the two partners would not constitute a serious sin but rather a transgression against ecclesiastical public order for having irresponsibly violated the canonical rules and therefore a minor sin. This does not obscure the truth that the relationship more uxorio with a person of the other sex, who is not the legitimate spouse before God, constitutes a serious fault against chastity and justice due to one’s spouse.

(Emphasis supplied.) One argument, even in the context of the internal forum solution, which Müller more or less advances earlier in the preface, is that the public scandal of communion by bigamists is independent of their culpability in the second union. That is, even if they are really not gravely culpable, the fact that they are publicly in a second union is an independent basis for denying communion. Müller seems to respond to that contention, arguing instead that they have committed only the “minor sin” of “irresponsibly violat[ing] the canonical rules.” On the other hand, Müller doesn’t want to follow that argument all the way home:

The sacraments have been established for us, because we are corporeal and social beings, and not so that God may need them to communicate grace. Precisely for this reason it is possible that someone receives the justification and mercy of God, forgiveness of sins and new life in faith and charity even if for external reasons one cannot receive the sacraments or has a moral obligation not to receive them publicly in order to avoid a scandal.

Cardinal Müller was shut out of the Amoris laetitia drafting process by all accounts. Indeed, we think in one or another of his recent, frank interviews, he has said as much. However, it is hard to see why in the light of this essay. His argument seems to be essentially the argument implicit in Amoris laetitia: sometimes it is not subjectively a grave sin to live more uxorio in a second marriage, even if adultery is objectively a grave sin; and, moreover, it is possible for the second marriage to be a true marriage even if that fact cannot be established judicially. This is not hugely surprising, given that Müller was part of the German-speaking small group at the 2015 Synod, which came out unanimously largely in favor of the internal forum solution. (Cardinal Marx, we recall, took some measure of credit for brokering a solution that got both Walter Kasper and Gerhard Müller to sign on.) Nevertheless, it is strange to see this essay after a year or so of media portrayals of Müller as one of the cardinals resisting the Pope’s agenda of mercy.