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December 2015

Fatal Compromise

The Benedict-Schönborn-Müller Nexus



It seems that, at the end of the Synod of Bishops on the Family in Rome, a sort of compromise between Cardinals Gerhard Ludwig Müller the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Walter Kasper took place concerning the possible admittance of “remarried” divorcees to Holy Communion. While Cardinal Müller always upheld the traditional teaching of the Church in this matter namely, that those objectively living in the state of adultery are not allowed to receive Holy Communion it was the German Cardinal Kasper who proposed to loosen this rule somewhat, with the help of an examination of conscience and an act of repentance on the side of the “remarried” divorcees; without, however, urging them or requiring them also to leave their sinful state.

The Internal Forum

The compromise which was agreed upon and attained between Cardinals Müller and Kasper and which thereby facilitated its actual entry into the Final Report of the Synod concentrated, though in somewhat vague terms, on an access to the Internal Forum in which the “remarried” divorcees were thereby to discern their specific individual situation and their own contribution to the failure of their first marriage, in order that they might be able, and permitted, to be more fully integrated “into the life of Church.”

Even though access Holy Communion is not specifically mentioned in this language of compromise, the concept of an Internal Forum, in its original meaning and context, did include the consequential permission to receive the Eucharist. Therefore, paragraphs 84 to 86 of the Final Report of the Synod now remain especially open to speculation and ambiguity, as Cardinal Raymond Burke himself has recently stated, in an interview with the Rome correspondent, Edward Pentin:

The section entitled “Discernment and Integration” (paragraphs 84-86) is, however, of immediate concern, because of its lack of clarity in a fundamental matter of the faith: the indissolubility of the marriage bond which both reason and faith teach all men.

Moreover, the Jesuit theologian, Professor Michael Sievernich, who had also been a participant of the German-speaking group of the Synod of Bishops at the invitation of the pope himself now publicly interprets this part of the Final Report in a more liberalising way. In a 29 October interview with the official website of the German Bishops' Conference, he says the following, after first describing this concept of the Internal Forum:

Thereby [after this examination of conscience], also civilly divorced and remarried persons who are, in any event, part of the Church and who are not excommunicated, can integrate themselves again more fully into the ecclesial and sacramental life. Perhaps one child showed the way, concerning whom one of the synod fathers actually spoke: A child who had just received his own First Holy Communion then went to his parents, who are remarried divorcees, and shared with them the Host, the Body of Our Lord. (My translation.)

A Benedictine Compromise?

In two recent articles, the well-informed Vatican expert, Sandro Magister, points out that this concept of the Internal Forum with its ambiguity in its applications was already once seriously considered by Pope Benedict himself. Magister says:

It was at this point that the “Germanicus” circle, dominated by Kasper, made the decision to fall back on a minimal solution, which at that point was seen as the only one that could be presented in the [plenary] assembly with a chance of success: that of entrusting to the “internal forum,” meaning to the confessor together with the penitent, the “discernment” of cases in which to allow “access to the sacraments.”

It is a solution that Benedict XVI himself had not ruled out, if only as a hypothesis still in need of “further study and clarification.” And in fact it was even endorsed in the “Germanicus” circle by Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith and a
staunch Ratzingerian.

In the draft of the synod’s final document, in the three paragraphs on the divorced and remarried, the “German” solution is transcribed en bloc. But with a few key cuts, the only way it could pass the test of the vote [at the final plenary assembly]. (, 30/10/15)

When this compromise between Müller and Kasper first came to light, my husband at once wondered: “Did Cardinal Müller somehow consult with Pope Benedict about this possible compromise? After all, Cardinal Müller is the current editor of all the collected writings of Pope Benedict and of the earlier
Joseph Ratzinger.”

As Marco Ansaldo reported on Monday, 26 October, in the Italian newspaper La Rebbublica, there is a possibility that it was Cardinal Christoph Schönborn a proponent of the liberalising faction at the Synod, who was himself also the head of the German-speaking group and even a former student of Joseph Ratzinger who, in a recent meeting with the former pope during the last Synod week at the monastery Mater Ecclesiae, was able to convince Pope Benedict that he should influence Cardinal Müller in favour of a “minimal solution” (in Magister's words). It was indeed Cardinal Müller's surprising support of this “Internal Forum” approach, as expressed in the third and last report of the German-speaking discussion group and which had already been unanimously accepted by all the Germanicus members – which then opened up further this form of finally accepted compromise.

As Sandro Magister pointed out in an earlier 27 October article, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger himself explored the idea of an Internal Forum in 1998 and he republished this same idea as pope in 2011:

So then, in the German circle during the last week of the synod there was unanimity on precisely this last hypothesis that Ratzinger in his day presented as a study case: that of entrusting to the “internal forum” i.e., meaning to the confessor together with the penitent the “discernment” of cases in which to allow “access to the sacraments.”

Magister ends this consideration with a reference to the fact that “there was also [in the German-speaking group] Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and a staunch Ratzingerian.”

Regrettably, I myself have not yet been able to receive an official statement from Cardinal Müller's office in Rome with regard to this whole question. However, several well-informed sources in Rome have told me that there is a reasonable foundation for believing that the well-respected Vatican expert, Marco Ansaldo, is reliably correct with his recent story about the persuasive place of Pope Benedict XVI in forging an acceptable compromise between Cardinals Müller and Kasper.

I was finally also able to receive a further confirmation from Marco Ansaldo himself, who generously told me about his source whom he considers to be “very reliable.”

According to the information of a German cleric who spoke with Mr. Ansaldo, Pope Benedict and Cardinal Schönborn, when they met for lunch during the last week of the Synod, spoke about the then-ongoing Synod. Cardinal Schönborn presented Pope Benedict with the possible compromise between the Cardinals Müller and Kasper. “Pope Benedict then gave a sort of benediction to this agreement,” said Ansaldo. “Cardinal Müller understood the message, and he and Cardinal Kasper met to find a solution [with regard to the “remarried” divorcees], which was based upon the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas,” continued the Vatican expert.

Special Relationship

Marco Ansaldo also pointed out that no one has denied this story since he reported it publicly on 26 October (more than ten days ago, at the time of our discussion). When I also then asked him whether he knew if Cardinal Müller and Pope Benedict had had any contact during the Synod concerning these matters, Ansaldo responded:

I have no information about a possible meeting during the Synod between Cardinal Müller and Benedict XVI. But, of course, we all know the special relationship between the two, and I think that Cardinal Müller understands every single signal that could come from Joseph Ratzinger’s behaviour.


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