Editor’s Note: Bishop Andreas Laun is Auxiliary Bishop of Salzburg, Austria. He is also a Professor of Moral Theology at the Philosophical-Theological Faculty of Heiligenkreuz, Austria. He is a member of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales.
Maike Hickson (MH): You are one of the signatories of the Filial Appeal “Declaration of Fidelity to the Church’s Unchangeable Teaching on Marriage and to Her Uninterrupted Discipline” which has now already found more than 30,000 supporters. Which aspects of the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia are in your eyes problematic and open to contradictory interpretations?
Bishop Andreas Laun (AL): I have read the concerns of the Four Cardinals, and I agree with them! Additionally, I know personally especially Cardinals Meisner and Caffarra and know how competent they are! With them, I am in the best company!
MH: Do you see any way for the “remarried” divorcees to receive the Sacraments without their first changing their way of life, and then continuing to live as brother and sister?
AL: “Unfortunately,” no! I would like to name for them an easier path. But it is all about truth and not about my feelings. This objective question has nothing to do with mercy. Could St. John the Baptist have “mercifully allowed” Herod to have his brother’s wife? The spiritual guide whose importance Pope Francis so much emphasizes has the role of a physician who makes a diagnosis but who then does not also render a true service to the patient when he only glosses over this illness – as he would prefer to have it – even though he knows of the illness’ dangers.
MH: Now, four Cardinals – Walter Brandmüller, Joachim Meisner, Carlo Caffarra and Raymond Leo Burke – have presented to Pope Francis five dubia concerning Amoris Laetitia and – since they did not receive an answer – they also have now published them. The four cardinals have been criticized for it and some people have accused them of a lack of loyalty. How do you yourself judge the conduct of these four cardinals?
AL: The conduct of the cardinals is a service to the teaching of the Church! In history, there are many examples of criticism also of a pope. However, it has to follow the “morality of criticism”: that is, to say it politely, objectively, justly, born in love, and with much understanding for the one who is to be criticized because each criticism also hurts more or less.
MH: If it were offered to you, would you also sign these dubia yourself?
AL: Yes, after re-reading them, and perhaps also after consulting at least one of the cardinals, I would sign them!
MH: Do you know other cardinals or bishops who have sympathy with these four cardinals, but who do not dare to say so publicly?
AL: No, but it would be a certain shame if, out of fear, someone would not then speak! As Saint Gregory the Great said, silence can be a sin, and Otto von Habsburg said that cowardice is one of the main vices of our time!
MH: In your eyes, is it permitted for a cardinal or a bishop to express criticism of the Holy Father in public, and, if yes, under what conditions? Which goods are being weighed in such a step – which must be weighed carefully, of course?
AL: Each person has the right to such a critique: if the pope, for example, were to talk about themes that are not part of his competence. More specifically: naturally, a pope can raise his voice about all possible themes, but it should remain clear as to where he speaks as pope or where he speaks merely as a person just as everybody else: for example concerning climate development, or, rather, concerning a question of Faith or Morals! For example, at one time, Pius XII spoke in a very competent way about bees, but, of course, for this [knowledge] he could not also demand the consent and assent of Faith. In some cases, criticism can also pertain to the personal life of a pope, as it was the case with St. Catherine of Siena. The pope at the time was humble enough to accept her [chastening] criticism!
MH: In the face of a great moral crisis within and external to the Catholic Church, where a great number of people do not any longer follow Christian morality – do you think that it is right to soften and lower the Catholic moral standard? Or, should one, rather, call people to convert, after first showing them the negative consequences of a morally disordered life?
AL: The pope cannot lower or raise a moral standard – just as he cannot change a physical law. Moral laws are Divine Laws – or, if they are merely positive human laws, they are not part of morality, as such. For a good and Catholic moral teaching, it is important to make understandable the reference to God and to show that Catholic morality is – to speak in images – the “keeping human beings appropriately to their own species” – as distinct from other animals – in freedom and on the basis of understanding!
MH: How should the Catholic Church lead this discussion and where is there at all any more present an attentiveness to the well-being of the children – in the question of marriage, as well as in the question of pro-life issues? Does the Word of Christ – “Let the Little Ones come to Me” – inspire and sustain any meaning at all any more today?
AL: The best catechesis and teaching consists in referring to good examples and stories which help us to read in the right way (St. Paul!) the Scripture of God within one’s heart. Jesus did not give presentations and did not write in complicated books; rather, he provoked, especially in a personal dialogue, one’s own thinking and one’s own understanding. Concerning the issue of understanding and insight, I mention here the precarious example of contraception: Whoever has understood how contraception also damages love, and whoever has made this experience with the help of the Church’s counsel, also now knows why Paul VI wrote Humanae Vitae and how good a life according to this teaching is for any love, even if it is, at the same time, hard to live out. But, something like this also exists in other situations where one follows the Commandment of God