VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Just because many Catholics do not understand the church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage, that does not mean the church can change that teaching, said Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Speaking to reporters Feb. 25 — just days after the College of Cardinals held a two-day meeting to discuss the pastoral care of families — he said the widespread lack of understanding among Catholics about church doctrine was “lamentable.”

However, just because people don’t understand Jesus’ word doesn’t mean it can or should be changed, he said. “It would be paradoxical if the church said, ‘Since not everyone knows the truth, the truth isn’t obligatory for the future.'”


Not allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics access to the Eucharist “is not about my opinion,” Cardinal Muller said; it reflects a long history of church teaching and doctrine.

After the Archdiocese of Freiburg, Germany, said it would make it easier for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion, Cardinal Muller wrote an article last summer — published in a German newspaper and in the various language editions of the Vatican newspaper — countering any expectations that the Catholic Church would relax its discipline on receiving the sacraments.

Pastoral attention to Catholics cannot go against doctrine, the cardinal told journalists Feb. 25.

“Doctrine and pastoral care are the same thing. Jesus Christ as pastor and Jesus Christ as teacher with his word are not two different people,” he said.

While Pope Francis has called for new pastoral approaches that are creative, courageous and loving, Cardinal Muller said whatever those new approaches are, they cannot go against the will of Jesus.

The sacrament of marriage will remain as an indissoluble bond between husband and wife and that teaching cannot be changed, he said. Any new approaches “must deepen knowledge” and people’s understanding of that teaching.

Many Catholics “think marriage is just a festive gathering celebrated in church, but the spouses are giving their word,” promising to fully live in each other, in body and soul, in faith and in God’s grace, he said.

“There is no solution, since church dogma isn’t just some theory created by some theologians;” it represents “the word of Jesus Christ, which is very clear. I cannot change church doctrine.”

Cardinal Muller spoke to reporters minutes before a conference to present his new book on poverty. Sitting next to him at the book presentation was Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, with whom he has disagreed publicly over the church’s approach to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics. The topic of marriage did not arise during the presentation.