Skip to main content

Extensive Interview with Cardinal Müller: "I'm loyal to the Pope, not an adulator"

IL FOGLIO interviews Cardinal Müller: the Church cannot be sustained by the applause of the world

Matteo Matuzzi, the Vatican reporter for Il Foglio, in an exclusive interview with the now former Prefect of the Congregation for the Faith. “I am loyal to the Pope, but not an adulator”, declares the German prelate. He also says what he thinks about the Dubia: “I don’t understand why serene discussion can’t be started on the Dubia.  I’ve only heard insults so far.”

Matteo Matzuzzi
Il Foglio
July 21st 2017

Rome.  The truth about the last audience between the former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Pope Francis; the divisions in the Church after the Synod. “The Magisterium  does not have the authority to correct Jesus Christ, if anything it’s the opposite”.
***

Your Eminence, do you have any idea why the Pope decided to remove you as Head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith? “No, I don’t know, because the Pope didn’t tell me. He just informed me that my mandate would not be renewed. There have been many speculations in the mass-media recently, and I would say that the nomination of the new Secretary of the Congregation (Monsignor Giacomo Morandi) made public last Tuesday, is a key in understanding these maneuvers. 

Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Muller is serene;  German theologian and Prefect for five years of what was once the Holy Office, nominated by Benedict XVI, confirmed by Francis, who, even so, told him of his decision to release him of his office last June 10th.  With Il Foglio he retraces once again the stages that led to his removal: from the controversies on the interpretation of the post-Synod Exhortation Amoris laetitia and,  more in general, he reflects on the (bad) state of religion in Europe.  Yet there was talk of his discharge for some time, so much so, that there were even speculations from the media of eventual diocesan relocations for the editor of Joseph Ratzinger’s opera omnia.


 “I have always been serene” Muller responds: “I think I have fulfilled my duties, even more than was necessary. Nobody doubted my theological competence. I have always been loyal to the Pope, as our Catholic Faith and our ecclesiology demand.  This loyalty has always been accompanied by theological competence, so it has never been loyalty reduced to pure adulation. And this because “the Magisterium needs competent theological counsels, as indeed is well described in Lumen gentium no. 25 and the gift of the Holy Spirit provides in a clear way through which the bishops and the Pope as Head of the Episcopal College act. However, we are all men and we need counsels; the content of the Faith cannot be explained without a clear foundation of Biblical studies.  The same thing goes - he continues  - for the development of dogma. Nobody may elaborate on a magisterial document without knowing the Fathers of the Church and the great dogmatic decisions on moral theology of the various councils. The Congregation of the Doctrine for the Faith exists for this reason and is the most important Congregation in the Roman Curia. It has two theological committees in addition to a consulting body.  In short, it has a clear task and great responsibility with regard to the orthodoxy of the Church”.

Is it true, as was written in some places, that your last conversation with Francis was tense and cold?  “These are totally false reconstructions. The Pope simply informed me of his decision of not renewing my mandate. Nothing more. It was a work meeting;  normal, at the end of which the Holy Father informed me of his decision. The next day I was discharged.  However, some hypotheses were put forth about the reasons for the rupture and besides the presumed slowness in pursuing the cases of clerical abuse, several information agencies wrote of [my]  excessive mass- media exposure, often  counteracting  the Pope.

A different  modus operandi compared with that of his two immediate predecessors. The Cardinal smiles: “It seems to me it could be said that Cardinal Ratzinger’s presence in the mass-media was very evident, even with his important interview-books.  This is part of the duty of the Prefect, which is not just pure and simple bureaucratic work.  I was known also before as a theologian, with numerous publications. And anyway, if I may say so, even the Pope uses the means of interviews.  The fact is that today we must use modern instruments of communication. Young people don’t always read books and newspapers. They use the social network, the internet.  And if we want to promote the faith – which is - if I remember right - the main task  - we have to enter into dialogue with them on this platform. I never spoke of my thought, of myself in these interviews – but of the Faith! And then - if I remember right - I am a bishop and a bishop has the obligation of spreading the Gospel, not only in his homilies, but also through scientific discussions with his contemporaries. “We, - he adds, “we are not a restricted religion, a club. We are a Church in dialogue, the religion of the Word of God, which Christ Himself consigned to His apostles, exhorting us to preach and teach it to the entire world.”

Very well, but some intra ecclesiam tension  exists, this can be verified quite easily. Take for instance, Amoris laetitia, the document produced after the two Synods on family morals. His Eminence, Christoph Schònborn, also a theologian and inspirer of the liberal solution, recently reiterated how his position was the opposite of Muller’s.  Well, then?Perhaps Cardinal Schònborn has a vision contrary to mine, but perhaps he has a position contrary also to what he had before, seeing as he has changed it.  I think that the words of Jesus Christ must always be the foundation of the Church’s doctrine.  And nobody - until yesterday - could say that this was not true. It is clear: we have the irreversible revelation of Christ. And the Church has been entrusted with the depositum fidei, i.e. the entire content of revealed truth. The Magisterium does not have the authority to correct Jesus Christ.  It is He, if anyone, Who corrects us. And we are obliged to obey Him; we must be faithful to the doctrine of the apostles, clearly developed in the spirit of the Church.”

Forgive me, but why then did you also vote for the report in the small group of the German language, written by Schonborn himself and approved by Walter Kasper?  “The Synod said clearly that individual bishops are responsible for this path, to bring people to full Sacramental grace”, responds Cardinal Muller to Il Foglio.This interpretation exists, without doubt, but I have never changed my private and subjective position. Yet as bishop and cardinal I represented the Church’s doctrine, which I know in its fundamental developments, from the Council of Trent to Gaudium et spes,  the  two guidelines.  This is Catholic, the rest belongs to other beliefs. I don’t understand – he explains – how they can harmonize different theological and dogmatic positions with the clear words of Jesus and St. Paul.  Both made clear that you cannot marry a second time if your legitimate spouse is still alive.”

Do you understand the reasons that brought Cardinals Burke, Brandmuller, Caffarra and the now deceased Meinser to present to the Pope five Dubia about the Exhortation?I don’t understand why a calm and serene discussion hasn’t [yet] begun. I don’t understand where the obstacles are. Why allow only tensions to emerge, even publically? Why not organize a meeting to talk openly about these themes, which are fundamental? Until now I’ve only heard invectives and insults against these cardinals. But this is not the manner nor tone to move forward. We are all brothers in the Faith and I cannot accept talk about categories like “a friend of the Pope” or “ an enemy of the Pope.  For a cardinal it is absolutely impossible to be against the PopeNonetheless – the former Prefect of the Holy office continues – we bishops have the right, I would say the divine right, to discuss freely.  I would like to bring to mind, that at the first Council, all of the disciples spoke frankly, even favoring controversies.  In the end, Peter gave his dogmatic explanation, which was for the entire Church.  But only afterwards, at the end of a long lively discussion. Councils have never been harmonious gatherings.

The point is whether Amoris laetitia is or not a form of discontinuity with respect to previous teaching. Is it or is it not?  “The Pope – says Muller – has many times declared that there is no change in the dogmatic doctrine of the Church, and this is evident,  as it would also be impossible.  Francis wanted to attract these people again, who find themselves in irregular situations with regard to matrimony;  that is, how to get them closer to the fonts of sacramental grace.  There are ways - also  canonical.  In any case, those who want to receive Communion and find themselves in a state of mortal sin, must first receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which consists in heartfelt contrition, with a firm purpose of not sinning anymore, in the confession of sins and in the conviction of acting according to the will of God.  And nobody can modify this sacramental order, which was fixed by Jesus Christ.  If anything, we may change the external rites, but not this central nucleus. Ambiguity in Amoris laetitia? There may be and I don’t know whether it was intended.  The ambiguities if they exist, are connected with the material complexity of the situation in which the men of today find themselves, the culture they are immersed in. Nowadays, practically all of the fundamentals and essential elements for populations that superficially call themselves Christian are no longer comprehensible.  From here – the Cardinal adds – the problems arise.  We have two challenges ahead; first of all: to clarify what the redeeming will of God is and question ourselves about the way of helping pastorally these brothers and go on the path indicated by Jesus.”

The receiving of Communion by the divorced and remarried was an old request from the German Episcopate. “It is true, there were three German bishops: Kasper, Lehmann and Saier, who launched the proposal at the beginning of the 1990s.  But the Congregation of the Doctrine for the Faith rejected it definitively. Everyone agreed that it was necessary to discuss it again and till now nobody has abrogated the document.”  

With regard to the German Church: it is from there that the strongest winds of change have come over the last three years, with Cardinal Marx, who said [publically] in front of a microphone that “Rome will never tell us what to do or not to do in Germany”.  So what’s the situation today in Germany?  “Dramatic”, immediately responds Cardinal Muller, who had been the Bishop of Regensburg, prior to being called to Rome by Benedict XVI.   “Active participation is very much diminished, also the transmission of the Faith not as a theory but as an encounter with Jesus Christ has waned.  Religious vocations the same. These are the signs, factors from which we can see the situation of the Church, but it is all of Europe now that is experiencing a process of forced de-Christianization., which goes way beyond mere secularization.  It is the de-Christianization of the entire anthropological base, with man strictly defined without God and without transcendence.  Religion is experienced as a sentiment, not as adoration of God, Creator and Savior. In this grand context, such factors are not good for the transmission of a living Christian Faith and for this it is necessary not to waste our energies in internal fights, in clashes  against each other, with the so-called progressives who are striving for victory by driving out the so-called conservatives.  If we reason like this – says Muller – we give the idea that the Church is something strongly politicized. Our a priori is not to be  a conservative or progressive. Our a priori is Jesus.  Is believing in the Resurrection, in the Ascension and the Return of Christ on The Last Day traditionalist or progressivist faith? No, this is simply the Truth.  Our categories must be truth and justice, not the categories that go according to the spirit of the times.”

The Cardinal calls the present situationgravesince  “sacramental praxis, oration and prayer have been reduced.  All the elements of the living faith, the people’s faith, have collapsed.  And the drama is that there is no sense anymore of the need for God, for the sacred and visible word of Jesus.  Life is lived as if God doesn’t exist.  Responding to all of this is our great challenge.  We are not propaganda agents of our own truths, but witnesses to the redeeming truth.  Not an idea of the faith, but reality experienced with the presence of Christ in the world.”  

Your Eminence, do you think that even inside the Church there is a certain compliance with the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the times?Emeritus Pope Benedict spoke about the spirit of the times, but St. Paul had already discussed the Spirit of God and the spirit of the world. This contrast is very important and ought to be known. The affirmation for the Faith, the Church and Bishops, is not given by the applause of an uninformed mass. It is something else:  our work is appreciated and approved when we are able to convince a person to offer themselves entirely to Jesus Christ,  putting their own existence in the hands of Jesus.  In his First Letter, St. Peter speaks of Jesus Christ, Shepherd of souls.  Is there talk today of responsibility for culture and the environment.? Yes, but we have many competent lay people for this.  People who have responsibility in politics; we have governments and parliaments, and so on.  Jesus did not entrust the secular government to the apostles.  Bishop-Princes existed  centuries ago, and it wasn’t a good thing for the Church.”

With regard to de-Christianization, we asked Cardinal Muller what he thought of “The Benedict Option”, the theme launched some years ago by the writer Rod Dreher, who hypothesizes a way to live as Christians in the un-Christianized West or, as the former Prefect of the Doctrine for the Faith says, de-Christianized.  The essential thing to say, explains Muller, “is that Christians cannot go back into the catacombs. The missionary dimension is fundamental for the Catholic Church. We cannot avoid the present battles. Christ said that He hadn’t come into the world to obtain a superficial peace, but to challenge [us], until Christians win graces to live following the path that He indicated. And we have to do so when conditions, like those today, are not favorable.”

Is it correct to say that under the current Papacy the European-centered vision of the Church has diminished?  “The center of the Church is Christ, and where He is, that’s the center. These reflections on the Euro-centeredness of the Church are oriented only towards giving it a politicized reading. Instead of speaking of the Gospel or Catholic Doctrine we indulge in strategies and theories. Culturally it is true. Europe has had a great role in the world, with all the positive and negative elements that it attained. Among the negative ones I mention colonialism; among the positive ones, the philosophy of reality, metaphysics and law.”

One last question, on a matter that saw Cardinal Muller in a leading role - the hypothesized reconciliation with the Fraternity of St. Pius X, the community founded by the French Bishop, Marcel Lefebvre:The reconciliation of this group with the Catholic Church is absolutely necessary. Jesus did not want separations. But what are the conditions of experiencing full communion? I think that the conditions have to be the same for everyone. We have the profession of faith, one cannot choose what to accept and what not to accept. Everyone must profess it. All of the Ecumenical Councils have to be accepted, likewise the living Magisterium of the Church. Interpreting Vatican II as a re-foundation of the Church is an absurdity. The abuses, ideologies and misunderstandings are most certainly not a consequence of Vatican II.”

[Translation: Francesca Romana]