ROME, February 4, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – In recent comments to the German newspaper Die Welt, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller has said that recent “targeted campaigns to discredit” the Catholic Church remind him of a “pogrom sentiment.” The remarks by Müller, the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, have enraged liberal Catholics, German politicians and garnered criticism from some Jewish groups.

Church teachings on the impossibility of ordaining women, homosexuality and priestly celibacy have come under increasing attack in North America and Europe media, the archbishop said earlier in the interview.

In response to a subsequent question about Cardinal George's famous remark that his successor may end up in prison for defending the faith, Archbiship Müller said, "campaigns which are specifically targeted at discrediting the Catholic Church in the U.S. and Europe have led to clerics in some sectors being publicly insulted in a vulgar way."

“An artificially created fury is growing here which sometimes reminds one of a pogrom sentiment,” he said, adding that such attacks “recall the struggles of totalitarian ideologies against Christianity.”

Leftist politicians and media were less than impressed with Müller statements.

German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper, “Comparisons with the Holocaust are tasteless when it comes to divergent opinions in our society about current issues such as the role of marriage, family and registered life partnerships.”

Claudia Roth of the far-left Green party called Müller’s statement “utterly unacceptable and dangerously forgetful of history”. Roth called it the utterances of “Vatican’s chief ideologist,” and said it sounded as though the “Catholic Church wants to beam back to the Middle Ages.”

Alois Glück, president of the Zentralkomitee der deutschen Katholiken (Central Committee of German Catholics) distanced himself from the comments, saying that although there were some “aggressive tones towards the Church and religious people” this is “thankfully not the general climate”. Glück complained instead of a “process of alienation” between Church leaders like Müller and their flocks for which a “self-critical reflection is necessary”. 

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Müller, before his appointment to the Vatican’s number three spot, was the head of the Regensburg diocese where he was widely depicted as a “hardline” conservative, despite his long-time sympathy for the Liberation Theologians of the 1970s. In the Die Welt interview, Müller said that though it is positive for bishops to be in discussion with laypeople about the nature of Church doctrine, the idea that the laity can demand that the Church change its teaching is beyond the pale. 

The Church, he said, “cannot accept relationships between people of the same sex in a way that means they will be treated as marriage.”

On priestly celibacy, a hot topic for the ultra-liberal German Catholic Church, the issue is closed, he added. “Priestly celibacy is the example and words of Jesus and found in the spiritual experience of the Latin Church, a particular expression.” Rumblings within the Catholic Church in Germany to change this practice, he said, come from misunderstandings of sexuality common to the times.

He also decried the growing notion of a “German Church” understood as separate and independent from Rome. He spoke instead of the Catholic Church in Germany, saying that it suffers not from “Roman centralism” but the fact that “we have too little unity.”

“The Church does not suffer from centralization, but the fact that the centrifugal forces are too strong.”

In a previous interview last year, Müller said that being Catholic at a “reduced price” was not possible, but one had to accept Catholic teaching in its entirety. People cannot create their own Church, “according to taste and in respect to the zeitgeist.”

Josef Schuster, vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, responded to the comments, saying that Müller does not know what a “pogrom” means. The archbishop, he said, as one of the highest dignitaries of the Catholic Church,  “would be well advised to immediately correct his statement publicly”.

But Jerusalem Rabbi David Rosen, the international director of the American Jewish Committee for Interreligious Affairs, has countered that the comments have been interpreted “maliciously”.

“Is no comparison with the atrocities of the Holocaust ever appropriate?” asked Rosen.

“It is also clear to any reasonable person,” he added, “It is also clear to any reasonable person who rereads the words of Archbishop Müller, however, that such a comparison was not his intention. Refer to the interview, this can only be the result of malicious intent.”

Müller made his comments in response to a growing movement among the “Boomer” generation of extreme-left clergy in Germany, Austria and elsewhere. Groups of clergy and laity have formed in Germany, Austria and Ireland who have publicly declared themselves independent of the Catholic Church’s authority and denied certain key doctrines regarding the nature of the priesthood and the Church.

However, in June last year, one of the Church’s most prominent prelates, the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schönborn, who had been ordered by Rome to bring Austrian group into line, told the Austrian Priests’ Initiative that they will not be required to renounce their anti-Catholic work.

The Initiative had issued a public letter titled, “A Call to Disobedience,” that demanded the Church change her teachings on priestly celibacy and homosexuality, and had been the subject of a direct papal rebuke from the pulpit of St. Peter’s Basilica. Schönborn sympathetically heard their grievances, even bringing a letter from the group to give to the pope personally, and told them they must renounce only the letter’s use of the word “disobedience.”

“You can easily remain a member of the Priests Initiative,” the cardinal’s spokesman said. “You must only distance yourself from the ‘Call to Disobedience’ in an appropriate way.”