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Cardinal Müller: This ‘synodal’ enterprise will not be the ‘Great Leap Forward’

The former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith responds to criticism he faced for comparing the synodal path to the 1933 Enabling Act of Adolf Hitler.
Thu Feb 6, 2020 - 1:28 pm EST
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February 6, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – In a new interview with LifeSiteNews, Cardinal Gerhard Müller presents a more detailed critique of the first synodal assembly that took place in Frankfurt at the beginning of February.

The German bishops, together with the Central Committee of German Catholics, are organizing the so-called “synodal path” that aims at questioning the Church's discipline and teachings on such important matters as female ordination, priestly celibacy, contraception, and homosexuality. For Cardinal Müller, it is clear that this “‘synodal’ enterprise will not be the ‘Great Leap Forward.’” 

He even goes so far as to say that bishops who promote heresy lose “the right to the ‘religious obedience of the faithful.’”

Cardinal Müller also refers back to the time of the Donatists in North Africa when he says in light of the German synodal path: “Already many bishops in the course of Church history have become heretical or led their parishes into schism, as for example the Donatists, who, with their majority, stood up to the Catholics in North Africa.”

In the new interview with LifeSite, the German cardinal and former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith also touches upon his recent February 3 comments to LifeSite which provoked much indignation among German progressivists including bishops. 

Müller had compared the process of the synodal path to the 1933 Enabling Act of Adolf Hitler, which rescinded the Weimar Constitution. 

Müller said, after calling the synodal path “suicidal”: “This is like the situation when the Weimar Constitution was repealed by the Enabling Act. A self-appointed assembly, which is not authorized by God nor by the people it is supposed to represent, rescinds the Constitution of the Church of Divine Right, which is based on the Word of God (in Scripture and Tradition).”

Basis for these comments were that the first synodal assembly ruled that even proposals directly opposing Church teaching may be sent to the general assembly of 230 synodal members. The structure of the synodal assembly is also such that the laity hold a majority among the members, thus undercutting the episcopal structure of authority as established in the Catholic Church.

Responding to the question as to why he used this historical comparison to the National Socialist seize of power, Cardinal Müller responds: “To put oneself in diametric opposition to the revealed doctrine of the Faith and then to quote the Holy Spirit is a crude block that has well earned its crude wedge. We are to 'hear what the Spirit says to the churches’ (Rev 2:11); but this is the ‘Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ’ (Rev 1:2) and not the vision of a ‘church’ conforming to society.”

Later on, the German prelate also indicates that he used a provocation in order to break through the wall of silence when it comes to substantial objections to the reform agenda of the synodal path. He says: “It is true that factual statements are skillfully sunk into the spiral of silence. One only has to touch the feeling of indignation and then the ritual is already running.”

In his new response, Cardinal Müller also reminds us that it is not about “power” in the Catholic Church, but, rather, about service and the salvation of souls. 

“People are not entitled to absolute power over people,” he explains. “But here it is about the service of salvation to fellow believers in the name of God. In the Church, not everything is about power, but about building up the Body of Christ. Do we want to serve or to rule? That is the question here.”

The German prelate insists that the bishops are tasked to “authentically interpret the Word of God, whether written or handed on (Dei Verbum 10) in relation to the other members of the Church, but by no means in opposition to them, since all are jointly responsible for the unadulterated transmission of the Faith (LG 12).”

According to Müller, it is very important to learn from history, thus the historical comparison. He hopes that the German bishops do exactly that, since part of the reason for the Western schism in the 16th century had been failures of the “Roman Curia and the German bishops” at the time. 

Finally, Cardinal Müller comes to the defense of his fellow German Cardinal, Rainer Woelki, who has been sharply criticized in Germany for distancing himself from the synodal path’s methods and substance. Comments Müller: “The verbalized violence against him [Woelki] and others is but an expression of intellectual helplessness and moral confusion 'of earthly-minded people who do not grasp what comes from the Spirit of God' (1 Cor 2:13).”

Further criticizing the German synodal path, he continues: “The whole approach of the ‘Synodal Path’ is ecclesiologically wrong. A wrong diagnosis spoils the best therapy.” 

Below is the full interview: 

LifeSite: Two days ago you made critical remarks about the first plenary assembly of the Synodal Path and called its process 'suicidal' and then compared it with the repeal of the Weimar Constitution by the Enabling Act. You referred here to the fact that the synodal assembly decided to accept decisions even if they went against Catholic doctrine. Could you explain your thoughts in more detail here? And: may one make such a comparison?

Cardinal Müller: More political power is constantly demanded for the lay functionaries in contrast to the sacramental authority – given by Christ to the bishops – or for more power for the local bishops' conferences (i.e. their apparatus) against the central power “Rome,” as if the Church had lost herself in the arena of media and political battles. Where earthly power is at stake, the separation of powers is absolutely necessary. People are not entitled to absolute power over people. But here it is about the service of salvation to fellow believers in the name of God. In the Church, not everything is about power, but about building up the Body of Christ. Do we want to serve or to rule? That is the question here. In the Church it is about “the knowledge of the One and Only God and the salvation of all people through Christ Jesus as the only mediator between God and men” (cf. 1 Tim 2:5). The Church is a sacrament of the salvation of the world and of Christ himself “here on earth as a visible structure and endowed with hierarchical organs” (Lumen Gentium 8). The common priesthood of all the faithful by virtue of Baptism and Confirmation and the hierarchical priesthood by virtue of ordination (to bishop, priest and deacon) cannot be set against each other in an attitude of class struggle with the aim of a classless society which was in reality the rule of functionaries in the name of an anonymous “people.”  Christians (as laity, religious and priests) are organically (not mechanically) related to one another in the whole life of the Body of Christ, insofar as they participate in the priesthood of Christ in a specific way (Lumen Gentium 10). The whole approach of the “Synodal Path” is ecclesiologically wrong. A wrong diagnosis spoils the best therapy. Instead of showing off emotional concern, the majority who are in the lead and in power should better acquaint themselves with Vatican II's understanding of the Church rather than simply referring to its “spirit,” otherwise the whole thing becomes a meeting of spirits [“Geistersitzung”]. To put oneself in diametric opposition to the revealed doctrine of the Faith and then to quote the Holy Spirit is a crude block that has well earned its crude wedge. We are to “hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev 2:11); but this is the “Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev 1:2) and not the vision of a “church” conforming to society. In the “Church of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Lumen Gentium 4) one cannot pitch the Christological and historical foundation of the Church against the action of Christ praesens [present] in the Holy Spirit.

LifeSite: You also noted that the Synodal Path is authorized “neither by God nor by men.” Could you explain this to us in more detail?

Cardinal Müller: As I said before: the “divine constitution” of the Church comes from Christ (LG 8) and not from His disciples. In conscience, it is of higher binding force than the constitution of a state or association by human law. Christ himself builds His Church upon Peter and it is not Peter and the other disciples who build their Church on a self-made image of Christ. The Apostles and the bishops as their successors did not seize political power in her and thus transformed her into human work, then took power away from the laity and thus suppressed them. Rather, they were once historically instituted by Christ through direct vocation and now sacramentally through consecration, empowered as servants of Christ to teach the People of God with His Word, to sanctify them with His sacraments and to lead His flock as shepherds (Lumen Gentium 18-29). As soon as they teach and decide something contrary to the Apostolic doctrine and the sacramental constitution of the Church, they have lost the right to the “religious obedience of the faithful” (Lumen Gentium 25; Dei Verbum 10). Already many bishops in the course of Church history have become heretical or led their parishes into schism, as for example the Donatists, who, with their majority, stood up to the Catholics in North Africa.

LifeSite: One of your criticisms of the Synodal Assembly is that it gives much power to lay people and that this undermines episcopal authority. What are you referring to here specifically in relation to the first assembly and what are the doctrinal foundations here? 

Cardinal Müller: The Pope and the bishops in communion were also entrusted with the Magisterium to “authentically interpret the Word of God, whether written or handed on (Dei Verbum 10) in relation to the other members of the Church, but by no means in opposition to them, since all are jointly responsible for the unadulterated transmission of the Faith[”] (LG 12). I do not criticize that the laity will claim too much power or that it is given to them, but, rather, that the nature and mission of the Church – the Body of Christ, and Temple of the Holy Spirit – is distorted with the categories of power and prestige by way of a self-secularization. “The Church of Christ is not an NGO” – Pope Francis keeps on repeating these words.

LifeSite: Do you think that Rome should stop this Synodal Path, and if so, why?

Cardinal Müller: The Roman Church, headed by the Pope, has the authority and responsibility, communicated by Christ, for the unity of the Church in the truth of Apostolic doctrine. At the beginning of the division of Christendom in the 16th century, which to this day has profoundly shaken the credibility of our Christian faith before the world, the German bishops and the Curia in Rome failed terribly, as Pope Hadrian VI himself confessed (Nuremberg Reichstag 1522/23). I hope that one does not repeat this historical mistake. Historical knowledge can help to avoid future dangers at an early stage in the light of historical experience, and not only to call for the lid after the child has already fallen into the well. The powerful German Cardinal Albrecht von Brandenburg at the time financed his illegal and immoral accumulation of offices with the sale of indulgences granted by Rome. Thus German money, the theological illiteracy of the German episcopate, the primacy of money and politics in Rome are partly to blame for the schism in the West and its tragic consequences to this day. Money rules the world, but it is also the devil's best means to confuse the Church. In order to counter secularization as a total and totalitarian understanding of self and world without God, there is only one effective antidote, the credible proclamation of the “Gospel of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God” (Mk 1:1) and a life in the imitation of Christ. The first word of St. Paul after his conversion at the beginning of his “proclamation of Jesus” was – by the way, not historically the reference to interesting trivia about a woman as the first Christian woman in Europe and about baptized slaves in Rome – but the confession: “This is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20).

LifeSite: You have been sharply rebuked in Germany for comparing the Synodal Path to Hitler's takeover of power. The indignation seems to be greater about this comparison than about the fact that German bishops are in the process of upsetting the entire Church hierarchy, as well as the sacramental and moral teachings of the Church, with serious consequences for many souls. How would you comment on this phenomenon?

Cardinal Müller: It is typically German that one does not want to learn anything from history. Our “leftists” in Church and society identify themselves through their double standards and their brilliant inability to respond with arguments to objections. The incessant personal denunciations of those who do not belong to their ideological camp as arch-conservative, fundamentalist, and right-wing, wants to intimidate, but is in reality only the playing off of their power against reason. In any case, this “synodal” enterprise will not be the “Great Leap Forward.” Perhaps this comparative non-comparison in Chinese metaphors awakens her deep-seated sense of humor.

LifeSite: You have made a strong comparison. Did this happen because you recognized the seriousness of the situation and because the welfare of many souls is at stake? 

Cardinal Müller: It is true that factual statements are skillfully sunk into the spiral of silence. One only has to touch the feeling of indignation and the ritual is already running. After all, I know most of the actors personally and know how the network works.  With all the madness of commissioned works, citation cartels, the satisfaction of sensationalism, the money of well-paid articles, the personal political intrigues and slander against outsiders of the cartel, one only ridicules to outsiders the fine speeches of brotherhood and mercy, of synodality and dialogue, thus discouraging the sincerely believing Christians.

LifeSite: Cardinal Woelki was sharply attacked when he distanced himself from the first synodal assembly. You are informed that you are no longer an acceptable discussion partner. It seems that the preservers of the Faith are marginalized, just as they were in the minority at the synodal assembly. Do you feel reminded here of other moments in Church history?

Cardinal Müller: Cardinal Woelki is a bishop ordained by Christ in the Holy Spirit and, as a Cardinal of the Roman Church, is the closest collaborator of the Pope in the responsibility for the universal Church. The verbalized violence against him and others is but an expression of intellectual helplessness and moral confusion “of earthly-minded people who do not grasp what comes from the Spirit of God” (1 Cor 2:13).

In view of the excommunicating claims to power of such heroes, who could hardly pass a dogmatic test, I can only think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who, in 1943, summed up against stupidity: “Never again will we try to convince the stupid with the help of reasons, it is useless and dangerous.” (DBW 8, 26).  


  catholic, gerhard müller, synodal path

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