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Cardinal Gerhard Müller EWTN / YouTube screen grab

October 28, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – In light of the recent and controversial words by Pope Francis endorsing civil unions for same-sex couples, Cardinal Gerhard Müller explained in a new interview today in Italy the nature of the papacy and the limits of its authority. He insisted that the Pope has to serve God and His teaching, adding that there are moments where Catholics “have to criticize many ideas and actions of individual Popes.” Such questioning, however, does not lead to “questioning the divine mission and mandate of the Pope as Successor of Peter,” the Cardinal explained.

His words can be helpful for many Catholics who are facing the situation that they have to contradict their own Pope.

Speaking with the Italian newspaper La Verità, about the recent papal words about same-sex civil unions, Cardinal Müller pointed out that these “private pastoral musings” of the Pope are “not a locus theologicus” and have “no authority for a Catholic Christian.”

“The Faith stems from God's Revelation and not from the manipulative wording and framing presented by theological and political influencers,” the former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated.

He also insisted that “marriage is a life-long union between a man and a woman,” adding that “any sexual union outside of marriage is objectively a grave sin.”

In a new documentary film that premiered in Italy on 21 October, Pope Francis called for homosexual civil unions to be legalized. Speaking of homosexual civil unions, he said, “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered. I stood up for that.”

Further commenting on these words coming from a Pope, Cardinal Müller points out that the papal limits have been defined by the Council of Florence, as well as the First and the Second Vatican Council, and that “the authority of the papal teaching and governing office is not based on the limited personality of any occupier of the Throne of Peter.”

Starting with Peter, the prelate explained, the authority of the Pope is based on the “divine mission.” “His authority which calls for the religious obedience of all Catholics,” Müller went on to say, “is merely to profess that which was revealed to him by the heavenly Father: namely, that Jesus is not just some kind of prophet or moral model, but, rather, the Son of God (Mt 16:16),” that is, “the Son of the Most Holy Trinity, Who has revealed to us His Father (Mt 11:27) and to Whom – as the Son – all power in heaven and on earth is given.”

“The Apostles and their successors,” Cardinal Müller continued, “only teach that which has been given to them by Jesus.”

In this sense, religious obedience is here a part “of the supernatural Faith, which is directly aimed at God who does not and cannot deceive.” Such teaching excludes then a “blind obedience toward man, as it is known in totalitarian systems and their personality cult of their leaders.”

When asked by La Verità about the fact that with his new statement, the Pope actually contradicts a magisterial text issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2003 which ruled that the Church cannot recognize civil unions of same-sex couples, the German prelate explained:

First of all, the Pope has to be in accordance with the Revelation, as it is to be found and witnessed in Holy Scripture and in the Apostolic Tradition. Then he also has to recognize all dogmatic decisions of the previous councils and popes. Neither the current Pope nor his predecessors can impose their own subjective beliefs (on world politics, the education of children, or the art of cooking) upon the entire Church.

Cardinal Müller made it clear that “one can and must criticize many ideas and actions of individual popes without questioning the mission and mandate of the pope as the Successor of St. Peter.” Even though Jesus made St Peter the first pope, but at the same time Jesus also “heavily criticized” him, especially for denying Christ during His Passion.

Therefore, St. Jerome, St. Augustine, as well as St. Thomas all praised St. Paul for his courage, for “his most fervent criticism of Peter,” and at the same time praised St. Peter for his “humility, with which he accepted this fraternal correction.” At the time, continued the German cardinal, “St. Peter did an immeasurable service for the unity of the Church.”

Müller presented this situation between St. Peter and St. Paul – where St. Paul withstood St. Peter to  his face – as a model for our Church also today: “The exercise of the primacy of the Roman Church has always to be guided by the two Apostle princes who with their blood of martyrdom have bought for the Church of Rome the primacy in the communion with the episcopal local churches.”

Here, Cardinal Müller also insisted that there were moments in the history of the Church where popes have erred in the past. “It happened historically that even individual popes were insecure with regard to questions of the Faith or even gravely erred.”

Here, the German cardinal reminded us of the very limited nature of the dogma of papal infallibility. The latter only takes effect when a pope speaks “ex cathedra” and presents to the entire Church “a revealed doctrine of the Faith.” Thus, a pope cannot “impose” his “subjective values and limited philosophical and theological theories” upon the Church, as if they were “revealed.”

Any new concept of revelation, according to which new inspirations could lead a pope to transcend that which has always been taught by the Catholic Church, is clearly being criticized by the prelate.

Here, the Cardinal rejects any theory, according to which there exists an ongoing revelation and that Pope Francis is now divinely inspired in his new ideas.
“Revelation has definitively ended in its constitutive reality with the death of the last Apostle,” Müller insisted. “Popes and bishops are merely servants of Christ and witnesses to the once and for all occurred Revelation of God in Jesus Christ, and not the recipients of a new revelation which surpasses Christ or even reduces him to a preliminary stage to a higher knowledge of God.”

Any “pseudo-intellectual talks of a paradigm shift” is here clearly assessed as being “an undisguised heresy which falsifies the Word of God and which turns the wine of the Marriage Feast of Cana back into water.”

In this sense, there is no way of “absolutizing the ecclesial-political power of the Pope and of his mission,” and, therefore, as Cardinal Müller stated, “we justly defend the authentic teaching on the papacy toward those Catholics” who do so.

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Dr. Maike Hickson was born and raised in Germany. She holds a PhD from the University of Hannover, Germany, after having written in Switzerland her doctoral dissertation on the history of Swiss intellectuals before and during World War II. She now lives in the U.S. and is married to Dr. Robert Hickson, and they have been blessed with two beautiful children. She is a happy housewife who likes to write articles when time permits.

Dr. Hickson published in 2014 a Festschrift, a collection of some thirty essays written by thoughtful authors in honor of her husband upon his 70th birthday, which is entitled A Catholic Witness in Our Time.

Hickson has closely followed the papacy of Pope Francis and the developments in the Catholic Church in Germany, and she has been writing articles on religion and politics for U.S. and European publications and websites such as LifeSiteNews, OnePeterFive, The Wanderer, Rorate Caeli,, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Notizie Pro-Vita, Corrispondenza Romana,, Der Dreizehnte,  Zeit-Fragen, and Westfalen-Blatt.