Maike Hickson

Cardinal Gerhard Muller
Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Diane Montagna/LifeSiteNews

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In new book, Cardinal Mueller raises questions about St. Gallen group, praying with Muslims, more

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Editor’s note: Cardinal Müller will present his book at a gathering in Washington, D.C. tomorrow, Friday, October 25, at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel (1401 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20004) at 6:00 p.m. RSVP here.

October 24, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), has just published a new book in English. Its title, Roman Encounters, already indicates its major theme: the cardinal's encounters with people in Rome. These encounters – such as a discussion with clergymen and others at a reception of the German Embassy, a lecture at a Pontifical University, a conversation with journalists – are used to bring up consequential themes of our time and to reflect upon them in light of the faith.

Thus, Cardinal Müller tries to present ways of how we Catholics could try to convince people of the truth of the Catholic faith, of the existence of God, as well as of the Church's moral teaching. Here, a cardinal presents ways of how the Catholic Church can still be a convincing witness to the faith in modern times, while at the same time pointing out the errors of the contemporary world that thinks it can freely live without God.

At the same time, the German prelate – who first was a professor of dogmatics, then a bishop, and finally the head of a Roman dicastery – addresses problems that are currently arising within the Catholic Church. It is here that he, for example, touches upon marriage and its indissolubility, also in light of Amoris Laetitia

Liberal German bishop: We are important to the Vatican financially

But it is also in this book that a cardinal, perhaps for the first time, raises the question of the aims and place of the Sankt Gallen Group by quoting others who praise them for having given us Pope Francis. During a reception at the German Embassy in Rome, the cardinal – who does not write in the first person, but, rather, just presents himself as “the cardinal” – recalls the comments of an employee of the German Bishops' Conference who argues in favor of a “new flexibility” with regard to the Church's teaching, saying that “dogmatism isn't going to help anybody” in a secularized world. “It's individual pastoral care and not abstract doctrines that people need today in all their fragility.” 

Continues the liberal employee of the Church in Germany: “The best thing about Benedict's pontificate was his abdication. So now Francis can reduce the backlog of reforms. The goal of the St. Gallen Group, namely, to have a liberal Pope on the Chair of Peter, has finally been achieved. Cardinal Danneels of Brussels, who was a fearless defender of the spirit of the Council against pre-conciliar thinking, has himself confirmed this. We can now finally carry on from where the reforms of Vatican II were halted.” 

The progressivist continues, saying that “there is never going to be any re-evangelization unless we at long last – and as far as I'm concerned, the Pan-Amazon Synod can make a start here – get married priests, unless there are female deacons, so that women finally feel valued, and unless there are no more barriers to marriage for all.” He also goes on to claim that Communion for remarried divorcees as well as for Protestants is also necessary, especially since the “sacraments are simply signs of what has already happened anyway,” thus arguably rendering the sacrament insignificant with regard to salvation. 

Along the same lines, Cardinal Müller quotes a bishop who was present at this reception as saying: “a paradigm shift is urgently needed.” Praising the role of the German bishops, this German bishop explains: “We are very well placed in developing countries with our international charitable organizations of Misereor, Adveniat, Missio and Renovabis. We are so important for the worldwide Church, and financially to the Vatican, too, that we can lay claim to having a sort of pioneering role in the universal Church with our brilliant theology.” It is in the context of the large financial role of the German bishops that this same prelate says: “You know what they say: he who pays the piper calls the tune.” 

“The others should get to know what's going on here [in Germany],” the bishop continues, “and also what would be good for them.”

Further presenting to us this perspective of modern German theology, Cardinal Müller quotes a German theology professor who states that a Christian's “absolute's claim to truth” can lead to “a temptation of intolerance.” He thus shows himself glad that, since the Enlightenment, “we have learnt to relativize our truths” and thus have become “more tolerant.” 

“All truths of the faith are merely symbols pointing to the unknown mystery beyond being,” states this man.

As becomes clear already here, Cardinal Müller is exposed to many quite disturbing ideas in professedly Catholic circles in Rome. But by presenting them to us, he also warns us as to how far Catholic theology has already been weakened. Says another progressive theologian: “Pope Francis is getting it right: instead of repeating antiquated dogmas, he makes pleasing gestures. Pure genius – and twenty million followers confirm that the Vatican's new media policy is in good shape. You don't get through to young people with books or boring sermons but with commercials and with tweets, if need be with YouTube, too.”

Cardinal Müller thankfully also presents us with some opposing statements of a Catholic journalist present at the German Embassy reception: “The Church no longer fights ‘the good fight of the faith’ (Tim 6:12) by trying to convince every human being of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.” Further quoting this journalist, the German cardinal points again to the St. Gallen Group. Speaking about the reformers, the journalist states that they “even join forces with anticlerical groups” in order to advance their own agenda, after having “neutralized or silenced the others.” There is a kind of “desolidarisation” taking place in the Catholic Church, the journalist continues, whose height is reached “when the 'St. Gallen Group' shamelessly boasts of having got one of its own through as Pope at the conclave because he is working his way through a liberal agenda and thus breaking down a deadlock in reform.” 

However, as the journalist reminds us, reform originally “has always been about fighting the secularization of the Church,” as can be seen, for example, in the Gregorian Reform. 

But today, the journalist continues, “under the influence of the ideology of man's self-redemption, which makes man, instead of God, his own origin, measure and goal, the purpose of ecclesial reform shifted to being one of adaptation to the world.” Here, reform no longer means “conformity to Christ,” but, rather, “conformism with the world” that aims at still preserving the Church as an institution, but not as a renewal “in the Spirit of Christ.”

The Cardinal himself responds to these good words by the Catholic journalist by explaining what went wrong with the likes of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and “his Jacobin disciples.” Speaking of Rousseau's denial of original sin, the Cardinal sees that its main consequence is “that he denies grace as the necessary condition of nature reaching its perfection in its supernatural goal,” which is, of course, eternal salvation. While speaking of man's free will and his personal sins, the Cardinal reminds us that “he can neither recreate himself nor redeem himself with his own powers.” But it is God's grace and love in Christ that “redeems, lifts up and liberates man, giving him a new identity in fellowship with God and his fellow human beings.”

Further confronting some false ideas found in the modern world, the Cardinal states, “unlike in the liberal and socialist anthropologies since the Enlightenment, man is not the ensemble of the biological and social conditions of his existence but rather a person. Neither is society to blame for everything, nor can even the best society redeem man.”

Returning to the importance of grace in a man's life, the Cardinal explains that “in a state of grace, conditions no longer enslave man by leaving him at the mercy of a blind evolution of  the animate world or depersonalizing him as an exemplar of a social class.” 

Modern ideologies are making us miserable

Looking at the Church and the world of today, the Cardinal shows himself worried. “However much they speak in theory of people today also being happy and contented without God, in practice the opposite is true. How many young people ask themselves in all seriousness what sense is there in life?”

The Cardinal goes on to describe the fate of modern man: “If man is reduced to a product of matter playing with itself or a construct of society or if he is only worth anything as a participant in social networks or for paying pensions, then he is robbed of his being a subject, of his personality.” Here, man is being “instrumentalized as a means of industrial production, political power, or  as biomatter for research.”

The Cardinal ends his book with an unveiling of the true face of modern ideologies which pretend that the freeing from God is making a better world: “Behind the shiny façade of a brave new world, the whole extent of the misery manifests itself: loneliness, isolation, mental illness, increasing violence and brutality, self-centeredness, egomaniacal self-fulfillment and looking out first and for one's own advantage, the withholding of primary communication within families.”

How true this response is, indeed, when we consider the high rates of divorce, drug abuse, adolescent criminality, suicide, and abortion. 

Comments the German prelate: “The Church can make an essential contribution here to the humanization of mankind.” Here, he means the spreading of the “message of their [men's] redemption in Christ, the Son of God.” 

“A society without any spiritual orientation,” he explains, “or any ethical foundation, is doomed to fail.” 

“I don't know of a single case of a purely secular ethic ever having been successful,” Müller concludes. 

‘God's work of redemption will not fail’

When turning his attention to debates within the Catholic Church herself, Cardinal Müller does not shy away from contradicting statements made by Pope Francis when he sees them to be incorrect.

For example, in a chapter about a meeting with journalists, one journalist quotes the Pope as saying that “inside the Holy Trinity they're all arguing behind closed doors, too, whereas on the outside they present a picture of unity.” 

“Is the inner unity of the Triune God just a façade?” 

Answers Cardinal Müller: “The three Divine Persons are not, as in the human sphere, three personalities who are in harmony or argue with one another. The unity of the three Divine Persons is not a moral community that can also be destroyed, but rather a unity of essence as a triad of love.”

In another point, the Cardinal disagrees with the Pope, too. A journalist asks him: “The Pope has called on Catholics to go into mosques and pray with the Muslims on Fridays. Is this invitation wise?” The Cardinal answers: “No ecclesial authority can invite us or urge us to visit the house of prayer of another religion. Moreover, we cannot share in prayer with the Muslims, either in a building or in the open air. We pray through Christ in the Holy Spirit to God our Father.” 

“We do not believe in the same God of revelations,” he says of Catholics and Muslims.

With regard to Pope Francis' document Amoris Laetitia, Cardinal Müller says: “My conscience can never dispense me from fulfilling the divine commandments, because God does not deny us the grace to know and fulfill them if we honestly request it.” He continues by saying, “I cannot justify myself in my conscience if I act against the perceived will of God” and instead “make my own interests my yardstick.”

Further criticizing current developments in the Church, the German prelate states that “what is currently understood by reforms that are to be necessary is much more a secularization of the Church.” The divine commandments that are difficult to live up to for some, he explains, are now “to be reduced to ideals that everyone can, but by no means must, strive after.” This way, the Church turns into a mere “agency for social outreach.”

The German prelate also contradicts the common idea among many theologians especially under this pontificate today that God always forgives. “It only gets really bad if God's mercy and justice are played off against each other in the Church in an attempt to gain popularity among people today.” And he adds: “Sinning in the hope of God's mercy is nothing less than mocking God by accusing Him of being incapable of doing anything but forgive.”  

Finally, Cardinal Müller directly opposes the promoters of a one-world religion. He says that the “proponents of constructing a unified religion for the whole world employ every means of propaganda and every psychological trick to combat the finality of revelation in Christ and the uniqueness of His mediation of salvation.” Christ did not bring us “immanent evolution,” he states, but, rather, “perfection by raising up nature by grace and giving it a foundation in the transcendence of God. It is not a matter of the human improvement of the world but rather about the final redemption of the world by God and His grace.”

Thus, in the midst of these troubling matters and current developments in the Church and in society, Cardinal Müller would not have us lose hope. First of all, he knows that “God's work of redemption will not fail” because of God's promise “that the gates of Hades will not prevail against the Church.” And next to this Divine promise, the cardinal reminds us that “hope is a theological virtue that is infused into our hearts by God.” He also points to some current signs of hope among men: “I see signs of hope in the priests and lay people who accept faith in Jesus Christ and are prepared to walk the Way of the Cross with Him to the Resurrection.” Finally, Müller reminds us that hope does not come from the “Church's acceptance in the media,” but, rather, from Jesus Christ, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”

May this book be of help for many Catholics to defend the faith, and may it also draw many of its non-Catholic readers into the Catholic Church.

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Maike Hickson

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, Catholicism.org, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Notizie Pro-Vita, Corrispondenza Romana, Katholisches.info, Der Dreizehnte,  Zeit-Fragen, and Westfalen-Blatt.