Maike Hickson

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Cardinal Gerhard Muller at a press conference on October 25, 2016 at the Vatican. ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images

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INTERVIEW: Cdl. Müller on abuse crisis and its link to homosexuality in priesthood

Maike Hickson Maike Hickson Follow Maike

November 21, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (2012-2017), has granted LifeSiteNews an interview in which he discusses in depth the problems of the current clerical sex abuse crisis. 

In this discussion about the abuse crisis, Müller does not shy away from pointing out that the Church needs to address the problem of practiced homosexuality in the ranks of the clergy, saying that "homosexual conduct of clergymen can in no case be tolerated."

He states, however, that leaders in the Catholic Church still underestimate this problem.  The prelate states: “That McCarrick, together with his clan and a homosexual network, was able to wreak havoc in a mafia-like manner in the Church is connected with the underestimation of the moral depravity of homosexual acts among adults.”

Cardinal Müller also challenges the Vatican for its lack of earnest investigations — early on — into the rumors concerning McCarrick, saying that a public apology is needed. He writes that “there should very clearly come out a public explanation about these events and the personal connections, as well as the question as to how much the involved Church authorities knew at each step; such an explanation could very well include an admission of a wrong assessment of persons and situations.”

Cardinal Müller criticizes as a “disastrous error” the changes in Canon Law that have been made in the 1983 Code of Canon Law which, when dealing with priestly offenses against the Sixth Commandment, does not even mention homosexuality as an offense anymore, and which contains a less rigorous set of penalties against any abuser priests. 

Returning to the matter of the abuse crisis, the German prelate explains that in the Church, “it is part of the crisis that one does not wish to see the true causes and covers them up with the help of propaganda phrases of the homosexual lobby. Fornication with teenagers and adults is a mortal sin which no power on earth can declare to be morally neutral.” He calls the “LGBT” ideology within the Church “atheistic,” and adds, in light of the recent Youth Synod in Rome, that the "LGBT" term “has no place in Church documents.” 

Moreover, Cardinal Müller, in light of his stricter handling of sex abuse cases at the CDF, wonders whether there was a homosexual lobby in the Vatican which was glad to see him being dismissed: “But it could be so that it has pleased them that I am no longer tasked in the Congregation for the Doctrine to deal with sexual crimes especially also against male teenagers.”

Discussing possible reasons for his sudden dismissal from the CDF – for which Pope Francis never gave him any reasons – Cardinal Müller comes back to his defense of Catholic doctrine on marriage with regard to Pope Francis' post-synodal exhortation Amoris Laetitia. He says: “Amoris Laetitia has to be absolutely in accordance with Revelation, and it is not we who have to be in accord with Amoris Laetitia, at least not in the interpretation which contradicts, in a heretical manner, the Word of God. And it would be an abuse of power to discipline those who insist upon an orthodox interpretation of this encyclical and of all the papal magisterial documents.”

The German cardinal recalls the correct role of the Pope as the guardian of the Faith when he says: “The Magisterium of the bishops and of the Pope stand under the Word of God in Holy Scripture and Tradition and serves Him. It is not at all Catholic to say that the Pope as an individual person receives directly from the Holy Spirit the Revelation and that he may now interpret it according to his own whims while all the rest are to follow him blindly and mutely.”

Full interview with Cardinal Gerhard Müller:

LifeSite: The U.S. bishops have just ended their fall assembly in Baltimore, where they were not permitted to vote on national guidelines concerning episcopal involvement in sexual abuse cases (either by commission or by omission or cover-up), because the Vatican told them not to do so. The new guidelines would have contained a code of conduct and a lay-led oversight body to investigate bishops accused of misconduct. Many Catholics in the U.S. had been waiting for some concrete steps, and they are now indignant. Do you think this decision wise, or do you think the U.S. bishops should have been able to set up their own national guidelines and commission, just as the French bishops have themselves done this month?

Cardinal Gerhard Müller: One has to make a strict distinction between the sexual crimes and their investigation by secular justice – in the eyes of which all citizens are equal (thus a separate lex [law] for the Catholic Church would constitute a contradiction to the modern, democratic state of law) – and those canonical procedures for clergymen in which the ecclesial authority determines the penalties for any misconduct that diametrically contradicts the priestly ethos. 

The bishop has the canonical jurisdiction over each clergyman in his diocese, which is connected, in special cases, with the Congregation of the Faith in Rome, which acts in the authority of the Pope. If a bishop does not comply with his responsibility, then he can be held accountable by the Pope. The episcopal conferences can set up guidelines for prevention and for canonical prosecutions, both of which give the bishop in his own diocese a valuable instrument.

We need to keep a clear mind in the middle of the situation of crisis in the U.S. We will not succeed with the help of a lynch law and a general suspicion against the whole episcopacy or of “Rome.” I do not see it as a solution that the laymen now take control, just because the bishops (as some believe) are not capable of doing so with their own strength. We cannot overcome shortcomings by turning upside down the hierarchical-sacramental constitution of the Church. Catherine of Siena candidly and relentlessly appealed to the consciences of popes and bishops, but she did not replace them in their positions. That is the difference to Luther, due to whom we still suffer from the split of Christianity. It would be important that the U.S. Bishops' Conference assume its responsibility with independence and autonomy. The bishops are not employees of the Pope who are subject to directives nor, as in the military, generals who owe absolute obedience to the higher command. Rather, they carry together with the successor of Peter, as shepherds appointed by Christ Himself, responsibility for the Universal Church. But from Rome, we may expect that it serves the unity in the Faith and in the communion of the Sacraments. This is the hour of a good collaboration in overcoming the crisis, and not of the polarization and of a compromise, so that in Rome one is angry about the U.S. Bishops, and in the U.S., people are angry about Rome.

LifeSite: An essential part of the discussions during the USCCB meeting was still the McCarrick scandal and how it was possible that someone like McCarrick could rise to the highest levels of the Catholic Church in the U.S., with much consequential influence in Rome. What are your own reflections on the McCarrick case and what the Church should learn from the fact that there was a network of silence that has surrounded a man who in his life constantly defied the Church's laws by practicing homosexuality, by seducing seminarians who were dependent upon him and thus leading them into sin, and, worst of all, by abusing minors?

Müller: I do not know him and wish to abstain from any judgment. I hope that there will soon be a canonical process at the Congregation for the Faith, also in bringing light into the sexual crimes committed with young seminarians. In my time as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Faith (2012-2017), nobody told me anything about this problem, most probably, because one would have feared from me a too “rigid” reaction. That McCarrick, together with his clan and a homosexual network, was able to wreak havoc in a mafia-like manner in the Church is connected with the underestimation of the moral depravity of homosexual acts among adults. Even if in Rome one supposedly only heard some rumors, one had to investigate the matter and to check the truthfulness of the accusations and also to abstain from any episcopal promotion [of McCarrick] to the very important diocese of the capital city [Washington, D.C.] and likewise to abstain from appointing him to become a cardinal of the Holy, Roman Church. And when there even has already been paid some hush money – and with it, the admission of his sexual crimes with young men – then every reasonable person asks how such a person can be a counselor of the Pope with regard to episcopal appointments. I do not know whether this is true, but it would need to be clarified. The hireling helps in the search of good shepherds for God's fold – nobody can understand this. In such a case, there should very clearly come out a public explanation about these events and the personal connections, as well as the question as to how much the involved Church authorities knew at each step; such an explanation could very well include an admission of a wrong assessment of persons and situations.

LifeSite: Did you during the last five years witness cases where then-Cardinal McCarrick was given considerable influence or specific missions by either the Pope or the Vatican?

Müller: As I said, I was not informed about anything. One said that the Congregation of Faith was merely responsible for the sexual abuse of minors, but not of adults – as if sexual offenses committed by a clergyman either with another clergyman or with a layperson would not also be a grave violation of the Faith and of the holiness of the Sacraments. I stressed again and again that also homosexual conduct of clergymen can in no case be tolerated; and that the Church's sexual morality may not be relativized by the worldly acceptance of homosexuality. One also has to differentiate between sinful conduct in an individual case, a crime, and a life carried on in a continuously sinful state.

LifeSite: One of the problems of the McCarrick case is that, already in 2005 and in 2007, there were legal settlements with some of his victims, yet the Archdiocese of Newark – at the time under Archbishop John J. Myers – did not inform the public, nor its own priests, about them. He thus withheld vital information for those who still worked with McCarrick or trusted him. As did Cardinal Joseph Tobin, when he became, in January of 2017, the archbishop in Newark. To my knowledge, neither Myers nor Tobin has issued an apology for this omission and breaking of the trust of their priests. Do you think the Archdiocese should have made known the fact of these legal settlements, especially since in 2002, the U.S. Dallas Charter had called for more transparency?

Müller: In earlier times, one assumed that one could solve such difficult cases quietly and unobtrusively. Then, however, the offender was also able to continue to abuse the trust of his bishop. In today's situation, the Catholics and the public have a moral right to a publication of these events. It is not about accusing someone, but about learning from the mistakes.

LifeSite: Can such a moral problem ever be solved by setting new guidelines, or do we need here in the Church a deeper conversion of hearts? 

Müller: The origin of this whole crisis lies in a secularization of the Church and the reduction of the priest to the role of a functionary. It is finally atheism that has spread within the Church. According to this evil spirit, the Revelation concerning Faith and morals is being adapted to the world without God so that it does not interfere anymore with a life according to one's own lusts and needs. Only about 5% of the offenders are being assessed as pathologically pedophile, whereas the great mass of offenders have freely trampled upon the Sixth Commandment out of their own immorality and thus have defied, in a blaspheming way, the Holy Will of God.

LifeSite: What do you think of the idea to establish a new Church law that proposes excommunications for abuser priests?

Müller: The excommunication is a coercive penalty and has to be removed immediately in the case of repentance by the offender. But in the case of serious abuse and other offenses against the Faith and the unity of the Church, one can impose the permanent dismissal from the clerical state, that is to say a permanent interdiction to act as a priest. 

LifeSite: The older 1917 Code of Canon Law had a clear set of penalties placed upon an abuser priest, as well as upon a homosexually active priest. These concrete penalties have largely been removed in the 1983 Code which is more vague and now does not even mention explicitly homosexual acts. Do you think, in light of the grave abuse crisis, the Church should return to a more rigorous set of automatic penalties in these cases?

Müller: That was a disastrous error. Sexual contacts between persons of the same sex completely and directly contradict the sense and purpose of sexuality as grounded in creation. They are the expression of a disordered desire and instinct, just as it is a sign of the broken relationship between man and his Creator since the Fall of Man.

The celibate priest and the married priest in the Eastern Rite have to be models for the flock and also have to give an example that the redemption also encompasses the body and the bodily passions. Not the wild lust for fulfillment, but the bodily and spiritual self-giving, in agape, to a person of the other sex, is the sense and purpose of sexuality. This leads to responsibility for the family and for the children that God has given.

LifeSite: During the recent Baltimore meeting, Cardinal Blase Cupich stated that one should “differentiate” between consensual sexual acts between adults and the abuse of minors, implying that a priest's homosexual relations with another adult is not a major problem. What is your own response to this kind of approach?

Müller: One can differentiate everything – and then even consider oneself to be a great intellectual –  but not a grave sin which excludes a person from the Kingdom of God, at least not as the bishop who is duty-bound not to exhibit the taste of the time [“Zeitgeschmack”], but rather, to defend the truth of the Gospels. It seems the time has come “when they will not endure sound doctrine; but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears: And will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables” (2 Tim 4:3f).

LifeSite: In your work as the Prefect of the CDF, you had the oversight over many clerical sex abuse cases that the CDF investigated. Is it true that the majority of the victims in these cases were male adolescents? 

Müller: More than 80% of the victims of these sexual offenders are teenagers of the male sex. One cannot conclude from this, however, that the majority of the priests are prone to homosexual fornication, but, rather, only that the majority of the offenders have sought out, in their deep disorder of their passions, male victims. From the entire crime statistics, we know that the majority of offenders of sexual abuse are one's own relatives, even the fathers of their own children. But we cannot conclude from this that the majority of fathers are prone to such crimes. One has always to be very careful not to make generalizations out of concrete cases so that one does not thus fall into slogans and anti-clerical prejudices.

LifeSite: If this is the case – and the German bishops' sex abuse study, as well as the John Jay Report, showed similar numbers – should then the Church not more directly deal with the problem of the presence of homosexual priests?

Müller: In my view, there do not exist homosexual men or even priests. God has created the human being as man and woman. But there can be men and women with disordered passions. Sexual communion has its place exclusively in the marriage between a man and a woman. Outside, there is only fornication and abuse of sexuality, both either with persons of the opposite sex, or in the unnatural intensification of sin with persons of the same sex. Only he who has learned to control himself fulfills also the moral precondition for the reception of priestly ordination (see 1 Tim 3:1-7).

LifeSite: We seem to have a situation in the Church right now, where there is not yet even a consensus present that acknowledges that homosexually active priests have a large part in the abuse crisis. Even some Vatican documents still speak of “pedophilia,” or of “clericalism” as the main problem. The Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli even goes so far as to claim that McCarrick did not have homosexual relationships, but that they were rather about his exercising power over others. At the same time, we have others, such as Father James Martin, S.J., who travels the world (and even was invited to the World Family Meeting in Ireland) and promotes the idea of “LGBT-Catholics” and even claims that some saints have been probably homosexual. That is to say, there is now a strong tendency in the Church to downplay the sinful character of same-sex relationships. Would you here agree, and if so, how could – and should – this be remedied?

Müller: It is part of the crisis that one does not wish to see the true causes and covers them up with the help of propaganda phrases of the homosexual lobby. Fornication with teenagers and adults is a mortal sin which no power on earth can declare to be morally neutral. That is the work of the devil – against whom Pope Francis often warns – that he declares sin to be good. “Some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to spirits of error, and doctrines of devils, speaking lies in hypocrisy, and having their conscience seared.” (1 Tim 4:1f) It is indeed absurd that, suddenly, ecclesial authorities utilize the Jacobin, Nazi, and Communist anti-Church combat slogans against sacramentally ordained priests. The priests have the authority to proclaim the Gospels and to administer the Sacraments of Grace. If someone abuses his jurisdiction in order to reach selfish goals, he himself is not clerical in an exaggerated form, but, rather, he himself is anti-clerical, because he denies Christ Who wishes to work through him. Sexual abuse by clergymen is then, at most, to be called anti-clerical. But it is obvious – and can only be denied by someone who wishes to be blind – that sins against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue stem from disordered inclinations and thus are sins of fornication which exclude one from the Kingdom of God, at least as long as one has not repented and made atonement, and as long as there does not exist the firm resolve to avoid such sin in the future. This whole attempt at obfuscating things is a bad sign of the secularization of the Church. One thinks like the world, but not as God wills it.

LifeSite: At the recent Youth Synod in Rome, a similar tone could be heard. The working document uses for the first time the term “LGBT,“ and the final document stressed the need to welcome homosexuals in the Church, and it even rejected “any form of discrimination” against them. However, do such statements not effectively undermine the Church's standing practice not to hire practicing homosexuals, for example as teachers in Catholic schools?

Müller: The LGBT ideology is based upon a false anthropology which denies God as the Creator. Since it is in principle atheistic or perhaps has only to do with a Christian concept of God at the margins, it has no place in Church documents. This is an example of the creeping influence of atheism in the Church, which has been responsible for the crisis of the Church for half a century. Unfortunately, it does not stop working in the minds of some shepherds who, in their naive belief of being modern, do not realize the poison that they day by day drink in, and that they then offer for others to drink.

LifeSite: Can we not now say that we have a strong “gay lobby” within the ranks of the Catholic Church?

Müller: I do not know that because such people do not show themselves to me. But it could be so that it has pleased them that I am no longer tasked in the Congregation for the Doctrine [of the Faith] to deal with sexual crimes especially also against male teenagers.

LifeSite: You recently revealed that, while you worked at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the Pope set up a commission that was to counsel the CDF concerning possible penalties for abuser priests. That commission, however, tended to have a more lenient attitude toward abuser priests, unlike you who wished for a laicization in grave cases (such as the Father Mauro Inzoli case). Now the Jesuit magazine America revealed last year – at the time of your dismissal from your position as the Prefect of the CDF – “that a number of cardinals had asked Francis to remove Cardinal Müller from that post because he had on a number of occasions publicly disagreed with or distanced himself from the pope’s positions, and they felt this was undermining the papal office and magisterium.” Do you yourself see a possible connection between your own stricter standards and attitude toward abuser priests and a group of cardinals close to the Pope who wish a more lenient approach? If this is not the case, would you still say that you were removed because of your firmer defense of orthodoxy?

Müller: The primacy of the Pope is being undermined by the sycophants and careerists at the papal court – that is what the famous theologian Melchior Cano has already said in the 16th century – and not by those who counsel the Pope in a competent and responsible manner. If it is true that there is a group of cardinals who accused me in front of the Pope of the deviation of my ideas, then the Church is in a bad state. If these would have been courageous and upright men, they would have spoken with me directly, and they should have known that I as a bishop and cardinal am to represent the teaching of the Catholic Faith, and not to justify the different private opinions of a Pope. His authority is extended over the revealed Faith of the Catholic Church and not over the individual theological opinions of himself or those of his advisers.  They can perhaps accuse me of interpreting Amoris Laetitia in an orthodox way, but they cannot prove that I deviate from the Catholic doctrine. Additionally, it is irritating that theologically uneducated people are being promoted to the rank of bishops who, in turn, think that they have to thank the Pope for it by means of a childish submission. Perhaps they could have read my book The Pope. Mission and Mandate (Herder Verlag; is it available in German and Spanish; the Italian and English translations are being currently made). Then we could continue to discuss things on that level. 

The Magisterium of the bishops and of the Pope stand under the Word of God in Holy Scripture and Tradition and serves Him. It is not at all Catholic to say that the Pope as an individual person receives directly from the Holy Spirit the Revelation and that he may now interpret it according to his own whims while all the rest are to follow him blindly and mutely. Amoris Laetitia has to be absolutely in accordance with Revelation, and it is not we who have to be in accord with Amoris Laetitia, at least not in the interpretation which contradicts, in a heretical manner, the Word of God. And it would be an abuse of power to discipline those who insist upon an orthodox interpretation of this encyclical and of all the papal magisterial documents. Only he who is in the state of Grace can also fruitfully receive Holy Communion. This revealed truth cannot be toppled by any power in the world, and no Catholic may ever believe the opposite or be forced to accept the opposite. 

LifeSite: In which fields were you yourself as the Prefect of the CDF the most opposed to innovations that were proposed for the Church? Which parts of your witness do you think, looking back, contributed most to your being dismissed and treated in such a manner that you were not even given any alternative position in the Vatican?

Müller: I did not oppose any innovation or reform. Because reform means renewal in Christ, not adaptation to the world. I was not told what the reason was for the non-renewal of my mandate. This is unusual because the Pope otherwise lets all the prefects continue their work. There is no reason which one would dare mention without making oneself look ridiculous. One cannot, after all, state in stark contradiction to Pope Benedict, that Müller is lacking the sufficient theological qualifications, that he is not orthodox, or that he is neglectful in the prosecution of crimes against the Faith and in the cases of sexual crimes. That is why one prefers to be silent and leaves it up to the left-liberal media to make spiteful and gloating comments.

LifeSite: Some observers are currently comparing your removal from your important position in the Vatican – which certainly is also due to your own polite resistance concerning Amoris Laetitia – with the lenient treatment that someone like the former Cardinal McCarrick has received. Even now, he has so far not yet even been laicized, in spite of his criminal conduct. So, it seems to some that those who try to preserve the Catholic teaching concerning marriage and the family as it has always been taught are being set aside, while those who are in favor of innovations in this moral field are being leniently treated or even promoted – as, for example, Cardinal Cupich and Fr. James Martin. Would you like to comment on this?

Müller: Everybody can reflect upon the criteria according to which some are being promoted and protected, and others are being fought and eliminated.

LifeSite: In the context of the seeming suppression of orthodox Churchmen and the promotion of progressive representatives, Father Ansgar Wucherpfennig, S.J. has just now received from the Vatican the permission to go back to his position as the rector of the Jesuit graduate school in Frankfurt, in spite of the fact that he argues for female ordination and the blessing of homosexual couples. He is now even asked to publish articles on these matters. How would you comment on this development?

Müller: This is an example of how the authority of the Roman Church undermines itself and how the clear expert knowledge of the Congregation for the Faith is being pushed aside. If this priest calls the blessing of homosexual relationships the result of a further development of doctrine, for which he continues to work, it is nothing but the presence of atheism in Christianity. He does not theoretically deny the existence of God, but, rather, he denies Him as the source of morality by presenting that which is before God a sin as a blessing. 

That the recipient of the Sacrament of Holy Orders  has to be of the male sex is not the result of cultural circumstances or of positive, but changeable, Church legislation, but, rather, it is founded in the nature of this Sacrament and its divine institution, just as the nature of the Sacrament of Matrimony requires the difference of the two sexes.

LifeSite: From your observations, do you think the Church is getting close to having sufficient and consistent control over the abuse crisis and has found the right remedies; or what do you think is so far still the major obstacle for a substantial improvement? How can the Church gain back her trustworthiness in the eyes of Catholic families?

Müller: The whole Church, with her priests and bishops, has to please God more than man. The obedience in the Faith is our salvation.

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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.