Editor’s note: LifeSiteNews journalists Maike Hickson and Andreas Wailzer conducted the interview with Cardinal Gerhard Müller in German and translated his words into English.
(LifeSiteNews) — Cardinal Gerhard Müller has said that while “some of Pope Francis’ statements are formulated in such a way that they could be reasonably understood as material heresy, independent of their unclear subjective meaning,” that he has not lost his papal office because he has not taught formal heresy.
In a recent opinion piece in First Things, the German cardinal stated that “[t]o teach contrary to the apostolic faith would automatically deprive the Pope of his office.” In an exclusive interview with LifeSiteNews, Müller expounded on the possibility of a pope losing his office if he formally teaches heresy.
Can a pope lose his office if he teaches heresy?
The former prefect of the Congregation (now Dicastery) for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) explained that there is a crucial distinction between material heresy and formal heresy.
Müller reiterated that a pope who teaches formal heresy could theoretically lose his office, but he added that such a case has not occurred yet in the history of the Church. He referred to the example of Pope Honorius I (625-638), who was retrospectively condemned as a heretic at the Third Council of Constantinople. Müller explained that Honorius had taught “materially false statements” but “not heresy in the strict sense.”
“Heresy, in the proper sense, includes the will to contradict the truth. Even Church Fathers made theological errors,” he said.
“But that was the case at the time [of Pope Honorius], this term heresy [described] what was materially wrong [material heresy], and no judgment was made about the intention. Later, the personal will was added to the classical term heresy [formal heresy].”
Müller addressed the example of Pope John XXII (1316-1334), who, in his sermons, held the false view that souls would only attain the beatific vision (Latin: visio beatifica) after the Last Judgement (he later repented and corrected this view).
“That was a theological opinion,” which was only later “theologically precisely clarified,” and thus John XXII did not teach formal heresy, Müller told LifeSiteNews.
He added that John XXII had “expressed himself imprudently and imprecisely.”
“Actually, we were already a step further… he was speaking out of unresolved older positions.”
Müller explained that the question of when the beatific vision begins was not yet dogmatically settled at the time of John XXII. Naming a similar example, he said that the number of sacraments was not explicitly taught until the eleventh century and that John XXII’s statements were made during a similar “clarification phase.”
“The popes before the eleventh century did not explicitly say ‘There are seven sacraments, no more, no less’ before the concept of sacraments was clarified,” he said.
Pope John XXII’s false teaching “was during this clarification phase,” the prelate stated. “In the Eastern Church and the early Church, it was not yet so clear when the visio beatifica began. For the saints and martyrs, yes, but otherwise… People who do not die in a state of mortal sin and the remnants of venial sin have already been dealt with, who have gone through purgatory, receive the visio beatifica,” he said.
“But when it comes to eschatology, it’s a bit difficult to differentiate” since there is “individual eschatology and universal eschatology,” Müller continued. “For us, it diverges in time. For God, it is one again. It is difficult to express it precisely, [and] to avoid one-sidedness.”
The position that a pope could become a heretic and lose his office was expressed by St. Robert Bellarmine, a cardinal and Doctor of the Church, who wrote about the issue in the second book of his work De Romano Pontifice (On the Roman Pontiff). According to Bellarmine, “the pope who is manifestly a heretic ceases by himself to be pope and head, in the same way as he ceases to be a Christian and a member of the body of the Church; and for this reason he can be judged and punished by the Church.” (De Romano Pontifice, Book II, Chapter 30).
The ‘heresy of practice’: Is Francis still the Pope?
While Cardinal Müller said “some of Pope Francis’ statements are formulated in such a way that they could be reasonably understood as material heresy, independent of their unclear subjective meaning,” he stressed that Francis has not committed formal heresy and, therefore, has not forfeited his papal office.
Müller argued that through Francis’ implicit promotion and toleration of same-sex “blessings” and Holy Communion for the divorced and civilly “remarried,” the Pope is fostering a “heresy of practice.”
“At the synod, where many expect or fear that the homosexual ‘blessings’ will now be introduced, to write a public letter to these [LGBT] organizations on this occasion, to receive them, to be photographed with them… that is a very clear message,” he said. “It’s a heresy of practice. Why didn’t he receive a father, a mother, and their five children at this time? There are no photos of that.”
Müller emphasized that the desired “modern” changes to the Church are always introduced via the “pastoral way” rather than by the outright teaching of formal heresy.
Müller noted a statement by Cardinal Victor Fernández, the new head of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, on allowing Communion for civilly “remarried” divorcees without living in full continence, calling the declaration a “borderline” case when it comes to formal heresy.
The German cardinal told LifeSiteNews that Fernández said the faithful “must accept this declaration by the Argentinian bishops and their interpretation [of Amoris Laetitia regarding the reception of Communion by divorcees] with religious obedience of mind and will.”
“That was already heretical, but it was not the Pope who said that.”
Was the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the papacy valid?
LifeSiteNews asked Cardinal Müller whether the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the papacy could have been invalid due to improper collusion by members of the St. Gallen Mafia before and during the conclave.
John Paul II’s Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis declares that a papal election is “null and void” if, among other stipulations, cardinal-electors engage in “any form of pact, agreement, promise or other commitment of any kind which could oblige them to give or deny their vote to a person or persons.”
“It’s difficult to judge [whether the election was invalid], but in the end, he was clearly elected by the majority, and there was, after all, no qualified objection to the procedure,” Müller told LifeSiteNews. “And even if there were deficiencies… they have simply been de facto cured by the exercise [of the office].”
“Even if someone were to challenge that now, it would be such a huge mess,” he noted. “It would be even worse than what we have now.”
“Through these three popes: the Avignon papacy, the schism… the Great [Western] Schism or the Babylonian captivity of the Church… [these were] ultimately partly responsible for the Reformation. The authority of the papacy had been so diminished that in this crisis with Luther, there was simply not enough authority to master this whole situation.”
Müller stressed that a challenge to the papal election would do more harm than good and emphasized that the bonum ecclesiae (the good of the Church) must be kept in mind.
Can a pope change the moral teaching of the Church?
Müller emphasized that a pope “cannot abolish the character of sin” and that “every sin is evil in itself.”
Müller furthermore stressed that the Pope could neither officially introduce the “blessing” of homosexual couples nor the ordination of women because he has no authority to do so:
Well, if that were to happen, it would be invalid because the ‘blessing’ [of sin] would be blasphemy. Those who would carry it out or approve of it would be gravely culpable. The Pope cannot introduce the diaconate of women in the sense of the sacrament of holy orders because the Pope cannot introduce new sacraments or new conditions.
One can change the rite of the sacraments, the external rite. One can say: ‘Pray the Gloria, perhaps at the end or at the beginning,’ but he cannot change the substance of the sacraments, and the question of the minister and the recipient of the sacraments is part of the substance.
“The diaconate, insofar as it designates a level within the one sacrament of holy orders, cannot be [changed] by the Pope,” Müller continued. “[This] goes beyond his authority. That is why John Paul II did not say ‘I forbid this,’ but ‘the Church has no authority.’”
“And the issue is not – and this was also definitely decided – dependent on changing sociological circumstances, but is to be understood from the nature of the sacrament.”
“The diaconate is nevertheless linked to this priestly level of ordination, that it is one sacrament. The Council of Trent says it is unum ex septem sacramentis ecclesiae (one of the seven sacraments of the Church); it is one sacrament,” Müller stressed.