VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — The following is an interview Cardinal Gerhard Müller gave to LifeSiteNews via email, responding to the recent news of Archbishop Victor Fernández’s nomination to become the new prefect of the Congregation (now Dicastery) for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).
LifeSiteNews reported the announcement on July 1, outlining Archbishop Fernández’s controversial stance on a number of issues, such as on the reception of Holy Communion for the divorced and re-married, the promotion of Amoris Laetitia, and his writings on sexuality.
Cardinal Müller served as Prefect of the CDF from 2012 through 2017, at which time Pope Francis replaced him with Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, S.J.
The following interview has been slightly edited for clarity in its English translation, and is presented in its entirety.
Michael Haynes: Your Eminence, you have gone on record previously calling some of Archbishop Fernández’s statements “heretical.” What danger does he pose now as head of the CDF, especially given his writing and promotion of Amoris Laetitia as opening Communion to the divorced and ‘re-married’?
Cardinal Gerhard Müller: The decision as to who will become prefect of the principal congregation (or dicastery) that directly assists the Roman Pontiff in his universal magisterium belongs to the Holy Father alone. He must also answer for it in his conscience before Christ, the Lord and Head of His Church. This does not exclude the concern of many bishops, priests, and faithful throughout the world. They have the right to freely express their concerns (Lumen gentium 37).
The opinion, which I criticized at that time, that any diocese could become the seat of Peter’s successor, is already directly qualified by the Fathers of Vatican I as a heretical contradiction to the revealed faith in 2nd canon of the Constitution “Pastor aeternus” (Denzinger- Hünermann 3058). The concept that the “the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church” (Lumen gentium 22), i.e. the plenitudo potestatis, has nothing at all to do with the unlimited command of secular potentates who refer to a higher power.
The Church of the Triune God also does not need a new foundation or modernization, as if she had become a dilapidated house and as if weak men could surpass the divine master builder. She is already historically established in Christ once for all and perfectly conceived in its doctrine, constitution and liturgy in God’s plan of salvation.
In the Holy Spirit, she continually serves people as the sacrament of the world’s salvation. Her teaching is not a program to be improved and updated by men, but the faithful and complete witness of the eschatological revelation of God in his incarnate Son “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14).
The task of the dicastery, in the service of the papal magisterium, is to show how the doctrine of the faith is biblically founded, how it has developed in the history of dogma, and how its content is expressed in an authoritative way by the magisterium. The religious obedience owed by all Catholics to the universal episcopate, and especially to the Pope, refers only to the supernatural truths of the doctrine of faith and morals (including the natural truths in ontology, epistemology, and ethics, which are the presuppositions of the knowability of the Word of God in our human minds).
The Pope and bishops cannot demand obedience for their private opinions, and certainly not for teachings and actions that would contradict revelation and the natural moral law. This was declared already in 1875 by the German bishops against the misinterpretation of the teachings of Vatican I by the German Chancellor Bismarck. Pope Pius IX expressly agreed with this (Denzinger-Hünermann 3115; 3117).
The Pope and bishops are bound to Holy Scripture and the Apostolic Tradition and by no means sources of additional revelation or of revelation which supposedly needs to be adjusted to be in accord with the present state of science.
The Roman Pontiff and the bishops, in view of their office and the importance of the matter, by fitting means diligently strive to inquire properly into that revelation and to give apt expression to its contents; but a new public revelation they do not accept as pertaining to the divine deposit of faith.(divinum depositum fidei). (Lumen Gentium 25).
Haynes: Archbishop Fernández has also argued that sexual relations between cohabiting couples are not always sinful. What danger does this pose for him to hold such a position in the CDF?
Cdl. Müller: Invoking the original will of the Creator, Jesus himself termed divorce and “remarriage” as adultery in discussions with the hard-hearted Pharisees, who made the argument about the reality of life of their contemporaries and an inability to fulfill God’s commandments (Mt 19:9).
All grave sin excludes us from the kingdom of God until it is repented of and forgiven (1 Cor 6:10). God’s mercy consists in reconciling the repentant sinner back to Himself through Jesus Christ. In no way can we justify ourselves with reference to our fragility, to persist in sin, that is, in fatal contradiction to the holy and sanctifying will of God.
Something quite different is the pastorally sensitive treatment of the many people whose marriages and families have been damaged or broken due to their own fault or the fault of others. However, the Church does not have the authority to relativize the revealed truths about the unity of marriage (monogamy), its indissolubility and its fruitfulness (acceptance of children as a gift of God). Good pastoral care is based on good dogmatics, because only a good tree with healthy roots also produces good fruit.
Haynes: Archbishop Fernandez has stated how “in many issues I am far more progressive than the Pope.” As former prefect of the CDF, what advice would you give to Archbishop Fernandez so that he can safely protect the doctrines of the faith?
Cdl. Müller: In Latin America, the Church has lost half of its members. In synodal Germany, more than 500,000 Catholics have publicly renounced their communion with the Church in 2022 alone. Everywhere, seminaries are empty, monasteries are closing, and the process of dechristianization of the Americas and Europe is driven in a sophisticated and violent manner by anti-clerical “elites.”
Only a fool can speak of a springtime in the Church and a new Pentecost. The praise of the mainstream media for the progressive reformers has not yet been reflected in a turning of people to faith in Jesus Christ. For it is in the Son of the living God alone that they can place their hope in living and dying.
To think here still in the old cultural-theoretical categories of “progressive/liberal and conservative,” or to classify the believers on the political scale from “right to left,” is already criminally naive.
What matters is not where we place ourselves on the ideological spectrum, but whether we “render to the God revealed in Christ the ‘obedience of faith’ and willingly assent to his revelation.” We do not orient ourselves to men and their ideologies, but to the Son of God, who alone can say of himself, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6).
Whether my advice is desired by the addressees in question is doubtful. As for the Church’s doctrine of the true and salvific faith, and what the prefect and his dicastery are obligated to do in light of the universal magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, we prefer to let the Fathers of Vatican II say: “To make this act of faith, the grace of God and the interior help of the Holy Spirit must precede and assist, moving the heart and turning it to God, opening the eyes of the mind and giving ‘joy and ease to everyone in assenting to the truth and believing it.’ To bring about an ever deeper understanding of revelation the same Holy Spirit constantly brings faith to completion by His gifts.” (Dei verbum 5).