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Former Vatican doctrine chief: ‘People working in the Curia are living in great fear’

Claire Chretien Claire Chretien Follow Claire

September 29, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – The former head of the Vatican's doctrine office is warning in a lengthy new interview that under Pope Francis fear now permeates the Church’s administrative body, the Roman Curia.

“I heard it from some houses here, that people working in the Curia are living in great fear: If they say one small or harmless critical word, some spies will pass the comments directly to the Holy Father, and the falsely accused people don’t have any chance to defend themselves,” Cardinal Gerhard Müller told the National Catholic Register’s Ed Pentin in a wide-ranging interview.

The Pope removed Müller, without explanation, when the Cardinal's term ended in July.

“These people, who are speaking bad words and lies against other persons, are disturbing and disrupting the good faith, the good name of others whom they are calling their brothers,” said Müller.

Müller's account is consistent with what high-level Rome sources have told LifeSiteNews – that the “fear” throughout the Vatican is “tangible.”  

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Bishop Athanasius Schneider has compared the treatment of the four cardinals who sent the dubia to Pope Francis to life under the Soviet Union.

“We live in a climate of threats and of denial of dialogue towards a specific group,” Schneider said in December 2016.

In an exclusive interview with LifeSiteNews published today, Professor Claudio Pierantoni, one of the lay scholars behind the recent “filial correction” of Pope Francis, confirmed the uneasiness and fear in which many orthodox theologians live. 

“I have heard from many people in Catholic institutions (here in Santiago and elsewhere) who have been directly threatened with [reprisal], and therefore they didn’t sign,” Pierantoni said. “For example, I have heard from some people who signed the document of the 45 and they were told not to sign anything else or they would lose their position...I have heard of people being threatened, not directly from Rome but by the local [Catholic] institution, [for] sometimes striving to be 'more Roman than the Pope.'”

The “document of the 45” was a list of theological censures of Amoris Laetitia, signed by 45 theologians. 

“I admit it, I am afraid to sign and I know other priests who share my fear,” UK priest Father Ray Blake wrote of the filial correction and the theological censures. “Many of those who might have signed have in the last four years have a certain fear about their place in the Church...Under Francis the Vatican has become a place of fear and arbitrary oppression.”

“Cardinals and bishops intimidate clergy and others who are faithful,” wrote Blake, explaining that “dioceses are not Rome but they do reflect Rome.”

Pope St. John Paul II famously said, “Be not afraid.” Saints throughout history have overcome their fear to defend the truth despite terrible earthly consequences. 

“A friend who has signed [the correction] said the question is WWSJFSTMD, What Would St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More Do?” wrote Blake. 

In his interview with Pentin, Müller discussed the dubia, the filial correction, papal authority, his successor at the CDF, how dissident theologians have been treated under Pope Francis, and how “progressives” in the Church lack any “theological arguments.”

He shared with Pentin that within the Church, there are “many prejudices against the congregation” tasked with defending Catholic doctrine. Pentin pressed him on the “diminishment” of the CDF’s role in the Church under Pope Francis, and how Müller’s orthodox interpretation of Amoris Laetitia is at odds with at least two interpretations the Pope has praised.

Müller also commented briefly on papal confidant and rumored ghostwriter Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández, the author of Heal Me With Your Mouth: The Art of Kissing and the rector of the Catholic University in Buenos Aires.

He said he could not confirm rumors that the CDF used to have a file on Fernández for espousing errant theology, saying “it was before my time.”

‘Theological faculties’ subject to same climate of fear

Pentin noted that a senior Church figure who wished to remain anonymous called the current situation in the Church a “reign of terror.”

“It’s the same in some theological faculties,” said Müller. “If anybody has any remarks or questions about Amoris Laetitia, they will be expelled, and so on. That is not maturity.”

“A certain interpretation of the document’s Footnote 351 cannot be criteria for becoming a bishop,” he said. “A future bishop must be a witness to the Gospel, a successor of the apostles, and not only someone who repeats some words of a single pastoral document of the Pope without a mature theological understanding.”

The cardinal reminded Pentin that “nobody is obliged to accept uncritically everything that [the Pope is] saying, for example, about political or scientific questions.”

The Pope’s private opinions are just those, he said – his private opinions.

“We must distinguish between what is official doctrine of the Church, the role of the Pope, and what he is saying in private conversations,” said Müller.

“If the Pope is writing a personal and private letter, it’s not an official doctrinal document,” Müller said of the Pope’s praise of the Maltese and Argentinean bishops heterodox guidelines based on Amoris Laetitia. Pentin pointed out that these interpretations, which allow Communion for the divorced and remarried in some cases, are at odds with how Müller interprets the document. Müller maintains that it must be read through the lens of previous Church teaching. 

Pentin also questioned Muller about that the letter to the Argentinean bishops in which Pope Francis says there is “no other interpretation” of Amoris Laetitia than one allowing Communion for the divorced and remarried. The journalist noted that the Pope's letter has been posted on the Vatican website.

“The website of the Vatican has some weight, but it’s not a magisterial authority, and if you look at what the Argentine bishops wrote in their directive, you can interpret this in an orthodox way,” Müller responded.

Catholics 'have to suffer with' the Church

“No explanation was offered to me” about his removal as head of the CDF, Müller said. “The Pope only saw me at a routine private audience, at the end of my term, to discuss the work of the congregation, and said, ‘That is all.’”

To say anything else about it is “speculation,” Müller said. However, he acknowledged, “It is true that some time ago the Pope told me that some of his ‘friends’ had been saying that ‘Müller is an enemy of the Pope.’”

“I suppose these were anonymous accusations, and the anonymity of the accusers suggests that they were not prepared to have their arguments exposed to the light of honest and open discussion,” he said. “The use of such underhanded tactics is always detrimental to the life of the Church and to the functioning of the Curia…[Pope Francis] assured me that no credence should be given to such gossip.”

Müller said his successor at the CDF, Archbishop Luis Ladaria, shares his understanding of Catholicism. They use “the same framework” of the Church Fathers, “the foundation of the verses of Holy Scripture, the word of God, [and] the apostolic Tradition,” he said.

Müller noted that he was accused of being “too close” to Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

“It is surely ironic that these same people should accuse me now of being an enemy of the Pope,” he said. “This is obviously opportunistic behavior we’re seeing. The biggest danger to the Pope these days are these opportunists, careerists and false friends who are concerned not for the good of the Church, but for their own financial interests and self-advancement.”

Müller said he won’t criticize Pope Francis privately or publicly.

“It is not as if I am unaware of the importance of the papacy in the Church of Jesus Christ,” he said, explaining that “in this year of the commemoration of the Protestant revolution against the primacy of the Holy Roman Church, I published a historical and theological study on the mission of the Pope as Successor of St. Peter.”

“The important thing is that we have to love the Church because she is the Bride of Christ,” said Müller. “Loving her means that we sometimes have to suffer with her, because in her members she is not perfect, and so we remain loyal despite the disappointments. In the end, it is how we appear in the eyes of God that matters, rather than how we are regarded by men.”

Müller said he doesn’t blame Pope Francis for all of the confusion that Amoris Laetitia has caused as bishop has been pitted against bishop in interpreting the controversial exhortation, but “he is authorized by Jesus Christ to overcome it.”

Pope's 'honest critics deserve a convincing answer'

Müller said he wishes Pope Francis had met with the cardinals who sent him a dubia, or formal request for moral clarity on Amoris Laetitia. The Pope has yet to respond to it.

“The best thing would have been for the Holy Father to have had an audience before their publication,” he said. “Now we have the spectacle of a trial of strength. It’s better to speak before and to deepen the questions and give good answers.”

Two of the cardinals who signed the dubia, Cardinal Joachim Meisner and Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, died in July and September.

The unanswered dubia and confusing messages coming out of Rome led more than 60 scholars to issue a “filial correction” of Pope Francis for “propagating heresies.”

Of this “correction,” Müller said:

What the Church needs in this serious situation is not more polarization and polemics, but more dialogue and reciprocal confidence. The Holy Father and all good shepherds are wishing the full integration of couples in irregular situations. But this must happen according to the general conditions of the worthy and valid reception of the holy sacraments. We must avoid new schisms and separations from the one Catholic Church, whose permanent principle and foundation of its unity and communion in Jesus Christ is the actual Pope Francis and all bishops in full communion with him. The Successor of St. Peter deserves full respect for his person and divine mandate, and, on the other hand, his honest critics deserve a convincing answer. A possibility of the solution could be a group of cardinals engaged by the Holy Father to begin a theological disputation with some prominent representatives of the dubia and the “corrections” about the different and sometimes controversial interpretation of some statements in Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia.

Vatican no longer cracking down on dissident theologians?

Pentin asked Müller about reports that dissident theologians aren’t being censured under Pope Francis.

It is “not correct” to say that no action has been taken against dissident theologians since 2013, Müller said.

“In my time there were cases in which we had first to dialogue with some theologians to resolve problems in a brotherly way,” he explained. “But I think there has been no absolute change in the role of the congregation. It must continue to defend the faith against heresies, schisms and other delicts against unity of the Church and the holiness of the sacraments...my impression of the situation over the past five years is that there hasn’t been any change in the role of the congregation.”

Regarding the refusal of those who push for changing Church teaching to dialogue and their “tendency to make things personal,” the cardinal said:

All my life, after the Second Vatican Council, I’ve noticed that those who support so-called progressivism never have theological arguments. The only method they have is to discredit other persons, calling them “conservative” — and this changes the real point, which is the reality of the faith, and not in your personal subjective, psychological disposition. By “conservative,” what do they mean? Someone loves the ways of the 1950s, or old Hollywood films of the 1930s? Was the bloody persecution of Catholics during the French Revolution by the Jacobins progressive or conservative? Or is the denial of the divinity of Christ by the Arians of the fourth century liberal or traditional? Theologically it’s not possible to be conservative or progressive. These are absurd categories: Neither conservatism nor progressivism is anything to do with the Catholic faith. They’re political, polemical, rhetorical forms. The only sense of these categories is discrediting other persons.

Müller also warned against a “Pentecostal misunderstanding of the role of the Holy Spirit.” At times, some prelates and even Pope Francis seemingly attribute impossible changes in doctrine or heterodox innovations to “surprises of the Holy Spirit.”

“In the Incarnate Word of God, in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, to us is given all the grace and truth,” concluded Müller. “The Holy Spirit actualizes the full revelation in the doctrine, the sacraments of the Church. The Holy Father plays here a very important role in the apostolic Tradition, but not the only one. His teaching is regulated by the word of God in the Bible and the dogmatic Tradition of the Church.”

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