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May 17, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), has in a new interview answered questions about the rise of the concept of “synodality,” the synodal approach of the German Church which he says is “crazy,”  the Amazon Synod, female diaconate, Curia reform, formation of priests and bishops, and much more. 

The Cardinal has become, very reluctantly, a potent focus of attention after Pope Francis failed to renew is 5-year term at the CDF in 2017. During his recent visit to Madrid, on the occasion of a solemn liturgy of the Constantinian Order, of which he is Grand Prior, he granted this interview exclusively to InfoVaticana. It has been translated by LifeSiteNews: 


InfoVaticana: Your Eminence, let's talk about the concept of synodality. What are the theological reference points, according to the magisterium of the Church, of synodality? What is this concept being used for in practice, in the life of the Church today? Is there a risk of using this practice as an instrument for other purposes? 

Cardinal Müller: Synodality is a neologism (new expression). Before there was the collegiality of the bishops, in which they worked together with the pope. And there were the regional and provincial synods, general synods, ecumenical councils… But theologically it is something new, involving a little invention. Collaboration is a natural thing for all members of the Church. That's why I don't understand what a sense of “synodality” would be that would be different from what we already had throughout the history of the Church. As if processes could change the Church's ideas. More important than processes is orienting oneself towards the classical principles of Sacred Scripture, of the apostolic tradition, of the magisterium, in declarations, infallible definitions… These are the points of reference and we cannot change the doctrine of the Church little by little in order to convert it to ideas that are against Revelation.

InfoVaticana: In this sense, speaking of processes, are you concerned about the synodal approach of the German Church as the point of the spear?

Cardinal Müller: This is something crazy. They think that sexual abuse by some clergy has something to do with the interpretation of sexuality or with celibacy and women's access to the priesthood. The existence of abuse is used to advance another agenda. It's absolutely false. One cannot accept this because there are many causes of abuse, including moral confusion: the failure of personal and also ecclesiastical morals, since ecclesiastical discipline has not been well understood. One becomes a priest of Jesus Christ to give a good example to others. The priest runs the risk of falling into temptation, of not respecting young people in the sanctity of their lives, in their personality… These are the real reasons for this failure. The vast majority of priests are good, you can't make these good priests liable for other people's personal guilt. We know that there are abusers in families, that there are abusive parents, but it cannot be said that the majority of these perpetrators, of those who do these things, are the parents. Because most parents are good parents.

InfoVaticana: Do you believe that the text of Pope Benedict on the causes of pedophilia in the Church has been deliberately silenced because of the arguments made by the Pope Emeritus?

Cardinal Müller: He, Benedict XVI, tells the truth and some do not want to listen to him. They have invented the theory that Archbishop Georg Gänswein and I wrote that text. That's what I've read in the press. He, the Pope Emeritus, is more capable of writing these texts than most of his critics. That is to say, he has a great intellect, and he has enough experience – 60 years, and also as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and then as pope. The two popes, John Paul II and Benedict, did everything they could to counteract pedophilia in the clergy. They must be given credit for fighting this plague. Those who criticize it are ideologues. Most of these have not read, have not studied this letter of 20 pages or more. They've only read a few headlines in the newspapers that said the pope was blaming the mentality of 1968.  But the pope emeritus did not say that it was to blame, but rather that it set the stage for the annihilation of morals and of conscience.

InfoVaticana: Are you worried about what might come out of the Amazon Synod?

Cardinal Müller: What I have seen so far is very superfluous. The reason for the lack of priests is not celibacy, it is the lack of preparation for the priestly vocation. Such a vocation comes from God and it is up to us to listen and respond to this vocation of God, which is a spiritual act. The Church must foster a good pastoral care of vocations. Celibacy is a spiritual reality and those who do not think of the Spirit of God cannot understand it. As Jesus said: the people of the world do not understand what celibacy is, to give one's life and not to live in marriage, which for us is a sacrament. With celibacy we also bear witness to the eschatological dimension of hope for eternal life. Because human life, Christian life, does not end in this terrestrial world. We have a hope beyond this life. All those who speak (about and) who have their aspirations in this Synod of the Amazon, speak only of some practical aspects of the matter. And they don't enter profoundly into the issues. They think more in accordance with the world than in a spiritual way.

InfoVaticana: You have written several books on women and the priesthood. There's been a commission on the female diaconate. Do you believe that there will be an opening to the female diaconate and therefore, in the future, to the priesthood of women?

Cardinal Müller: No. Dogmatically it is not possible. The pope does not have the power and authority to change the sacraments. And there was never a sacramental diaconate for women. And some historical data cannot be interpreted in this sense, and the Church has never dogmatically said that it is possible for women to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders. There is only one sacrament of Holy Orders: bishop, priest and deacon, and the sacrament cannot be separated or distinguished.

InfoVaticana: And an intermediate way of a non-sacramental ministerial diaconate, is it possible?

Cardinal Müller: No. Why call it a ministerial diaconate? It would create a confusion of words. Large numbers of our Christians are instructed by the press and do not know how to make theological distinctions because of a lack of education in theology. That's what we have ministries for. Lay ministries too. The same applies to men and women. There is no point in constructing something in the sense of a female diaconate, because we have this word, “ministry,” which comes from Latin. Why create confusion? The word deacon is a technical term for the first degree of the sacrament of Holy Orders. We cannot create a terminological confusion.

InfoVaticana: We are in a time in which doctrine has moved to second place. The first is now occupied by a singular, even spiritual, conception of praxis. What role does doctrine play in the Christian life, in the configuration of Catholic identity?

Cardinal Müller: There are many, now the Church, who do not know what doctrine is. They think it's a theory, a kind of thought. The doctrine of the Church is the Gospel of Jesus, it is the doctrine of Jesus, and of the apostles, and that is why it is the presentation, the verbalization of the Logos, of the word of God. The doctrine of the Church is the explanation of God's self-revelation, and it is not our theory about God, or about some topic in the Church. A distinction must be made between the dogmatic doctrine of the Church and the academic doctrine of theologians. In this preparation of the so-called reform of the Curia they are lowering the priority of the faith. First comes the Secretariat of State, which says that the State Secretariat, with its relations with States, diplomacy and Vatican bureaucracy, is more linked to the Pope's supreme mission than the doctrine of faith. This is absurd. Those are mundane, secular chores. The spiritual mission comes from Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ has not constituted the Vatican State with its head, and this head with his state governs the Church. It's absurd. The truth is the opposite. The Secretariat of State is only an aid to guarantee the independence, the freedom of the pope against the influence of politicians. But it is not the essence of the Petrine ministry.  And how can it be said, among the dicasteries, that first comes that of evangelization and then faith and the doctrine of faith? Evangelization is praxis and faith is theory. What concept of theory and praxis do they have? The Marxist system? Faith is the origin, the root of justification. Only through faith in Jesus Christ are we saved. Without faith, no one can please God. Faith is an infused virtue. The first gift of the Holy Spirit to us is faith and hope, love. You can't say faith is just a theory.

InfoVaticana: What other aspects of the Curia reform concern you?

Cardinal Müller: It is also very problematic that the Congregations of the cardinals, who represent the Roman Church, have been replaced by dicasteries. Now we have only dicasteries. Dicasteries are a bureaucracy. The Roman Curia cannot be a bureaucratic apparatus to help the Pope, the conferences, the bishops… It is an ecclesiastical reality that represents the Roman Church. Collegiate with the pope as his body, is in first place the College of Cardinals. The curia is also a form of the work of the College of Cardinals. And because of that, the congregation is the Latin expression of “synod.” They speak of synodality and do away with the  Congregations, and instead of “synodality” or “congregation” they now introduce a bureaucratic term.

InfoVaticana: What motivated you to make your Confession of Faith public?

Cardinal Müller: It was necessary. We talk a lot about climate, climate change, immigrants… and we have to talk about the themes of our Christian and Catholic faith. Cardinal Kasper said that what I had written about were some elements arbitrarily chosen by me. But the themes are the Trinity, the Incarnation, the sacramentality of the Church, the unity between faith and life and the expectation for eternal life, and the eschatological dimension. That's exactly what the symbol says, the profession of faith. And this is where we are. The Church, as the Pope always says, is not an NGO, the Church is a communion in faith, united in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The word of God that became flesh. This is the center of the Church, the sacrament in Christ to bring people into full communion with God and among us, to give an example or a sign of unity to humanity. This is the Church. We don't need a church that's a department of the United Nations.

InfoVaticana: I would like to ask you about the theological formation of priests and bishops. What are the consequences of an absence of theological and doctrinal formation of priests and bishops?

Cardinal Müller: Bishops and priests are the servants of the Word. That's why they have to know the Word. The intelligence of faith is not a reality that comes from outside to faith, it comes from within, from faith. Faith is also a rational act. We believe with our reason and with our will taken from grace. But it's a truly human act. And we must be prepared to give an answer to all those who ask us about the reasonableness of the hope that is in us. We have this great tradition of theology, of intellectuality, of faith. All the great teachers, especially St. Thomas, have spoken of the bishop as the master of the word, as the one who teaches the word and has to know all the elements of faith. He doesn't have to be a specialist theologian like those in the academy, but he has to be at that level. He has to be able to argue with theology professors. He must be informed every day, read the Bible, study the Bible, the great texts and documents of the apostolic tradition, and he has to be familiar with  contemporary theologians, and all of the discussion that we have today – anthropology, the false anthropology that defines man as a single biological being. We have to give convincing answers to today's intellectuals. It is not enough to be ministers of worship, ritualism – this is not enough – or to repeat some common phrases. It is necessary to have the capacity to penetrate these subjects. And that is why we need a profound study of theology, and also a permanent formation.

InfoVaticana: In your biography there is an outstanding chapter on your relationship with Gustavo Gutiérrez, with whom you also elaborated a theology on the poor. Today we are in a time when the poor have acquired a singular prominence as a priority of the Church's discourse regarding the Gospel, that the poor are at the center of the message. But isn't this discourse being used for something else?

Cardinal Müller: Everything can be made into an instrument of ideology. But the Christian, Catholic faith is not an ideology. It is the experience of God's reality in our midst. This is the Catholic faith. The poor in the world are not a marginal reality. It's a big issue, because there are millions of these poor people, and they live at a level that is below their dignity as human beings.  With the strength of faith, and the spirit of love, we must concern ourselves with the integral development of humanity. It cannot be that a few are very rich and others have nothing. The riches of the world are given to all. The Social Doctrine of the Church, and the theology of liberation along the lines of Gustavo Gutiérrez, say that this is not a Marxist ideology, but that it asks us how we can speak of God in the face of these injustices, inequalities and sufferings. The struggle against the structure of poverty, against the lack of human dignity, belongs to the mission of the Church, to diakonia.

Translated by Matthew Cullinan Hoffman for

Email the translator: [email protected].