Timeline suggests reasons for Pope’s dismissal of conservative from top Vatican doctrine post
July 1, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – From his appointment by Pope Benedict XVI as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith in 2012, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller has spoken out for orthodoxy amid a chorus of opposing voices in the Vatican. This role became visible during the two Synods of the Family in 2014 and 2015 as he publicly opposed powerful clerics from his native Germany such as Cardinals Walter Kasper and Reinhard Marx.
As the debate leading up to the Synods was taking place in late 2013 Cardinal Müller made a pre-emptive strike by stating unflinchingly that Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics is not possible. “If the prior marriage of two divorced and remarried members of the faithful was valid, under no circumstances can their new union be considered lawful, and therefore reception of the sacraments is intrinsically impossible,” he wrote, quoting Cardinal Josef Ratzinger.
Shortly thereafter, Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, chairman of the Pope’s private council of eight cardinals, publicly chastised Müller for being too strict on truth. “The world, my brother, the world is not like that. You should be a little flexible when you hear other voices, so that you not only listen and say, ‘No and here is the wall’.”
In what may seem incredible now, in the middle of the two Synods Cardinal Müller said openly that the attempt to separate the Catholic Church’s teaching from her practice is “heresy.” In remarks to the International Theological Commission, reprinted in the Vatican newspaper in early December 2014, Müller said, “Each division between ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ of the faith would be a reflection of a subtle Christological ‘heresy.’”
When Cardinal Marx, another member of the one of the Pope’s council of eight cardinal advisors, and head of the German Bishops Conference, went public saying that the German bishops would chart their own course on the question of allowing Communion for those in “irregular” sexual unions, Cardinal Müller condemned the proposal in no uncertain terms. “This is an absolutely anti-Catholic idea that does not respect the catholicity of the Church,” he said.
He added that not even the papal Magisterium is free to change doctrine. “Every word of God is entrusted to the Church, but it is not superior to the Word,” he said. “The Magisterium is not superior to the word of God. The reverse is true.”
During the period between the two Synods, as the Church seemed in confusion over doctrine, the Vatican doctrine chief took it upon himself to set the record straight. He gave multiple interviews and talks defending the traditional stance of the Church on the indissolubility of marriage and the catholicity of the Church. He warned of schism in the Church, and was frequently having to creatively interpret statements from the Pope that seemed to counter the doctrine of the Church.
It was at this time that Cardinal Müller seemed to come under fire from sources connected to the Pope. In addition to the war of words with Cardinal Marx, papal biographer and Vatican specialist reporter Andrea Tornielli went after Cardinal Müller, questioning him on his corrections of the Pope.
Muller admitted that he had had to correct the Pope theologically. “Pope Francis is not a 'professional theologian', but has been largely formed by his experiences in the field of the pastoral care, which is very different here with us [in the West],” he said. He characterized Francis’ reaction to his corrections this way: “That is what he [Pope Francis] has said already three or four times himself, publicly (laughs); and then he gave me a hug so that – as he said – the gossip ceases with regard to this matter.”
Even after the publication of Amoris Laetitia, Cardinal Müller maintained that the Pope’s exhortation did not allow for Communion for Catholic remarried divorcees. He did so even in the face of the Pope’s signature on documents backing the opposite interpretation.
It was then, in late 2016, that pressure on Cardinal Muller from Pope Francis became more palpable. Pope Francis unceremoniously ordered Cardinal Muller to dismiss three priests from their posts inside the CDF. According to one of the most noted Vatican reporters, when Muller questioned the Pope about the dismissal, the pope replied: “I am the pope, I do not need to give reasons for any of my decisions. I have decided that they have to leave and they have to leave.”
In Vatican circles, speculation began about Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schonborn replacing Muller as head of the CDF. Sources close to the Cardinal suggest that Muller took such speculation seriously and sought to put a friendlier face on his relationship with Pope Francis. During this time he penned a book about Pope Benedict and Pope Francis in which he suggested there was only a difference of character between the two rather than a difference of doctrine.
The book apparently did little to settle the matter.
Rather than advising reporters seeking an interpretation of Amoris Laetitia to go to the Vatican doctrine chief, the Pope referred them to Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, whom he called a “great theologian who knows the doctrine of the Church.”
Schonborn’s interpretation contradicted that of Muller’s, allowing in certain cases for Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics.
Cardinal Muller stepped up his show of loyalty to the Pope with an overt challenge to the four dubia Cardinals – Raymond Burke, Joachim Meisner, Carlo Caffarra and Walter Brandmuller. Despite the fact that the dubia Cardinals were fighting for exactly the same interpretation of Amoris as Cardinal Muller was pushing, he publicly criticized them.
Cardinal Müller told an Italian TV-channel in January 2017 that there was no need for a “fraternal correction” of the pope since the pope has not put the faith and Catholic teaching in danger. “The Pope is basically forced to answer with ‘yes or no’. I don’t like that,” he said.
By May of this year, Müller had softened his stance against the dubia Cardinals, saying that they had asked "legitimate questions to the pope," but regretted that they were made public.
And even though the Pope made it more and more and more clear that his interpretation of Amoris Laetitia was opposed to that of Cardinal Muller’s, the Vatican doctrine chief continues till now saying otherwise.
In fact in yet another book released in February of this year Cardinal Muller suggests that not only must Amoris Laetitia be interpreted in light of the Church’s traditional teaching and discipline, he adds that the Pope has no authority to alter it.
While Cardinal Muller may now lose his exalted post as guardian of the doctrine of the faith in the Catholic Church, he went down trying his best to maintain the faith despite personal attack. His calculated moves to retain his position were, we learn from those close to him, not made out of any desire for power, but only out of concern that a successor in his post less given to maintaining orthodoxy may do harm to the Church.