ROME, May 1, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Pope Francis’ top advisor on Catholic doctrine is coming under attack as he continues to defend the Church’s teaching on marriage, family, and sexuality amid a campaign by a “progressive” faction of prelates.
On March 29, the French Catholic daily newspaper, La Croix, published an interview with Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In this important interview, Cardinal Müller explained once more the CDF's position on the question of a possible loosening of the Church's moral teaching concerning the admittance of “remarried” divorcees to the Sacraments, especially Holy Communion. Müller declared:
It is impossible to have two wives. If the first union is valid, it is not possible to enter into a second one at the same time. A path of penitence is possible, but not a second union. The only possibility is to return to the first, legitimate union, or to live in the second union as brother and sister: that is the Church's position, in agreement with the will of Jesus. I would add that it is always possible to try and obtain an annulment from an ecclesiastical tribunal.
Müller also said that while he himself does not intend to take sides during the upcoming Synod, his hands are bound to follow Christ's Truth:
As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I am responsible for unity of the faith. I cannot take sides. But things are clear: we have the words of Jesus regarding marriage and their authentic interpretation throughout the long history of the Church — the Councils of Florence and Trent, the synthesis made by Gaudium et Spes and the whole Magisterium that came after. From a theological standpoint, everything is quite clear: we are facing the secularization of marriage, with religious marriage separated from the civil pact.
Thus we have lost the elements that constitute marriage as a sacrament and as a natural institution. The Church’s message regarding marriage goes against such secularization. We must recover the natural foundations of marriage and emphasize its sacramental nature for those who are baptized as a means for grace to permeate the spouses and the whole family.
Next to these important affirmations of the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church on marriage and its perpetuity, Cardinal Müller also made comments that should be applied to the statement of Cardinal Reinhard Marx concerning the upcoming Synod of Bishops and his specific assertion that the German Bishops will make their own decisions concerning the allowance of “remarried” divorcees to the reception of Holy Communion, and independent of the decisions of the Synod, saying that “we are no subsidiaries of Rome.”
Müller commented, without mentioning Marx' name:
The episcopal conferences are an expression of the collegiality of the bishops at the level of a country, a culture or a language, but this is a practical organization. The Catholic Church exists as a universal Church, in the communion of all the Bishops united under the Pope. It also exists in the local churches. But the local church is not the Church of France or Germany: it is the Church of Paris, of Toulouse, etc. They are the dioceses. The idea of a national Church would be totally heretical. Autonomy in faith is impossible. Jesus Christ is the Savior of all; He unifies all human beings.
The comments that caused a prominent Catholic journal in Rome to oppose Cardinal Müller with considerable force were his following comments concerning his role in aiding Pope Francis to teach the Faith to the faithful and to uphold it:
The arrival of a theologian like Benedict XVI in the chair of St. Peter was no doubt an exception. But John XXIII was not a professional theologian. Pope Francis is also more pastoral and our mission at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is to provide the theological structure of a pontificate.
This single paragraph about Müller's comment that he is the aide of Pope Francis in providing the “theological structure” of his pontificate has caused much criticism from the journal Vatican Insider, especially coming from its journalist Andrea Tornielli, who is a friend of the Pope and who himself published one book about Pope Francis in 2013, Francis: Pope of a New World, and another one in 2015, Papa Francesco. Questa economia uccide – Pope Francis: This Economy Kills, which contains a lengthy interview with the Pope himself.
Tornielli says now about Cardinal Müller:
In one of the numerous interviews he has given over the past few weeks focusing on the next Synod, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, spoke about a new task for his dicastery. It is a task that is never been mentioned in the documents outlining the precise competencies of the former Holy Office. […]
So, according to Müller’s statement, the former Holy Office must “theologically structure” Pope Francis’ pontificate. And this is probably the reason why the Prefect gives public statements on such a frequent basis, like never before. […]
This is a significant piece of news bearing in mind what is stated in article 48 of “Pastor Bonus”, the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia promulgated by John Paul II in 1988: “The proper duty of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is to promote and safeguard the doctrine on faith and morals in the whole Catholic world.” […]
While on the one hand his words open up new doctrinal scenarios in relation to Church tradition, on the other they seem to suggest that, according to Müller, the current pontificate – and St. John XXIII’s too – lacks sufficient theological “structure”.
We quoted the criticism extensively, so as to give the reader the chance to see for himself how Tornielli tendentiously interpreted the one sentence of Cardinal Müller about his role as the prefect of the CDF. Some of the language above puts Cardinal Müller's role in doubt and insinuates that he tries to give himself a new and unexpected (if not presumptuous) role.
Vatican Insider did not stop here, but sequentially published a longer interview with a Dominican priest and Professor at the Faculty of Theology of the University of Fribourg (Switzerland), Father Benoît-Dominique de La Soujeole. The title of the interview is: “Does the Successor of Peter Need 'Theological Structuring'?”
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The first question of the interview goes right to the point of conflict:
Does providing a “theological structure” to the pontificate feature among the tasks of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith?
[Father de La Soujeole answers:] First of all we must clarify these words. The Congregation in which Cardinal Müller performs the role of Prefect, is the Congregation De doctrina fidei. According to article 48 of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus of 26 June 1988, its duty is “to promote and safeguard the doctrine on faith and morals in the whole Catholic world”. […] What the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus says in general about the Roman Curia in points 7 and 8 of its introduction, could then help one to understand the cardinal’s expression: The nature of the Curia is ministerial and in some way instrumental (n° 7), assisting the Roman Pope in a vicarious manner in his personal duty as pastor of the entire Church and in his relationship with the bishops (n°8). As such, the Congregation De doctrina fidei assists the Pope in the responsibility he has as guarantor of the faith of the Church, providing him with the adequate “instruments” listed in article 51 of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus.
While this answer of a well-formed and differentiated expert clarifies what Cardinal Müller had meant with his expression, the following list of (arguably loaded) questions in this interview shows their intent of further criticizing the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:
- Cardinal Müller’s words make it seem like if a Pope is not a “theologian by profession,” then his pontificate may require the tutelage of a class of theologians that work in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Do you consider this way of defining the relationship between the pontifical Magisterium and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to be plausible?
- Does it still make sense to make even an implicit dialectic distinction between “theologian” Popes and “pastor” Popes?
- Individual Pope figures aside, can the Successor of Peter’s ministry be considered theologically “lacking” and in need of a certain “theological structuring” by individuals other than the Pope?
- In the Apostolic structure of the Church, which the Catholic Church believes is according to the will of God himself, who is the custodian of the depositum fidei? Is it the Pope with the bishops or the Roman Curia with its Congregations and bodies, including the Doctrinal dicastery?
- Do the Vatican Congregations or the Pope’s collaborators partake in some way in the charisma of infallibility which the Pope in certain cases possesses?
- Does the idea of a papacy that is “lacking” in “theological structure” terms echo the old medieval theories about the possibility of a “heretical Pope”?
- In the post-Conciliar years, there was often talk of certain theological circles wanting to exercise a “parallel magisterium.” Could this temptation arise again, perhaps in new guises, among “bishop-theologians” who have been given positions of responsibility within the Church?
The Dominican professor's answers to these questions all relate correctly the traditional teaching of the Church on the primacy of the papacy and also the primary authority of the Pope. Since we cannot go into detail recounting the fuller and substantive answers of this impartial expert, who had, as it seems, no intention to undermine the important work of Cardinal Müller, the very questions of Vatican Insider speak loudly for themselves. We deal here with a straight attack upon Cardinal Müller and his attempt – in this time of grave confusion within the Church about important and eternally consequential problems such as adultery – to teach clearly and fully the doctrine of the Faith about morals and doctrine.
The Italian journalist Sandro Magister commented on the current criticism of Cardinal Müller by Vatican Insider, defending the important role of Cardinal Müller:
These words of Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller [as quoted above], Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in an interview with the French newspaper “La Croix” on March 29, have raised nervous reactions in the camp of the ultra-Bergoglians. […]
While the vaticanista Andrea Tornielli has denounced it as an abuse of power exceeding the duties of the congregation, in addition to being offensive toward the current pontificate, judged as being insufficient in its theological “structure” and stature.
But that in fact some of the statements – and among the most famous – made by Pope Francis suffer from a lack of clarity is plain for all to see.
And Magister concludes, referring to the traditional role of the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:
One statutory duty of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is precisely that of examining all Vatican documents before publication, “insofar as they touch on the doctrine of faith or morals.”
Even the documents of the Pope undergo its preventive scrutiny. With John Paul II in particular the understanding between him and his master of doctrine, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was perfect. And every pontifical document came out “theologically structured” in impeccable form.
Pope Francis, instead, proceeds in a more solitary form. “Evangelii Gaudium” also underwent preventive examination by the Congregation headed by Müller, which annotated it with numerous observations. But it was finally made public with practically no changes. […]
Another more general consequence is that Cardinal Müller finds himself constrained to intervene on the documents of Pope Francis after their publication, with public interventions intended to clarify points that have remained obscure and to confer a “theological structuring” on them.