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Cardinal Müller Bobs and Weaves

by Christopher A. Ferrara
September 29, 2017

During an interview conducted by the redoubtable Edward Pentin, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, who was abruptly sacked at the end of his first term as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), bobbed and weaved like a boxer on the rope in response to Pentin’s probing questions. But much can be gleaned from Müller’s evasive responses.

Herewith a sampling from this important encounter with a prelate who was at the vertices of a Church in turmoil under Pope Francis.

“Your Eminence, last month it was reported that, since 2013, no action has been taken against dissident theologians. Is this true? 

“This observation is not correct. The approach of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith since the changes of the Second Vatican Council is first to promote the faith — and the second is to defend the faith. In some cases we act as a tribunal for delicts against the faith and morals. But in my time there were cases in which we had first to dialogue with some theologians to resolve problems in a brotherly way. But I think there has been no absolute change in the role of the congregation….”

Translation: No dissident theologians have been disciplined since Francis’ election. There has only been “dialogue.”

Pentin pressed the issue in order to get a straight answer:

“So there haven’t been, at least publicly, cases of dissident theologians being disciplined in any way over the past four or so years?

“There were often reproaches against us over the past year, which belong to an anachronistic view of the CDF, which carries no resemblance to the role and the work of the congregation in modern times…. We addressed some cases involving problematic views and theologians. For example, we couldn’t give the nihil obstat in some — few — cases.”

Translation: No dissident theologians have been disciplined since Francis’ election. A few books were not deemed unobjectionable, but they were apparently published anyway.

Pentin tried again, and Müller bobbed and weaved again:

“Do you have examples of theologians who have been disciplined over the past few years, perhaps who we haven’t heard of?

“No, I cannot give the names because they’re under the pontifical secret, but my impression of the situation over the past five years is that there hasn’t been any change in the role of the congregation.”

Translation: Müller doesn’t know of a single dissident theologian who has been disciplined since Francis’ election, which is a “secret” anyway. But his “impression” — meaning he has no evidence — is that the CDF has not ceased disciplining dissident theologians. The suggestion that dissident theologians are disciplined “under the pontifical secret” is laughable. If they are promulgating error, their errors must be publicly identified and corrected. “Secret discipline” is worthless.

Next, Pentin sought confirmation that under Pope Francis the CDF has essentially been decommissioned in favor of Francis’ personal advisers, including his friend Archbishop Victor (“The Art of Kissing”) Fernandez, whom Francis made a titular archbishop of a titular (physically nonexistent) see as one of his first official acts.

“There has been a lot of talk about the congregation being downgraded, even isolated, during this pontificate. Instead, the Holy Father prefers to consult his advisers, such as his close confidant Archbishop Victor Fernandez, rector of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina in Buenos Aires. Are such people directing doctrine, and is the CDF being sidelined?

“I heard that the Pope is close to certain theologians, but they cannot claim to be authoritative interpreters of the Pope. If Archbishop Fernandez makes a declaration, for instance, that’s only private. It has no more weight than the statements of other bishops — and certainly for the whole Church, he has no magisterial authority — and so it holds no more authority for me than any other theological voice.”

 Translation: Yes, the CDF has been sidelined.

Müller next reiterated the red herring that Amoris Laetitia (AL) “does not contain any ‘new dogma’” — another evasion, as that is not the claim against AL. He added that “there’s no new doctrine or explication of some juridical points of the doctrine, but an acceptance of the doctrine of the Church and the sacraments. The only question is their pastoral application in extraordinary situations.

Translation: Francis has not changed any doctrines. He has “merely” declared that they do not apply in “extraordinary situations”! Which means, of course, a relativization of doctrine according to circumstances. But nothing has changed, you see!

Pentin next inquired whether Müller had been sacked on account of being too orthodox for Pope Francis:

“You say you don’t know the reasons for the Pope not renewing your term as prefect, but might it be because there’s a wave of heterodoxy at the highest levels, and you didn’t fit into that because you’re considered orthodox? Then you have Amoris Laetitia and your interpretation of it that diverges from those held by the Pope’s closest advisers and, in view of his comments on the issue, very possibly the Pope himself. Could this be the reason for ending your term?

“I don’t know because no explanation was offered to me. 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.”… For the good of the Curia and the Church, there should be open dialogue. I must refute any calumnies that have originated in certain parts of the press, or from certain ultramontanist circles and Vaticanisti, and this anonymous group of false “friends” around the Holy Father who have questioned my loyalty. All my life as a priest, theologian and bishop, I’ve worked for the Kingdom of God and his Holy Church. And to present me as an enemy of the Successor of St. Peter is completely crazy and unjust.”

Translation: Yes.

What about the many pages of corrections of AL that Müller submitted to Francis? Were they rejected? Herewith the evasive reply:

“We don’t have the right in the congregation to correct the Holy Father, that’s very clear, but it’s always been usual that the first drafts need to have an official comment by the congregation. Regarding Amoris Laetitia, I don’t know who made the ultimate redaction (final edition), the last corrections or editing.”

 Translation: Pope Francis rejected the corrections.

Recognizing that Müller had essentially admitted that the CDF’s corrections were ignored, Pentin next asked: “Does it disturb you that your corrections to these documents were ignored?” Continuing to evade a simple answer, Müller replied:

“Not all were ignored — the Holy Father isn’t obliged to accept our corrections, but I don’t know who made the synthesis of all texts and brought them to the Holy Father…. The Holy Father cannot personally do all of the elaboration of different suggestions from this and other congregations, of other theologians. He’s free to ask anybody…”

Translation: Francis pretty much rejected the CDF’s corrections and relied instead on his personal advisers, including Fernandez.

Confronted with Francis’ letter to the bishops of Buenos Aires informing them that their interpretation of AL permitting Holy Communion for public adulterers in “certain cases” is correct, Müller could only reply that “if the Pope is writing a personal and private letter, it’s not an official doctrinal document.”

Translation: Pope Francis is undermining orthodox teaching with his “private” communications.

The desperate bobbing and weaving continued as Pentin pointed out that the “private” letter is publicly posted on the Vatican website! To which embarrassing fact Müller replied: “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.”

Translation: The “private” letter is really the Pope’s public interpretation, which he wants the whole world to know, but we can pretend that the interpretation is orthodox if we try hard enough.

I urge readers to study the entirety of Pentin’s masterful interview of the sacked head of the CDF. And I must note that some of what Müller says is positive and useful. My point here, however, is that Müller’s answers to the questions presented here indicate a disturbing lack of candor concerning a situation that has no precedent in Church history: that of a Pope who is blatantly attempting to relativize the Church’s teaching on marriage and family while paying it lip service.

That is, Müller resolutely refuses to admit what the late Cardinal Caffarra, one of the four “dubia cardinals,” knew in light of the Message of Fatima (thanks to Sister Lucia): that the Church is now in the midst of the “final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan…”

A warning from this apostolate, also in the light of Fatima, issued many years ago.