Yesterday, 25 May, the Catholic channel EWTN aired an interview of Raymond Arroyo’s The World Over which was conducted a week ago with Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). In this interview – which was conducted in English – the German cardinal touches upon several important matters which are of interest to the larger Catholic world.
When Raymond Arroyo asks Cardinal Müller about the post-synodal exhortation Amoris Laetitia and the confusion stemming from it, the cardinal first states: “It is absolutely impossible that the pope, as the successor of St. Peter, the Vicar of Jesus Christ for the Universal Church, [would] present a doctrine which is plainly against the words of Jesus Christ.” The pope and the magisterium are “merely the interpreter” of the words of Christ, and the “doctrine on indissolubility of matrimony is absolutely clear,” explains the cardinal.
In Müller’s eyes, the pope intends with Amoris Laetitia “to help, to have in his sight,” all those people who live “in the secularized world” and “who do not have a full understanding what is a Christian life.” “He does not want to say: ‘Either you accept absolutely all from the beginning or you are absolutely out.’” The German cardinal explains that “we must lead them as good pastors until [up to] this point that they could accept completely the Christian doctrine and Christian life and our understanding.”
With regard to the famous footnote in Amoris Laetitia according to which it is possible to have, under certain conditions, access to the Sacraments while living together as a “remarried” couple, Cardinal Müller explains that this only applies to those “who live as brother and sister” after “a conversion of the heart, penitence” and the “intention not to sin again.” It is impossible to live with two wives, he adds. “We don’t accept polygamy!”
It is in this context – and after explaining that doctrine and pastoral care always go together – that Cardinal Müller makes a side remark about Father Antonio Spadaro’s recent tweetaccording to which, in theology, 2 and 2 does not need to make four, but can be five:
Some of those people who present themselves as a counselor of the pope, [saying] that the theology, the pastoral [care] for two and four [sic – two] can be five, that is not possible, because we have the theology.
When Raymond Arroyo, in his searching questions, raises the problem that Pope Francis himself has encouraged the Argentine bishops in their progressive understanding of Amoris Laetitia, Cardinal Müller responds that he is not glad “that the bishops interpret the pope, the pope interprets the bishops,” adding: “We have some rules how to act in the Church.” The cardinal adds that, after two synods and a papal authoritative word in this matter, the discussion should be “finished.”
When asked about the dubia and whether they should be answered by the Holy Father, Cardinal Müller says that, with regard to the content of the dubia, these are “legitimate questions to the pope.” However, he regrets that “that it came out into the public,” causing “tensions between the pope and some cardinals.” “This is not good in our world of mass media,” concludes the cardinals, adding that “our enemies are glad to see our Church in a certain confusion.”
Moreover, Cardinal Müller distances himself from the misunderstandings on “both sides” or camps during the two family synods, saying that this had to do with “prejudices” and “an ideological view of things.” “Some argued too ideologically,” and thought that “we must fight for our ideas,” he explains, yet “we have the responsibility for the unity of the Church.” “It is not good to make a pressure group,” “to enter as a pressure group for one’s own ideas in the synod.” There are in the Church today “two wings, two ideological wing, extremes,” adds the German cardinals. “Everybody wants to win the battle against the other.” But, says Cardinal Müller, “the Revelation of God unites” and “it is not our task to unify in a totalitarian way.” It is wrong, according to Müller, to think “everybody must think like me.”
It seems that here, Cardinal Müller distanced himself, not only from the progressive camp, but also from those conservative prelates who tried to defend the traditional Catholic teaching on marriage during the two synods.
With regard to the question of the female deaconate, Cardinal Müller makes it clear that there cannot be a sacramental female deaconate and that Pope Francis established his study commission merely in order to find out more ways of participation in the Church for women.
Raymond Arroyo also asks the German cardinal whether the invitation of Paul Ehrlich and other progressive speakers at the Vatican is disturbing for him. In response, Cardinal Müller explains that, as a former academician, “I can discuss with everybody,” but “we must avoid the impression” of a relativization. “These people might be good scientists, but anthropologically, they [these secular academicians] have some lacks [deficiencies],” but we must “always have respect” for the natural law and the dignity of man, explains the cardinal. It is important to highlight the “right to life,” according to Cardinal Müller. “Overpopulation of the world could be a problem [sic], but we cannot resolve it with the killing of the half of mankind.”
When asked whether he is worried about giving moral credence to these speakers, Müller responds: “That could be the danger.” “Pope Francis was very clear against the gender ideology against transhumanism,” he adds. Pope Francis, in Müller’s eyes, “wants not to exclude these people” but wants them to learn from our “good anthropology” and have more “respect for human life.”
Moreover, Cardinal Müller confirms the idea that this approach is part of Pope Francis’ “evangelical hand held out to them,” as Arroyo puts it. The Church was once “a little bit separated from other groups,” seeming to be a little bit by itself, explains Cardinal Müller, and the pope wants now to reach out more to other groups in society.
With regard to the story about the three CDF priests who were dismissed around Christmas 2016 (as Marco Tosatti reported), upon the order of Pope Francis, Cardinal Müller makes it clear that he was opposed to the measure taken: “I am in favor of a better treatment of our officials in the Holy See because we cannot only speak about the social doctrine, we must also respect it.” The German distances himself “absolutely” from this dismissal which was not based on the fact that they committed a “mistake.” Müller does not want to participate in a form of a “court system”: “I am not a man of court [courtier].” For the employees of the Congregation for the Doctrine, orthodoxy and competence have to be the reasons for their employment, explains the cardinal.
When asked about the possible reconciliation with the Society of St. Pius X, Cardinal Müller responds with the words: “It needs time,” because it is not only about “signing a document” but also about the change of heart. Some of the members of the SSPX, he adds, think “we [ourselves] are the right Catholics.” They have to accept the “hierarchical communion” of the Church, as well as the creed, the pope’s authority and the councils. A “deeper reconciliation” is needed, according to Müller.
Cardinal Müller also explains to Raymond Arroyo that he generally agrees with Cardinal Robert Sarah’s claim that we have a “crisis of the liturgy,” but he insists that this crisis goes back to before the Second Vatican Council. The loss of the sense of the “mystery” at Holy Mass was a problem which already Romano Guardini discussed, says Cardinal Müller. It depends on the “inner attitude” as to whether one has a “life in God,” and not so much because of the “exterior forms.” The German cardinal states that, also with the traditional Latin Mass, one could celebrate Mass quickly – even in ten minutes – without entering into the mystery of the Mass.
His desire, Cardinal Müller says at the conclusion of the interview, is to “help to overcome secularization,” i.e., the “life without God.” In the face of his burdens as the Prefect of the CDF, Cardinal Müller insists that “with the help of Grace, we can confront all these questions.” In light of this new interview, it might be worthwhile considering what Professor Anna Silvas recently said at the Lay Conference on Amoris Laetitia in Rome:
There is one group however, whose approach I find very strange: the intentionally orthodox among higher prelates and theologians who treat the turmoil arising from Amoris Laetitia as a matter of ‘misinterpretations’. They will focus on the text alone, abstracted from any of the known antecedents in the words and acts of Pope Francis himself or its wider historical context. It is as if they interpose a chasm that cannot be crossed between the person of the Pope on the one hand, over whose signature this document was published, and the ‘text’ of the document on the other hand. With the Holy Father safely quarantined out of all consideration, they are free to address the problem, which they identify as ‘misuse’ of the text. They then express the pious plea that the Holy Father will ‘correct’ these errors.
No doubt the perceived constraints of piety to the successor of [Saint] Peter account for these contorted manoeuvres. I know, I know! We have been facing down that conundrum for a year or longer. But to any sane and thoughtful reader, who, in the words of the 45 Theologian’s Censures, is ‘not trying to twist the words of the document in any direction, but … take the natural or the immediate impression of the meaning of the words to be correct’, this smacks of a highly wrought artificiality.