Rumors of Cardinal Gerhard Müller’s impending departure as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are nothing new. But last week, a new story hit the radar, largely-unnoticed in the English-speaking world. The Argentinian newspaper Clarín ran a report saying that Pope Francis planned to take advantage of the looming July 2 deadline on Müller’s five-year mandate to send him on his way. Without Müller to stand in the way, Clarín reported, “the path of renewal of the last phase of the pontificate of Jorge Bergoglio, who in December will turn 81, would be open.”
Today, new reports confirming the Clarín story — without any additional detail — are appearing at Corrispondenza Romana & Rorate Caeli. OnePeterFive has confirmed with our own sources close to the CDF that the reports are true: Cardinal Müller will be leaving his position as Prefect of the CDF on Sunday, July 2nd.
It is interesting that Rorate has chosen to frame Müller’s role at the post-Amoris Laetitia (AL) CDF as adversarial:
Cardinal Müller is one of the cardinals who sought to interpret Amoris Laetitia along the lines of a hermeneutic of continuity with Church Tradition. This was enough to put him among the critics of the new course imposed by Pope Bergoglio.
It is true that Müller has chosen to view the post-synodal apostolic exhortation through rose-colored glasses. In January, in an interview with Italian television station TGCOM24, the German cardinal said that “Amoris Laetitia is very clear in its doctrine and [in it] we can interpret [sic] the whole doctrine of Jesus concerning marriage, the whole doctrine of the Church of 2000 years history.” This may not have been well-received by those who see Communion for the divorced and remarried, regardless of repentance, as a new and different path for the Church.
But during that same interview, he also openly criticized the dubia, saying explicitly that AL does not pose “any danger to the Faith”:
Cardinal Müller even said that he was surprised that the Letter of the Four Cardinals to the pope – containing the dubia concerning Amoris Laetitia – had been published. “I do not like that,” he added. In Müller’s eyes, it is not at all appropriate “almost to force the pope to answer with ‘yes’ or ‘no’” with regard to the dubia, especially because “there is not any danger to the Faith” which would then fittingly call for such a fraternal correction. Thus, such a correction of the pope “seems to me far away,” according to the Prefect of the Congregation for Doctrine. He also considers it unfortunate that these matters are now being discussed “publicly.”
Müller has thus become an odd and unlikely ally of the current scheme of implementation of AL, and struck a profound blow against the Four Cardinals and their dubia. He has been treated incredibly poorly, considering the importance and centrality of his position as CDF prefect. He was not given a copy of the final text of Amoris Laetitia for doctrinal review, but instead a much less problematic version of the draft. Even so, Müller told a senior official that the CDF “had submitted many, many corrections, and not one of the corrections was accepted”. He was forced by the pope to fire three of his most trusted priests from the CDF early this year for no specific reason. He has been publicly embarrassed by Pope Francis and some of his trusted advisers, who have been allowed to treat him with contempt:
Müller himself is often disrespected and passed over by Francis and his closest advisors. In an interview in January, 2014, Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, a member of Francis’ inner circle, proffered naked scorn at Müller’s rejection of Holy Communion to the divorced and remarried, saying that the prefect “only thinks in black-and-white terms” and that “the world isn’t like that”. Archbishop Victor Fernández, another close friend of Francis who is believed to be the chief ghostwriter of Amoris Laetitia, gave an interview in May of 2015 that was perceived as a direct attack on statements made by the Prefect of the CDF. In May of this year, Maike Hickson reported that “Carlos Osoro, the archbishop of Madrid, Spain, forbade Cardinal Gerhard Müller from presenting his new book on hope at the Catholic University San Dámaso, because this book is — Osoro alleges — ‘against the pope‘.” In December, Kathpress.at, an official publication of the Austrian Bishops’ conference under the leadership of papal ally Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, edited an interview with Müller in such a way as to leave some of his most important remarks about Amoris Laetitia on the cutting room floor. And on multiple occasions, Francis has signaled his preference — or even deference — to Cardinal Walter Kasper on matters of theology, such that the openly heterdox prelate is known as “the pope’s theologian”.
In my January 11, 2017 commentary (linked above) I outlined the “climate of fear” at the Vatican, and the fear that many who work at the Vatican are being monitored, KGB-style. In a related report, I mentioned how “Vatican-issued cell phones and email addresses are treated with absolute suspicion, and reports of employees being quietly dismissed from congregations like the CDF for the crime of agreeing with the resistance to Amoris Laetitia have surfaced.” I have personally spoken with individuals who have experienced accidental playback of recorded phone calls when speaking with Vatican sources, or who have been told by sources that they should not discuss things over the phone. I also outlined in some detail the stories of abuse received by Catholic journalists, and the claims made by Vatican correspondent Edward Pentin concerning “political manipulation, deceit, and calumny happening within Vatican walls.” In May, a communique was made public from the Dean of the College of Cardinals to the cardinals living in Rome which called upon a “noble tradition” that prescribed that all cardinals living in the eternal city must “inform the Holy Father, by way of the Secretariat of State, the period of their absence from Rome and the address of their stay.” And even more recently, I’ve heard reports (as yet unsourced) of more draconian, police-state procedures being carried out — unannounced office raids and long interview/interrogation sessions of staff members.
Sources close to Cardinal Müller had always related to us that the cardinal’s general sentiment was that he could do more good from the inside than from the outside. He was also concerned about who might be tapped to replace him. (In the Clarín story, it is suggested that Cardinal Sean O’Malley is a likely candidate; others believe that Cardinal Cristoph Schönborn may be chosen as an extension of his role as the pope’s handpicked interpreter of Amoris Laetitia.)
But one wonders what good Müller thought he could truly accomplish if he was being actively hindered and was himself afraid to take a firm, unequivocal stance. As I wrote back in January, the cardinal appeared to be manifesting symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome:
It is clear that with divergent practices being implemented by various bishops around the world, the pope himself confirming that Holy Communion can be given to the divorced and remarried in certain circumstances, and the official interpreters of the exhortation trying to pass it off as “binding”, we are faced with nothing less than a “separation of the theory and practice of the faith.” If that is, indeed, a “christological heresy” — as Müller himself has claimed — it would therefore constitute a “danger to the faith” by any reasonable standard.
With the stakes thus clarified, certain conclusions are inescapable. If Cardinal Müller thinks he can stand athwart the darkness by staying where he is, trying to tamp down the fires of discontent stirred up by the dubia from within the Vatican apparatus by means of a more subtle, diplomatic approach, he is seriously mistaken. And if he is being told what to say, and willing to do so (recall similar reports that Msgr. Pinto from the Roman Rota was given a papal order to attack the Four Cardinals) then it is impossible for him to be trusted — and it suggests that he has come to identify, somehow, with those who have essentially held him captive in his increasingly ineffectual position.
At the time, I cited an article from John Allen at Crux, as regards Francis’ peculiar way of handling personnel issues:
In a nutshell, Pope Francis’s approach to difficult personnel choices is to keep people in place, while entrusting the real responsibility to somebody else and thus rendering the original official, if not quite irrelevant, certainly less consequential.
But sitting on the fence doesn’t make a man an ally of either side. Mediocrity is never enough to save us. Müller resisted Francis just enough to make himself a problem, but resisted making a stand just enough to lose the trust of those who wanted to see in him a beacon of hope as the Church’s chief defender of doctrine.
By trying to be useful to both sides of this dispute, he became useless to both. And now he’s gone, and he never used the weight and authority of his position to say what he should have said — to stand with the Four Cardinals, and all the countless unnamed Catholics besides, and choose Christ, whatever the cost.
I spoke with Maike Hickson about this story this morning, and she offered a sobering perspective. “From now on,” she told me, “wherever he goes, he will have people ask him ‘But what did you do? You were there, why did you not say something?'”
“As Germans,” she said, referencing the sentiment that still lingers toward the German people for the perception that they did not sufficiently oppose the atrocities of the Nazis, “this is something we have dealt with for sixty years.”
Sources close to Cardinal Müller have indicated that his removal from his position — where he clearly felt a duty to try to work harmoniously with the pope — may in fact lead him to feel more free in his own assessment of the current crisis.
I hope this is the case. And I hope it’s not too late to matter.
This post has been updated.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have eight children. You can find more of his writing at his Substack, The Skojec File.