Last year in Rome, a controversy emerged concerning some comments made by Cardinal Gerhard Müller about his own role in the Church as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Müller indicated that it was thus his task to help in the “theological structuring” of the pontificate of Pope Francis. These statements, which he made in an interview with La Croix on 29 March 2015, included the following statement:
“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.”
At the time, this particular statement had especially provoked a reaction from some of the close collaborators of Pope Francis, such as the Italian journalist of La Stampa, Andrea Tornielli, who then commented on 7 April 2015:
Cardinal Müller’s words – which introduced the new task of “provid[ing] the theological structure of a pontificate,” a task that had not been formalised until now – went practically unnoticed. 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 [like] St. John XXIII’s [pontificate] too – lacks sufficient theological “structure.”
Moreover, the ghostwriter of many of the pope’s current writings, Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández, himself decided to make his own critique of Cardinal Müller’s statement in his well-known (and quite controversial) interview with Corriere della Siera on 10 May 2015. In this interview, Fernández – whom Dr. Sandro Magister recently demonstrated to have written certain essential parts of Amoris Laetitia in articles published in his own name a decade ago – acerbically commented on those who still resist Pope Francis’s reforms. Fernández said, “Others — really just a few — are, instead, going their own way. And from what one can see, they tend to ignore Francis’ teachings.” The interviewer requested more:
[Question:] Could you give us an example?
“I’ve read that some people say the Roman Curia is an essential part of the Church’s mission, or that a Vatican prefect is the sure compass that prevents the Church from falling into ‘light’ thought; or that this prefect ensures the unity of the faith and guarantees a serious theology for the pope. But Catholics, reading the Gospel, know that Christ assured special guidance and enlightenment for the pope and bishops all together, but not for a prefect or another structure. When you hear such things it almost seems as if the pope were their representative, or was someone who came to cause trouble and needs to be controlled.”
[Question:] Would it be possible to have a pope without the Vatican or away from the Vatican?
“The Roman Curia is not an essential structure. The pope could even go and live away from Rome, have a dicastery in Rome and another one in Bogotà, and perhaps link-up by teleconference with liturgical experts that live in Germany. Gathered around the pope, in a theological sense, is the College of Bishops in order to serve the people.” [emphasis added]
A little later, Fernández continued: “Cardinals could disappear, in the sense that they are not essential. The pope and the bishops are essential.”
These terse stipulations of the Argentinian archbishop, however, provoked an immediate response in the form of a statement made to the same newspaper – only one day later, on 11 May 2015. The statement was made by Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu, Substitute of the Secretary of State, who then corrected Fernández. Becciu came to the defense of the Curia and stressed that – while it is correct that the pope and the bishops are the shepherds of the Church – the Curia has historically developed and has played a very important role in helping “the growth of the Church.”
In May of 2015, it is likely that Müller also learned of Archbishop Fernández’ provocations. If he did know, he maintained a public silence – until now. Müller has just given an interview to the German Catholic journal, Herder Korrespondenz. This interview has already created a stir due to the CDF Prefect’s comments indicating surprisingly strong stipulations concerning reconciliation of the SSPX. What has mostly escaped notice was another segment of the interview, one in which Cardinal Gerhard Müller thoughtfully returns to the earlier statements of Archbishop Fernández, at least one of which was clearly directed against Müller, if not by name.
Müller labels as heretical the claim that the pope is not bound to live in Rome. When asked about Pope Francis’ “acts of relativizing the papal office” and whether “his style is changing the theological profile of the papal office,” the German cardinal said the following :
The teaching on the papacy as a Divine institution cannot be relativized by anybody – this would mean to want to correct God Himself. […] A while ago, there were people who were presented by certain tendentious media outlets as being the closest counselors of the pope, and specifically according to whom one could even well move the residence of the pope down to Medellin or distribute the offices of the Curia to the different local churches. This is fundamentally wrong and even heretical [“sogar häretisch”]. In this matter, one only has to once read the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium of the Second Vatican Council in order to recognize the ecclesiological absurdity of such thought games. The residence of the pope is the Church of St. Peter in Rome. (my emphasis added)
In his sequential remarks, Cardinal Müller presents the teaching of the Church, namely that Saint Peter’s explicit mission – “to herd the whole Church as her supreme Shepherd” – has been transmitted “to the Church in Rome, and with it, to its bishop, the pope.” He continues: “Here, it is not only about an organizational juggling, but about the preservation of the God-given unity.” Müller explains that it is also “about the representation of the leading clergymen of the Roman Church – the cardinals – who help the pope to carry out his primacy” and that “the Roman Church herself is the mater et magistra of all the churches in the world.”
It is somewhat stunning to see how the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – also without mentioning any names – has now seemingly singled out the pope’s closest advisor — and ghostwriter of important papal texts like Amoris Laetitia — in order to chasten him for his presumptuously insouciant and possibly heretical views.