On August 23rd, 1973, four bank workers in Stockholm, Sweden, were taken hostage at gunpoint by Jan-Erik Olsson, a career criminal who was later joined by a friend of his from prison. After six days — during which the captives were treated harshly, terrified, strapped with dynamite, and kept in a vault — the standoff ended and the hostages were released. But then, something strange happened. Dr. Joseph Carver, a clinical psychologist, describes what came next:
After their rescue, the hostages exhibited a shocking attitude considering they were threatened, abused, and feared for their lives for over five days. In their media interviews, it was clear that they supported their captors and actually feared law enforcement personnel who came to their rescue. The hostages had begun to feel the captors were actually protecting them from the police. One woman later became engaged to one of the criminals and another developed a legal defense fund to aid in their criminal defense fees. Clearly, the hostages had “bonded” emotionally with their captors.
While the psychological condition in hostage situations became known as “Stockholm Syndrome” due to the publicity, the emotional “bonding” with captors was a familiar story in psychology.
In the final analysis, emotionally bonding with an abuser is actually a strategy for survival for victims of abuse and intimidation. The “Stockholm Syndrome” reaction in hostage and/or abuse situations is so well recognized at this time that police hostage negotiators no longer view it as unusual.
Dr. Carver describes four situations in which a foundation for Stockholm Syndrome is present. “These four situations,” he says, “can be found in hostage, severe abuse, and abusive relationships”:
- The presence of a perceived threat to one’s physical or psychological survival and the belief that the abuser would carry out the threat.
- The presence of a perceived small kindness from the abuser to the victim
- Isolation from perspectives other than those of the abuser
- The perceived inability to escape the situation
When Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, appeared live on Italian television last Sunday and criticized the dubia, saying that there would be “no correction” because Amoris Laetitia presents “no danger to the faith,” many Catholics found themselves examining his face to see if he was blinking out a distress signal in Morse Code. The bewilderment that has followed his interview continues to generate news, but the reasons why he would say something so obviously contrary to the truth — when Müller’s marginalization casts serious doubt on it being an exercise in fomenting power through the willful, positivistic subversion of reality — remains a mystery.
Nevertheless, I think the psychological descriptions above may shed some light on what we are witnessing. I’m certainly not trained in the subject, but I could not help but map the above-mentioned conditions for Stockholm Syndrome onto Cardinal Müller’s relationship with Pope Francis:
The presence of a perceived threat to one’s physical or psychological survival and the belief that the abuser would carry out the threat.
We have heard for some time about the “climate of fear” at the Vatican. This isn’t new — in an anonymous letter from a former member of the Curia penned in 2015, this exact term was used. More recently, we have seen this fear publicly discussed by not just journalists at LifeSiteNews and the National Catholic Register who have spent time in Rome, but Bishop Athanasius Schneider, who lived under Soviet communism and has compared the situation in Rome to his experiences. I have described what I call “The Dictatorship of Mercy” — the unrelenting Vatican agenda-by-diktat, couched in the terms of “mercy” and “accompaniment” but as authoritarian as any program implemented by an autocratic regime. We have been given several recent examples — from the exile of Cardinal Burke to the purges at the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Pontifical Academy for Life to the assault on the John Paul II Institutes for Marriage and Family to the unexplained, papally-ordered firings at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — that opposition will be crushed.
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”.
Meanwhile, it should be remembered that Müller contributed an essay to the book, Remaining in the Truth of Christ — seen as such a threat to the synod proceedings that it was stolen from the Vatican mailboxes of the synod fathers — and signed on to the so-called “13 Cardinals Letter” that was alleged to have outraged the pope.
Taking all of this into account, Müller has plenty of reason to believe that he is under threat. What form it would take remains an open question, but if he had a fear of reprisal in some form, it would not be without merit.
The presence of a perceived small kindness from the abuser to the victim
This condition seems, at least superficially, slightly less applicable. That said, despite his (rather tepid) opposition to heterodox interpretations of Amoris Laetitia, Müller still has his job as Prefect — a job which he seems to take seriously, even when others do not. This alone could be perceived as a kindness, even an openness from Francis.
Isolation from perspectives other than those of the abuser
I have often described Müller to others as “essentially under house arrest.” The fear of monitored communications on the part of CDF officials has been noted in these pages before. The forced firings of competent staff members of the CDF at the pope’s command — without any justification — is a clear power play. One source of mine described the situation at the Vatican, as I have previously written, as “like an occupied state.” Even when travelling in Spain, Müller faced the insubordinant behavior of an archbishop — his hierarchical inferior — who would, it is reasonable to conclude, only have made such a gesture of disrespect if he were protected by Rome. (Osoro has since been rewarded with a red hat. Coincidence?) So while Müller has, in theory, freedom of movement and access to outside perspectives, the dominant power base in Rome — and the very man to whom Müller reports — falls under the category of the “abuser”.
The perceived inability to escape the situation
Sources close to Müller have told me that the prefect and his close advisers believe they can do more good for the faith, and for the orthodox members of the CDF, by staying put — even though the situation is less than ideal. I have heard rumors that the Cardinal even considered retiring, but was persuaded to stay by those who have expressed fears over who might take his place. So while Müller technically possesses the autonomy to leave, one senses that he feels trapped by a moral duty to mitigate the damage being done by Rome. However, it appears increasingly clear that in so doing, he is being co-opted into the very agenda he is ostensibly standing his ground to resist.
So is some version of the psychological effect known as Stockholm Syndrome beginning to affect Müller’s judgment and sabotage his own self-interest? More importantly, is this happening in such a way that Müller himself is now undermining the Catholic Faith he is duty-bound to guard and protect?
This seems an increasingly likely possibility.
In Edward Pentin’s January 9 report at the National Catholic Register on Müller’s surprising televised remarks last Sunday, some striking facts were brought to light. Most notable was the contradiction between the Cardinal’s words in the interview and his previous actions. Pentin writes:
His remarks also come after it has emerged the CDF had clear misgivings about the document before it was published — concerns which were never heeded. One informed official recently told the Register that a CDF committee that reviewed a draft of Amoris Laetitia raised “similar” dubia to those of the four cardinals. Those dubia formed part of the CDF’s 20 pages of corrections, first reported by Jean-Marie Genois in Le Figaro on April 7, the eve of the publication of the document.
Another senior official went further, revealing to the Register last week that Cardinal Müller had told him personally that the CDF “had submitted many, many corrections, and not one of the corrections was accepted”. He added that what the cardinal states in the interview “is exactly the contradictory of everything which he has said to me on the matter until now” and he had the “impression of someone who was not speaking for himself but repeating what someone else had told him to say.”
Remember, too, this largely-overlooked piece of information in our story of May 2nd, 2016:
In addition, it has now been reported that that Cardinal Müller was not given the copy of the final version of Amoris Laetitia – but only, instead, a much less problematic text – for his own final doctrinal review. It is once more due to the important work of Guiseppe Nardi that this important fact – which has subsequently been confirmed by other sources – was reported first in Italy, and has now been made known far and wide. While it seems clear that the orthodox forces – with Cardinal Müller at the top – are being increasingly ignored, pushed aside and even bypassed, the progressive forces are in fact being further promoted and now also encouraged in other ways.
So it is more than a little odd to see Müller defending the orthodoxy of the text. Further, Pentin also reported that in his most recent remarks:
[Müller] said he felt it was “a loss to the Church to discuss these things publicly”, adding that Amoris Laetitia is “very clear in its doctrine and we can interpret the whole doctrine of Jesus on marriage, the whole doctrine of the Church in 2000 years of history.”
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. Recall this synopsis of a recent article at Crux, which struck me at the time as being a description of precisely what has been done to Müller, particularly as regards the accolades and responsibilities given by Francis to Kasper and Schönborn:
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.
Though our readers have often pointed out Müller’s own theological discrepancies, he has consistently been one of the better prelates in Rome during this pontificate. It was sad enough to see him treated this way by the reigning cabal; it is far more disheartening to see him now speaking on their behalf.
It is worth noting that Pentin also reports that some 30 additional cardinals
having seen an advance draft of the apostolic exhortation, wrote to the Pope expressing their reservations, especially on the issue of communion for remarried divorcees, warning that the document would weaken the three essential sacraments of the Church: the Eucharist, marriage, and confession. The Pope never responded to that letter either, a Vatican source told the Register.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but it’s well past time for these princes of the Church to man up. They have a moral duty to defend the Faith. Quiet murmuring does not a crown of martyrdom make. Will they or will they not defend their flock? Will they or will they not defend their mother?
Salvation history is quite literally at a turning point, and all that is required to help set things right is a bit of courage. How is it that there is so little to be found?
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.