Saving Francis and Doctrine: Cardinal Müller’s Wager
On May 25, 2017, the TV channel EWTN aired an interview with Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the occasion being the publication of his latest book, The Cardinal Müller Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church, by Ignatius Press. In the interview, the German cardinal touched on several sensitive subjects in the life of the Church.
One subject on which the voice of the prelate in charge of doctrine in Rome had long been awaited was the post-synodal Exhortation Amoris laetitia. When questioned on the confusion caused by a document that seems to authorize sacramental Communion in certain cases for divorced and civilly-remarried couples, Cardinal Müller answered that “it is absolutely impossible that the Pope, as the successor of St. Peter and the vicar of Jesus Christ, for the universal Church, presents a doctrine which is plainly against the words of Jesus Christ.” (sic) The pope and the Magisterium, he continued, are “only the interpreter” of the words of Christ, and “the doctrine according to the indissolubility of the matrimony, of the sacramental matrimony is absolutely clear” (sic).
This claim set the tone for the interview, and the high-ranking prelate, while recalling the traditional doctrine on marriage, did his best to defend the pontifical authority that has been undermined for over a year now. Thus, in his opinion, Amoris laetitia meant to emphasize the importance of Christian marriage and – as far as the controversial paragraphs go – the Holy Father wanted to “help (…) all these people who are living in the secularized society have not full understanding what is Christian life and thinking” (sic).
The prelate believes that what is seen as ambiguity is a result of the fact that the pope did not wish to address marriage as a dilemma: “Either you accept all from the beginning or you are absolutely out.” The goal of the Exhortation was to convince those who are not living according to the principles of the Magisterium: “We must lead them, as good pastors to this point until they could accept completely the Christian doctrine and Christian life and our understanding” (sic).
Concerning Amoris laetitia’s most questionable passage, on sacramental Communion for divorced and civilly-remarried couples, the prelate brushed the objections aside with a wave of his hand: “Inner conversion of the heart, penitence and…you must have the clear will to not sin the next opportunity. And then this case if they are ready to live as sisters and brothers there could be in some cases possible but it’s not possible to live with two legal wives, one is with sacramental marriage, with the other only civilly. It’s not possible because we don’t accept polygamy” (sic). And yet the text signed the pope does not seem quite so unconditional…
In this context – and after explaining that doctrine and pastoral care are two sides of the same coin, and that one cannot contradict the other – Cardinal Müller pointed his finger at a comment by Fr. Antonio Spadaro, SJ —a Jesuit who makes no secret of the similarity between his views and the pope’s— that recently went viral on social media. According to the Jesuit, “Theology is not Mathematics. 2 + 2 in Theology can make 5.” The German prelate contradicted this claim, insisting “that is not possible because we have theology”.
Then came a more uncomfortable question, on the recent interpretation of the Argentinian bishops, advocating a very broad application of Amoris laetitia’s dispositions – an option the pope himself has encouraged. The cardinal abandoned his reserve and declared that he is not happy with seeing “the bishops interpret the pope, the pope interpret the bishops” (sic); “we have some rules in how to act in the Church,” (sic) he explained.
As far as the “Dubia” submitted to the pope by four cardinals, Cardinal Müller said that when it comes down to it, the questions are legitimate, but he does regret the way it all “came out and was a public discussion”, thus creating “tensions between the Pope and some cardinals”. “That is not good in our world of the mass media,” he explained, adding that, “our enemies are glad (…) to see the Church in a certain confusion”.
When questioned on the possibility of an official recognition of the Society of Saint Pius X, Cardinal Müller answered: “It needs time. What we need is a deeper reconciliation, not only signing of a document” (sic).
The prelate lamented the fact that “some [members of the Society] are thinking we are the ‘right’ Catholics”. He believes the Society needs to “accept the Catholic creed and the Councils.” As far as the superiors of the Society are concerned, they remain faithful to the analysis of their founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, and consider that for the time being it is not possible to do so absolutely and without the necessary distinctions. They have never had any problem with recognizing the hierarchy of the Church founded on Peter, the profession of Faith contained in the Creed, and the authority of the popes and the councils. The problem comes from Vatican II, an atypical and singular council, that introduced into the Church new doctrines that had already been condemned by the previous Magisterium (religious liberty, false ecumenism, doctrinal and moral relativism that comes from the exaltation of human rights, and a personalist view of the individual conscience and life in society, etc.). The same problem is presented by the reforms resulting from the Council (the new Mass, the new catechism, the new canon law, the new relations with the secularized world, etc.), that are the cause —and the popes themselves admitted it— of the “self-destruction of the Church” and the “silent apostasy” that has spread throughout all the societies that were once Christian.
When asked about the liturgical problem, Cardinal Müller said he agrees with Cardinal Robert Sarah who says we are in the midst of a “crisis of the liturgy”. However, he insisted that this crisis began before the Second Vatican Council. The loss of the sense of the “mystery” of the Mass was a problem that had already been addressed by Romano Guardini, he declared. The German prelate added that, even with the traditional Latin rite, you can get through Mass in ten minutes, without entering into the mystery it signifies.
At the end of the interview, the Prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith voiced his desire to “help to overcome the secularism” (sic) that, concretely speaking, is a “life without God”.
This is precisely what the Priestly Society of St. Pius X is working for in its efforts to restore to the Church the splendor of her Tradition.