Cardinal Brandmüller and the Muzzled Consistory

October 24, 2022
A new form of the “occlusio oris”?

During the last consistory convened at the end of August 2022, the cardinals were not allowed to speak to express their opinion.

However, after the consistory, on August 31, Vaticanist Sandro Magister published on his site Settimo Cielo the full text of the intervention prepared by Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, former President of the Pontifical Council for Historical Sciences, who was not allowed to read it during the consistory.

On the European Correspondence site on September 10, the historian Roberto de Mattei quotes large extracts from the German prelate’s text, with the following comment: “Pope Francis has repeatedly recalled that the true reformers of the Church are the saints, and yet his approach to the great issues of the world always appear political, and therefore ‘worldly,’ rather than supernatural and moved by the spirit of faith.”

“This ‘political’ approach dominated the last consistory, held at the Vatican on August 29 and 30 with roughly 180 cardinals in attendance, and which was a great missed opportunity to address the serious problems afflicting the Church today.”

“Officially at the center of the meeting of cardinals was the reform of the curia proposed by the new Apostolic Constitution Prædicate Evangelium, but in fact the pope prevented the cardinals from speaking out in joint session on this and other issues, in everyday terms muzzling them.”

And he recalls: “The consistory is a meeting of the pope with the cardinals, who, according to the Code of Canon Law (canons 349-359), are his first advisers. For at least seven years Pope Francis has not allowed the cardinals to express their opinions at this solemn meeting.”

“Everyone expected this to happen at the meeting at the end of August, but the consistory, at the pope’s behest, was fragmented into linguistic groups, paralyzing the cardinals and preventing that frank and direct dialogue which had last taken place in February 2014.”

The Right and Duty of Cardinals to Speak Clearly

The Italian scholar then quotes from Cardinal Brandmüller’s text which recalls the function of cardinals as expressed in canon law, “which, in ancient times found its symbolic expression in the rite of the ‘aperitio oris,’ of opening the mouth [done away with by Paul VI. ed.].

“A rite, the cardinal explained, that ‘meant the duty of frankly expressing one's own conviction, one's advice, especially in consistory. That frankness – Pope Francis speaks of ‘parrhesia’ – which was particularly dear to the Apostle Paul. But now, unfortunately, that frankness is replaced by a strange silence.”

“The other ceremony of closing the mouth [occlusio oris], which followed the ‘aperitio oris,’ did not refer to the truths of faith and morals, but to official secrets. Today, however,” Cardinal Brandmüller adds, “there is a need to emphasize the right and indeed the duty of the cardinals to express themselves clearly and with frankness precisely when it comes to truths of faith and morals, of  the ‘bonum commune’ [common good ] of the Church.”

“The experience of recent years has been entirely different. At the consistories – convened almost exclusively for the causes of saints – forms were distributed to request speaking time, followed by obviously spontaneous remarks on any sort of topic, and that was it. There has never been a debate, an exchange of arguments on a specific topic. Obviously a completely useless procedure.”

Roberto de Mattei comments on Cardinal Brandmüller's statement: “Clear, unequivocal words that should make the whole College of Cardinals reflect.” Adding: “Pope Francis's refusal to let the cardinals speak stems from the political and worldly perspective of his pontificate.”

“He is afraid that a free and open discussion could weaken the exercise of his power, not realizing that the truth can never harm the Church or the souls subjected to her. The spirit of faith, which is opposed to that of politics, consists precisely in seeking in all things that which is highest and loftiest, that which is most in keeping with the glory of God and the good of souls, always abiding by the dictates of the Gospel.”

And to conclude: “The alternative is between the Truth of the Gospel and the power of the world. Proclaiming the truth of the Gospel does not mean speaking of immigration or a climate emergency, but of the ‘Novissima’ [four last things] – death, judgment, hell, and heaven – and of Divine Providence, which regulates all activity in the created universe.”

Proclaiming the Gospel means condemning, with the voice of the Church, sin, especially public sin, starting with abortion and LGBT doctrines, which are considered by the world to be “civil achievements.” It means speaking of holiness, and not of synodality, because it is from holiness and not from political mechanisms that the necessary reform within the Church begins: the reform of the men who make it up, not of its divine and immutable constitution.”

“Now a blanket of silence has fallen on the consistory. And the silence of those who should speak is the greatest punishment that Our Lord can inflict on his Church.”