Cardinal Gerhard Müller is the former prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and the former bishop of Regensburg, Germany. A noted professor of theology, he is president of both the Pontifical Biblical Commission and the International Theological Commission. He is also the author of many books, including The Hope of the Family, Priesthood and Diaconate, and The Cardinal Müller Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church.
Cardinal Müller recently responded to some questions from Catholic World Report about the situation in Germany, tensions over the proposed reception of Holy Communion by certain Protestants, continued conflicts over the Church’s teaching about why woman cannot be ordained as priests, and homosexuality.
CWR: Since 2014 there has been within the Church a steady stream of conflicts and tensions that involve many of the bishops of Germany. What is some of the background for this phenomenon? What is the source of these various conflicts over ecclesiology, Holy Communion, and related matters?
Cardinal Gerhard Müller: One group of German bishops, with their president [i.e., of the German Bishops’ Conference] in the lead, see themselves as trendsetters of the Catholic Church on the march into modernity. They consider the secularization and de-Christianization of Europe as an irreversible development. For this reason the New Evangelization—the program of John Paul II and Benedict XVI—is in their view a battle against the objective course of history, resembling Don Quixote’s battle against the windmills. They are seeking for the Church a niche where it can survive in peace. Therefore all the doctrines of the faith that are opposed to the “mainstream,” the societal consensus, must be reformed.
One consequence of this is the demand for Holy Communion even for people without the Catholic faith and also for those Catholics who are not in a state of sanctifying grace. Also on the agenda are: a blessing for homosexual couples, intercommunion with Protestants, relativizing the indissolubility of sacramental marriage, the introduction of viri probati and with it the abolition of priestly celibacy, approval for sexual relations before and outside of marriage. These are their goals, and to reach them they are willing to accept even the division of the bishops’ conference.
The faithful who take Catholic doctrine seriously are branded as conservative and pushed out of the Church, and exposed to the defamation campaign of the liberal and anti-Catholic media.
To many bishops, the truth of revelation and of the Catholic profession of faith is just one more variable in intra-ecclesial power politics. Some of them cite individual agreements with Pope Francis and think that his statements in interviews with journalists and public figures who are far from Catholic offer justification even for “watering down” defined, infallible truths of the faith (= dogmas). All told, we are dealing with a blatant process of Protestantizing.
Ecumenism, in contrast, has as its goal the full unity of all Christians, which is already sacramentally realized in the Catholic Church. The worldliness of the episcopate and clergy in the 16th century was the cause of the division of Christianity, which is diametrically opposed to the will of Christ, the founder of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. The disease of that era is now supposedly the medicine with which the division is to be overcome. The ignorance of the Catholic faith at that time was catastrophic, especially among the bishops and popes, who devoted themselves more to politics and power than to witnessing to the truth of Christ.
Today, for many people, being accepted by the media is more important than the truth, for which we must also suffer. Peter and Paul suffered martyrdom for Christ in Rome, the center of power in their day. They were not celebrated by the rulers of this world as heroes, but rather mocked like Christ on the cross. We must never forget the martyrological dimension of the Petrine ministry and of the episcopal office.
CWR: Why, specifically, do some German bishops wish to allow Holy Communion to be given to various Protestants on a regular or common basis?
Cardinal Müller: No bishop has the authority to administer Holy Communion to Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church. Only in a situation where there is a danger of death may a Protestant request sacramental absolution and Holy Communion as viaticum, if he shares the whole Catholic faith and thereby enters into full communion with the Catholic Church, even though he has not yet declared his conversion officially.
Unfortunately even bishops today no longer know the Catholic belief in the unity of sacramental and ecclesial communion, and they justify their infidelity to the Catholic faith with allegedly pastoral concern or with theological explanations, which, however, contradict the principles of the Catholic faith. All doctrine and praxis must be founded on Sacred Scripture and the Apostolic Tradition, and must not contradict the previous dogmatic pronouncements of the Church’s Magisterium. This is the case with permission for non-Catholic Christians to receive Communion during Holy Mass—apart from the emergency situation described above.
CWR: How would you assess, first, the health of the Catholic faith in Germany and then, secondly, in Europe overall? Do you think Europe can or will recover a sense of its previous Christian identity?
Cardinal Müller: There are a great many people who live out their faith, love Christ and his Church, and set all their hope on God in life and in death. But among them there are quite a few who feel abandoned and betrayed by their shepherds. Being popular in public opinion is nowadays the criterion for a supposedly good bishop or priest. We are experiencing conversion to the world, instead of to God, contrary to the statements of the Apostle Paul: “Am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of God” (Gal 1:10).
We need priests and bishops who are filled with zeal for God’s house, who dedicate themselves entirely to the salvation of human beings on the pilgrimage of faith to our eternal home. There is no future at all for “Christianity Lite.” We need Christians with a missionary spirit.
CWR: The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith recently reiterated the Church’s perennial teaching that women cannot be ordained priests. Why do you think this teaching, which has been reiterated several times in recent years, continues to be contested by many in the Church?
Cardinal Müller: Unfortunately right now the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is not particularly well esteemed, and its significance for the Petrine primacy is not recognized. The Secretariat of State and the diplomatic service of the Holy See are very important for the relation of the Church to the various States, but the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is more important for the relation of the Church to her Head from whom all grace proceeds.
Faith is necessary for salvation; papal diplomacy can accomplish a lot of good in the world. But the proclamation of the faith and doctrine must not be subordinated to the requirements and conditions of earthly power plays. Supernatural faith does not depend on earthly power. In faith it is quite clear that the sacrament of Holy Orders in the three degrees of bishop, priest, and deacon can be received validly only by a baptized Catholic man, because only he can symbolize and sacramentally represent Christ as the Bridegroom of the Church. If priestly ministry is understood as a position of power, then this doctrine of the reservation of Holy Orders to Catholics of the male sex is a form of discrimination against women.
But this perspective of power and of social prestige is false. Only if we see all the doctrines of the faith and the sacraments with theological eyes, instead of in terms of power, will the doctrine of the faith regarding the natural prerequisites for the sacraments of Holy Orders and of marriage be evident to us also. Only a man can symbolize Christ the Bridegroom of the Church. Only one man and one woman can symbolically represent the relation of Christ to the Church.
CWR: You recently introduced the Italian edition of Daniel Mattson’s book Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay. What impressed you about the book and its approach? How does it differ from some of the “pro-gay” approaches or stances adopted by some Catholics? What can be done to explain, in positive terms, the Church’s teaching about sexuality, marriage, and related matters?
Cardinal Müller: Daniel Mattson’s book is written from a personal perspective. It is founded on a deep intellectual reflection about sexuality and marriage, which makes it different from any sort of ideology. Therefore it helps people with a same-sex attraction to recognize their dignity and to follow a beneficial path in the development of their personality, and not to let themselves be used as pawns in the ideologues’ demand for power. A human being is an interior unity of spiritual and material organizational principles, and consequently a person and the freely acting subject of a nature that is spiritual, corporeal, and social.
Man is created for woman and woman for man. The goal of marital communion is not the power of one over the other, but rather unity in self-giving love, in which they both grow and together reach the goal in God. Sexual ideology that reduces a human being to sexual pleasure is in fact hostile to sexuality, because it denies that the goal of sex and eros is agape. A human being cannot let himself be degraded to the status of a more highly developed animal. He is called to love. Only if I love the other for his own sake do I come into my own; only then am I set free from the prison of my primitive egotism. One cannot fulfill oneself at the expense of others.
The logic of the Gospel is revolutionary in a world of consumerism and narcissism. For only the grain of wheat that falls into the ground and dies does not remain alone but produces much fruit. “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (Jn 12:25).
[Translated by Michael J. Miller.]