Cardinal Müller seeks to thread the needle, but misses the canonical mark

The idea that airing dirty laundry is what harms the credibility of the Church is part of the problem. Arguably, it is the problem.

The statue of St. Peter is seen as Cardinals Gerhard Muller and Kevin Farrell talk before a consistory at which Pope Francis created 14 new cardinals in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican June 28. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The Prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, granted an interview to Italy’s La Stampa recently, in which he struck a critical stance toward the former nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, saying in effect that the call for Pope Francis’s resignation that ended his first bombshell dossier in August was intemperate and a case of overreach.

The interview with La Stampa came on the heels of another interview, also in-depth, with Life Site News, in which the former prefect criticized the Holy Father’s response to the crisis, and called for a thorough investigation of l’Affaire McCarrick.

Taken together, the pair of interviews suggest Cardinal Müller is engaged in an effort to thread the needle between opposing factions and bring a measure of moderation to an increasingly tense and acrimonious impasse in the Vatican. While Müller’s search for a via media and call for all sides to work together to face the crisis are both welcome, his remarks to La Stampa contained elements that call for critical attention.

Cardinal Müller’s assertions to the effect that the Cardinals are the only ones who can ask the Pope for clarification, and must do so privately—viz. “This, however, must take place in a private way, in its own proper places, and without ever making a public polemic with attacks that end up putting the credibility of the Church and her mission in doubt.”—fly in the face of canon law (cf. CIC 212§2-3), the Pope’s own repeated calls for full involvement of all the faithful in every state of life, and common sense.

These are matters touching the public weal of the whole Church. Every member of the faithful has a stake in the issue of this crisis, as do the people who have not heard the call to accept Christ, or accepted it—for they have a right to the Gospel, and therefore to the Church as Our Divine Lord intends her to be. To insist that only high Churchmen have a say in these matters frankly reeks of precisely the clericalism, which Pope Francis insists is at the heart of the crisis and that every candid observer readily admits is a major driver of the malaise in the culture of the Church’s hierarchical leadership.

The idea that airing dirty laundry is what harms the credibility of the Church, moreover, is part of the problem. Arguably, it is the problem.

Cardinal Müller’s insistence that adequate norms already exist is likewise problematic, even rather incredible. “We have sufficient norms in Canon Law,” Müller told La Stampa, citing the 2001 motu proprio, Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela. “First, we must do what is already established and indicated as necessary and obligatory by the existing norms,” he continued. The former Prefect also noted, “[T]here are the already existing norms of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, yet not always all the bishops have collaborated with our department.” He went on to say, “They have not informed [the CDF] as [they ought].”

Conspicuously absent from Cardinal Müller’s discussion—which included contemplation of eventual legal reforms (only after the Curial leadership and perhaps the bishops talked it over)—was any mention of Come una madre amorevole, the abortive reform that Pope Francis originally touted as a hallmark and signature of his commitment to combatting abuse, which would have streamlined the process for investigating, prosecuting, and removing negligent or malfeasant bishops.

Marie Collins, the Irish abuse survivor and victim advocate who served three years on Pope Francis’s Commission for the Protection of Minors before resigning in frustration, accused Cardinal Müller of foot-dragging and obstructionism vis à vis the abortive Come una madre reform, as well as of general unresponsiveness.

Müller, for his part, says he did his best, and tried to do more, but was stymied from above. Pope Francis did dismiss three clerics from service in the CDF prosecutor’s office. That happened over Müller’s strenuous objection, in an episode that Vatican watchers generally agree played a significant role in Müller’s departure from the dicastery.

Suffice it to say the system is broken.

(The opinions expressed here are the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of CWR staff or of Ignatius Press.)

If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

About Christopher R. Altieri 190 Articles
Christopher R. Altieri is a journalist, editor and author of three books, including Reading the News Without Losing Your Faith (Catholic Truth Society, 2021). He is contributing editor to Catholic World Report.


  1. When you have Pope Francis sending a messenger to Cardinal Mueller during his Mass to leave off the Mass and come rightaway to speak to the Pope. The urgency? well only to be told that he needs to pull back on a sexual abuse investigation into UK Archbishop Murphy O’Connor. I think you could cut Cardinal Mueller a bit of slack. Can anyone work with Pope Francis?

    • Louise , You ask:
      “ Can anyone work with Pope Francis ? “
      Clearly NO. unless you too are a bare-faced “ Liar” like he- as one Cardinal labeled him – correctly. This Pope is the opposite to what Jesus asks of us:
      “ Let your Yes be yes and your NO be no.”
      The opposite approach, as mastered by Pope Franciis, is the modus operandi of
      “..that little hiss that only comes from Hell.”
      That’s the kind of company our Pope keeps.
      Any one now who is afraid to say our Pope is a LIAR needs to take their head out of the sand. If not YOU are as guilty as he.
      WHEN YOU HAVE the likes of Mc Carrick , Cupich and Wuerl as your best friends — well , ‘Birds of a feather flock together’ Get this scoundrel of a Pope outa there.
      Burn Rome if we have to.

      • Michael what really chaps my a s is Francis inability to explain himself and answer the two surviving dubia Cardinals when plenty of time for heretical priest and fellow jesuit Jim Martin. Cardinal Zen waits with pilgrims for an audience. After Mr mccarrick helps turn over Catholic Chinese to dictator communist jiji ping. Crazy goings on and no clarification ever.

  2. C Altieri states it perfectly. As devoted to orthodoxy as Cardinal Müller is he’s similarly devoted to a false sense of loyalty to command. When the moment of truth arrived he failed himself and the Church and no amount of defensive diatribe v the heroic witness of Archbishop Viganò will dilute his failure. To the contrary. At least he remains one of the few outspoken proponents of Apostolic Tradition.

  3. I have great respect for Cardinal Muller but he is wrong in stating that nobody has a right to call on the Pope to resign.

    If the Pope refuses to change course and continues on in his efforts to stonewall, obstruct any real attempts to curb abuse, and continues to promote corrupt bishops, then sadly the only conclusion to be drawn would be that he is part of the problem, not the solution, and it would in such a case be in the best interest of the Church that he step down.

    The Fundie trolls are using the Holy Father’s silence and inaction as an excuse to trash our faith on social media and elsewhere.

    • More concerning than fundamentalist trolls denigrating Holy Mother Church is the insulting and decidedly UN-merciful silence that this pope is insisting upon as a response to not only the Dubia but towards the faithful. And beyond that: his silence and inaction is tantamount to giving each victim of McCarrick, et al, a papal middle finger. Unconscionable behavior on the part of Pope Francis.

  4. The article begins by showing that Pope F us doing exactly what McCarrick and Danneels and their post-Catholic cabal have planned for decades: “change the Church in 5 years” (said McCarrick at Villanova”). It is being done by electing one of their own co-disbelievers, and then cementing their take-over by promoting Cardinals at 3-4 times the rate of the previous Popes, and make sure that they are all pro-sodomizing clericalist sycophants like “Cardinals” Cupich, Tobin and Farrell.


  5. Cardinal Mueller is right – there is a process for dealing with these things. The church has been around for a coupple thousand years and during that time it has put in place the mechanisms to deal with all problems. The problem comes about, however, when the men in the offices who are supposed to deal with these things are evil or corrupt or have different agendas. Then we land in the time of the Borgias, which is where we find ourselves. We have this corrupt Pope, this corrupt set of Vatican officials, etc. Therefore the process cannot work. It is the only weakness of the church. But I would rather have that then all the check and balances of a political entity.

  6. Critics of Mueller, consider this possibility…

    To tell the truth clearly, completely and without compromise, while also threading the needle at the level of a very imperfect world…this just might be the wisdom of being “sly as a snake and [yet] innocent as a dove”, both. Christ admonishes us to do both, together, not one or the other. Christ wants us to be neither impulsive nor milquetoast.

    Consider the next conclave–and a likely divided vote that won’t budge. Then comes the search of a compromise candidate. Who might the most likely and graced selection be, but one who has actually told the truth and yet done nothing factional that the radical and mostly mediocre coalition can point to in self-referential horror and dissent?

    Think chess, not checkers. Cardinal Muller is a very good man, a son of the Church, and he also knows how to maneuver, yet without manipulating. A cardinal among vultures.

  7. I am a vigorous supporter of Archbishop Vigano. I am also a staunch admirer of Cardinal Muller. And I think the latter’s recent publicized interviews were a real service to the Church. Altieri has it wrong.
    The problem we are facing is not “clericalism” or lack of “transparency” or “involvement of the laity” (God spare us all from that curse).
    It really IS up to the cardinals to confront the Supreme Pontiff. Four of them authored dubia, which the Pope has refused to answer. Muller clearly stated in the interviews that a moment of crisis has come.

    • If memory serves, Cdl. Müller also criticized the dubia Cardinals for going public. If he had his way, we would know nothing about the dubia. I think there is a little too much concern on Cardinal Müller’s part about what he considers proper and not enough concern about the train wreck in progress and the utter failure of normal Church processes and authorities to address it.

  8. In my line of work we make mistakes and try our best to learn from them making corrections as needed as to enable the process to run more smoothly – But darn it if historical-technological context and economic shifts don’t catch up with even the best managed institutions. I am with Samton909, no human institution is booboo-free but 2,000 years as a continuous institution with an overall track record of relatively smooth succession of new executives and administrations as in the Vatican would be remarkable; if it were only a human institution. But the success of the Vatican is ultimately a testimony to workings of the Holy Spirit and the collective body of believers which continue to support our Holy Mother Church. In works, in deeds, in faith and unity in our love for Jesus Christ – we can weather this storm and continue to be the Catholic, all-embracing “Way” for all of mankind.

  9. Nothing is as it appears.
    We really don’t know anything but the tidbits we are fed via the media.
    In these times, light is dark and darkness light.
    Good is evil and evil, good.
    Perhaps Pope Francis has adopted a personal modus operandi of keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.
    Then again, who really knows for sure?
    I have reached the point that I neither trust nor depend on anyone.
    I look to our Lord Jesus to deliver us from this evil.
    Anything else is smoke and mirrors.

  10. Peter what you propose as well as Samton is reasonable. Taking a difference perspective based on what is transpiring in the Church is addressed by Dr Conor Sweeney on this website. He presents a strong case for the real possibility of the following: For the majority the possible presence of the “Lawless one” [2 Thess 2] possessing the Chair of Peter is too difficult to process. The dilemma within the dilemma is they are confounded and hold to the belief that this Pontiff is capable of redirection. Or that resolution will somehow occur by silence and political propriety. Therefore the appeal to reasonable politics and waiting. If one finds the evidence points toward realization of the unimaginable then the only viable option is open repudiation.

  11. I have been rather dismayed to see that Francis Cardinal Arinze, once a lion against the traitors, seems to have been defanged.

  12. Regardless of ‘who’ Pope Francis is the most cogent justification for Archbishop Viganò’s breaking convention and why Cardinal Müller would better serve the Church by doing the same is laid out by Vatican theologian Msgr Nicola Bux in his Nov 29 address at a Rome Conf on the Pontificate of Pope Francis and the New Paradigm. Edward Pentin NCR remarked, “He [Msgr Bux] went on to refer to words of Eugenio Scalfari, who said after one of his interviews with the Pope, that Francis was pushing for a ‘change’ in the ‘concept of religion and divinity’ that would result in a ‘cultural change’ that would be difficult to modify. ‘If that were to happen,’ Msgr. Bux warned, ‘the consequences would be catastrophic’” (Pentin NCR). Fr Spadaro SJ made precisely the same assertion much earlier with the confidence that such cultural change once assumed would be unchangeable. Already homosexuality now widely considered a social norm is so deeply entrenched in civil society and apparently becoming so within the Church and advanced by Synodality evident in the Pontiff halting investigation in the US changing the Feb Synod’s focus from adult homosexual networking among hierarchy and presbyters to child abuse. And handcuffing the bishops. Patient strategic waiting and confidentiality during the current state of affairs [forgive me] is a fool’s option.

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Cardinal Müller’s seeks to thread the needle, but misses the canonical mark -

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments posted at Catholic World Report are moderated. While vigorous debate is welcome and encouraged, please note that in the interest of maintaining a civilized and helpful level of discussion, comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative or inflammatory—will not be published. Thank you.