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.)
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