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 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 his recent “Manifesto of Faith” and reaction to it, as well as leadership in the Church, loss of faith in the Church, clericalism, and the Vatican Summit on sexual abuse.
CWR: You begin your “Manifesto of Faith” by noting the “growing confusion” within the Church. What are the main sources of this confusion? Why is this confusion apparently growing?
Cardinal Gerhard Müller: Even Jesus spoke about possible confusion in the faith, saying that all indeed will stray from him when the hour of the Passion comes. After all, nobody understands by nature [alone] that God’s power and wisdom appear in human powerlessness and folly.
This is the theology of the Cross, without which we can neither truly understand God’s ways nor walk in them. Then, too, through the possibilities of digital communication, many Christians are increasingly exposed every minute to antichristian propaganda. The mainstream media lie firmly in the hands of enemies to Christianity. Nothing is said of the millionfold cases of sexual abuse in the [secular] world, nor do they waste a single word in compassion for the victims. The grave failure of priests serves as an assault on the Church in general. The media only praise the Pope when they can make use of him for their agenda.
However, reform means spiritual and moral renewal in Christ, and not the dechristianization of the Church or her transformation into an NGO, where global warming is more important than the awareness that God is the source and goal of man and of the whole creation.
CWR: In writing of Christ, you state that Catholics must “resist the relapse into ancient heresies with clear resolve, which saw in Jesus Christ only a good person, brother and friend, prophet and moralist.” What are some specific examples of Christological heresies being renewed or recycled today?
Cardinal Müller: A commentator in the Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung [a German newspaper] writes that this manifesto is a premodern thing, whereas Frankfurt Jesuits’ declarations on homosexuality, the abolition of [priestly] celibacy, and the ordination of women as priests all represent the modern. According to this writer, whoever speaks of Jesus as Son of God over-exalts him; the modern man can understand him only as a moral preacher on environmental protection—not on sexual morality, of course.
Already in the third century, [the Church rejected] Paul of Somosata’s theory of Jesus as mere man. Those theories of liberal theology since the eighteenth century that acknowledge Jesus only as a special man of fervor or of fuzzy kitsch, coupled with a duty-based morality à la Immanuel Kant—they might preserve a leftover of bourgeois Christianity for [our] secularized contemporaries, but they have nothing to do with the original testimony of the apostolic Church regarding Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Faith is not a question of the circumstances of the times or the intellectual-historical epoch, but of the truth.
Jesus is either the Son of the Father or he is not. We either believe in him or, being no longer Christians, stop declaring ourselves Christians. What good is a bottle of wine with a label promising “excellent quality” if this bottle is empty?
CWR: Some critics of the “Manifesto” point to the absence of specific mention of the papacy. Why do you not refer to the papacy directly? And what do you make of accusations that you are acting as some sort of “anti-pope”?
Cardinal Müller: These people are political strategists and theological ignoramuses. They obviously aren’t familiar with my remarks on the papal primacy in Catholic Dogmatics (released in several languages) and in my two books on the papacy (of over 700 pages).
The Church’s classic confession of faith speaks of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Church, the Sacraments (Baptism), and eternal life, without mentioning the pope and bishops, who of course are a constitutive element in the sacramental Church. In their blind prejudice, these critics also haven’t noticed that the Catechism, from which the Manifesto of Faith draws, was declared by Pope John Paul II to be a good transmission of the depositum fidei [deposit of faith]. The same people who were critical, even hostile, towards Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, whom they denounced as traitors of the spirit of the [Second Vatican] Council, now invoke Pope Francis.
Yet they do this not because they acknowledge him as pope in terms of Catholic dogma, but rather because they want to use him as a vehicle for their leftist-liberal agenda to desacramentalize the Church. When it comes to the sexual crimes of some priests, they hold priestly celibacy or the sacramentality of the episcopal and priestly offices to be responsible, instead of looking to the collapse of the priestly ethos and sexual morality during the 1980s, for which these critics’ intellectual predecessors were to blame.
CWR: Writing of the sacraments, you note that “the views of a majority or the spirit of the times” must not replace Christ as the reference point for truth. To what degree and in what ways has a democratic spirit or “spirit of the times” replaced the deposit of faith as a sure guide to Church doctrine?
Cardinal Müller: Democracy in political life is our common premise for living together in a social commonwealth. However, the Church is the community of believers called by God’s grace. The Church lives from God’s truth; she does not make use of the truth at her pleasure or according to interests and claims of power over others. Together we listen to the Word of God and carry all responsibility for the complete, unadulterated transmission of the faith to every generation until the Coming of Christ.
Yet the task of [exercising the Church’s] unshakable teaching office is conferred upon the successors of Peter and the Apostles so that they will present the whole Church with the revealed truth, in order that she might believe it. The first two chapters of Dei Verbum clearly express these relationships.
CWR: There has been quite a bit of discussion about your references to apostasy and “the fraud of the Antichrist” (§ 5). Were you suggesting that we may be living through the “last trial of the Church”? And what sort of apostasy, specifically, did you have in mind?
Cardinal Müller: The Antichrist is a figure embodying opposition to Christ. He does not simply appear at the end of history, but emerges in every age as the one who tempts us into the pit and the one who destroys God’s house. Jesus has asked whether he will still find faith when he returns. And sometimes in Church history, it seems as though faith does run out in the Church. In the struggle against ultra-powerful Arianism, which was sustained by public opinion and political power, Saint Athanasius often seems outmaneuvered. Back then, Arianism was modern and Catholicism premodern in the eyes of those whose faith lay in forward progress. As Saint Jerome puts it with a groan, the world awoke and found that it had become Arian. This is the hour of Saint Peter. Jesus told him that Satan has longed to sift the disciples and the whole Church like wheat. Then followed Jesus’ word of tremendous force and relevance, even in this present time of suffering in the Church: “But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (Lk 22:32).
CWR: You repeat a criticism that you’ve leveled before: that some bishops act more as politicians than as shepherds. Is this a form of the clericalism condemned by Pope Francis? What are some features of this political orientation by Church leaders?
Cardinal Müller: There is a new, incorrect use of language: the antiecclesiastical catchword of “clericalism” is now applied within the Church as a battle cry against the office instituted by God. Kleros means participation in the service of the apostles instituted by Christ (Acts 1:20). What the term “clericalism” is about is the abuse of authority in order to gain personal advantages by abetting friends, who get moved into positions in the Church despite their incompetence and unworthiness. [However,] the motive for sexual abuse of minors and ecclesiastical inferiors is not the thirst for power over others, but unmastered sexual desire, which leads to the sin of lust and dehumanizes the victims.
CWR: Turning to the Vatican summit, what did you think about the gathering? What do you think of the decision by Cardinal Cupich and other summit leaders to not focus at all on homosexuality and the abuse of adults?
Cardinal Müller: There is no sense in talking about structures that make abuse possible. This is political talk beyond the ken of the Church as God’s institution. The sacramental constitution of the Church, obedience to the Ten Commandments, and fidelity to one’s call as a baptized, ordained, or married/unmarried Christian—these, when heeded, are the best protection against all forms of disobedience to our Creator and Redeemer and against injury to the love of God and neighbor, that love which encapsulates all the commandments.
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