Editor’s note: The following interview with Gerhard Cardinal Müller by Roland Noé was originally published at Kath.net on October 5, 2020. It is published here in English by permission of kath.net.
Kath.net: On Sunday, [October 4,] Pope Francis published his new Encyclical, Fratelli tutti. What is your initial evaluation?
Cardinal Müller: The Encyclical is quite comprehensible and is to be recommended for more in-depth study, insofar as it is addressed to all people of good will and even teaches with Veritatis splendor by John Paul II that intrinsically evil acts do exist, contrary to most German moral theologians. It would be wrong to say that it is consistent with the Freemasons’ or the United Nations’ talk about fraternity, because it emphasizes the transcendence of brotherhood in God the Creator and expounds God as Father and the Church in Mary as Mother of all mankind. Its argumentation can be situated along the line running from John XXIII to Benedict XVI about [the Church’s] social teaching and the non-negotiable values of human rights. The Christian message is not reduced to what is universally human, but rather the reverse: the human way of life that grows from the faith is recommended as a foundation for the coexistence of human beings of different religions and cultures in today’s global civilization.
Kath.net: The world is currently preoccupied with the elections in the United States; President Donald Trump might be voted out of office. What could the election of Joe Biden possibly mean for Christians? How critically do you view the “Catholic” Biden, who for example has no problem with the fact that his Party supports the killing of preborn children up to the ninth month of pregnancy?
Cardinal Müller: I cannot and do not intend to pass judgment on Joe Biden’s personal faith. But his stance on the legalization of killing children in the mother’s womb until the ninth month—and in the case of deformities even after birth—contradicts “the sacred right to life of every human being” that belongs essentially to him through God, his Creator. Pope Francis, who gladly cites divine authority, vigorously expounds this in his latest Encyclical Fratelli tutti as one of the non-negotiable fundamental values (FT 39; 207). The COVID crisis has shown us again that we are not “masters and owners of nature” (René Descartes), as the modern philosophy of autonomy claims, but rather that we are dependent on inorganic and organic nature as prior givens (FT 34), as they proceed from God’s wise plan.
For this reason human rights are universally valid and form the foundation of every culture and of the unity of the human race (FT 22). The inviolability of every human life from conception until natural death is clear to every human being who uses his reason, and even more profoundly to those who believe in God in the Word of His revelation in Jesus Christ. The excuse that the mother and the persons who influence her have the choice to decide about the life of the child in her womb is self-deception and flagrantly contradicts the dignity of the human being who is killed and of the one who kills.
Anyone who votes for Biden, and above all for his running mate who will soon become his heir as President, must know (1) that with his vote he is saying yes to abortion and to the commercialization of infanticide and trafficking with their organs, (2) that with his vote he is endangering the fundamental human right of the free public exercise of religion, (3) that with his vote he is abetting the exclusion of Catholics from public office, and (4) that he is submitting in a cowardly way to the hate-speech against Catholics, for instance against Amy Coney Barrett, a Catholic wife and mother of seven children, as a candidate for the Supreme Court. Let no one say afterward that he didn’t intend it, that he had never thought that it could get so bad, and that he fell for the propaganda against “the religious right wing” in America.
Kath.net: Now [= the week of October 5-9] U.S. President Donald Trump too is infected and sick with the COVID-19 virus. What does this mean for the election, for the United States of America? How should Catholics generally deal with the pandemic?
Cardinal Müller: As human beings and Christians, we sympathize with anyone who has been struck by an insidious disease. Anyone who feels Schadenfreude [joy in another’s misfortune] in such a situation ought to seek psychological help and, as a Catholic, should seek absolution as soon as possible in the Sacrament of Reconciliation for a serious sin against love of neighbor. We must follow all reasonable protective measures that are enacted by the legitimate authority. However we also have the right and the duty to defend the human right of freedom of religion, which in many countries is being restricted, but with the corona virus as the excuse. State authorities must not impede, much less forbid, the administration of the sacraments and pastoral care, for instance to lonely, old, and dying people. The Church is God’s establishment and not an NGO [non-governmental organization] subordinate to the State within the framework of a civil religion that is led by politicians according to their own requirements, likes, and dislikes.
Kath.net: In Germany the controversial Synodal Process is currently on the agenda of the Bishops’ Conference. There have already been words of warning from Rome, but the Conference President, Bishop Bätzing, seems uninterested in them. Will German Catholics who want to live by the normal faith of the Church become part of a Catholic underground Church in the next few years?
Cardinal Müller: In his latest Encyclical the Holy Father warns against replacing objective debate—in society and all the more in the Church—with the defamation of those who think differently and of persons who dissent from mainstream views (FT 156; 201). For example, the insults and idiocies that I experienced from the echo-chamber of the “German Church” when I once supported a statement against the misuse of the corona-virus crisis by fanatically controlling states, at the expense of religious freedom and of an adult citizen’s self-determination and for the benefit of international organizations that have their own interests, is only one proof of the loss of a free, dignified culture of debate.
It is clear, after all, that we can talk about a reform of the Church only if the standards of revelation hold true, as they are formulated in a binding way in Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition, and the Church’s Magisterium. There is no right to sexual pleasure—that is indeed the main topic of most of the synodal fellow-travelers—outside of the personal love of a husband and a wife in marriage. Sex without love makes people unhappy—no amount of discussion will obliterate that fact as long as the human being is a person and has not regressed into an instinct-driven animal.
The concept of self-referential pleasure is senseless and ends in frustration. This is because the body-soul pleasure of sex and eros is ordered to selflessness in the agape of interpersonal communion and for precisely this reason is also “essentially good” (Gen 2:22-25; 1:31). Religious vows and the celibate lifestyle of priests (in the Tradition of the Western-Latin Church) are not powdered wigs at the mercy of hair stylists and the latest fashions, but rather are founded on the Gospel of Jesus about the coming of the kingdom of God. No doubt it is the goal of a loud and well-financed ideological tendency to brand church-going Catholics who take morality seriously as “conservative” and “right-wing,” to marginalize them, and even to drive them out of the Church.
If the Holy Father himself together with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for the Clergy and the Council for Promoting Christian Unity demands that the German bishops renounce their erroneous ways in questions concerning the Eucharist, the sacramental constitution of the Church, sexual morality, and the loss of the New Evangelization, then practicing Catholics in Germany should not let themselves be intimidated and marginalized. Ask your bishop why lots of money is available for the Frankfurt Debates, but Catholic schools are being closed against the parents’ will, because allegedly there is no money for them! Young people with a good introduction to the faith are more pleasing to God than Church accounts in the black. Empty churches are worse than empty coffers.
Kath.net: Once again the unpleasant corona-virus topic: In not a few states Masses are being restricted again, now as before, or else Catholics must accept injunctions that are often very dubious, because simultaneously in other areas (businesses, restaurants, etc.) the regulations are considerably looser. For example it is viewed as a scandal that in many dioceses communion on the tongue was forbidden. What do you say about these restrictions?
Cardinal Müller: As I said, many diocesan administrations throughout the world, among them the ones in Germany that are used to being vassals to the State, were all too quick to subject the divine commandments concerning the bestowal of grace in the sacraments to the will of the civil authorities, which for example in California, Spain, and Red China were just waiting for an excuse to gag the Church. This is evident from the fact that they applied those measures very carelessly or not at all to their fellow ideologues. Communion on the tongue is the normal form of receiving the Eucharist; besides that, however, communion in the hand is also allowed in many regions. If on account of the danger of contagion only communion in the hand is possible temporarily, then Catholics can certainly comply, as long they maintain reverence for Christ, the Son of God and the world’s Redeemer, who is truly, really, and essentially present in the Most Blessed Sacrament.
Kath.net: One more question about the latest developments in the Vatican and the dismissal of Curial Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu after a financial scandal. What is your judgment on this dismissal and also on the return of Cardinal Pell to Rome?
Cardinal Müller: As a matter of principle I cannot make a personal judgment, nor am I well versed in this matter. Let’s wait and see what facts the courts find out and what judgments they pass. There is, now, this all-too-human aspect in the Church of God, which often severely tries our faith. A lot of it also depends on a deep-seated mentality here that one should care for one’s family and friends—without worrying much about the consequences for the credibility of the Church. Dealing with money, which we obviously need in order to carry out the Church’s tasks, has always been a delicate matter. The Church needs in these positions competent people from the world of business and finance, who have no interest in enriching themselves and who as good Catholics think only about the welfare of the Church.
As for the comparison between the budget of many a German and American diocese with the Vatican’s balance sheet, a retired German director of a savings bank would certainly be more suitable than a priest who had a diplomatic career with the Holy See and is consecrated a bishop and elevated to the rank of cardinal. Those who portray the Holy Father as the solitary Hercules in the Augean stables, fighting alone against a world of enemies in the Curia and “the wicked conservatives” in the Universal Church, certainly are doing him no favor in this hour.
As the successor of Peter, the Pope is the Vicar of Christ, is acknowledged by every Catholic, and is supported by the Cardinals of the Roman Church to the best of their knowledge and conscience. Now the opportunity has arrived to overcome all fractiousness and that unholy way of thinking in terms of friend and foe. All of us, united with the Pope and the bishops, must oppose not only financial corruption but even more importantly corruption in the teaching of our revealed faith and every temptation to isolate ourselves schismatically in a circle of like-minded people. In our love for the Church of Christ, we must interiorly overcome personal injuries, apocalyptic fantasies about the end times, and the impulse to resign ourselves, according to the motto of the King of Saxony when he was compelled to abdicate: “Then do your dirty deeds alone.” For His Church, in which He made us members of His Body through Baptism, was not redeemed by our blood. Christ is the one who “loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.” We do not reform the Church and make her attractive, but rather He liberates and heals the Church from “her spots, wrinkles, and other blemishes” (see Ephesians 5:25-26).
Kath.net: Thank you cordially for the interview!
(Translated by Michael J. Miller.)
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