November 27, 2017, Monday
“The Pope confided to me: ‘Some have told me anonymously that you are my enemy,’ without explaining on which point… After 40 years at the service of the Church, I had to hear this: an absurdity prepared by gossipers who instead of instilling suspicion in the Pope would do better to visit a shrink.”
(The Italian original: “Il Papa mi confidò: ‘Alcuni mi hanno detto anonimamente che lei è mio nemico,’ senza spiegare in qual punto… Dopo quarant’anni al servizio della Chiesa, mi sono sentito dire questo: un’assurdità preparata da chiacchieroni che invece di instillare inquietudine nel Papa farebbero meglio a visitare uno strizzacervelli.”) —German Cardinal Gerhard Müller (photo below), not reconfirmed by Pope Francis in July as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the highest doctrinal post in the Church), in an interview published yesterday, November 26, in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, recounting what the Pope said to him in their last meeting in July, when Müller was not kept at his post
(Above, German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, 69, a leading Catholic theologian, who has just given an interesting interview to a leading Italian newspaper)
“The only way to get out of this situation is a clear and candid dialogue. Instead, I have the impression that in the ‘magic circle’ of the Pope there are some who are focused primarily on being spies against presumed adversaries, thus impeding an open and balanced discussion. Classifying all Catholics according to the categories of ‘friend’ or ‘enemy’ of the Pope is the worst harm that they cause to the Church.” —Cardinal Müller, in the same interview, after revealing that the Pope had told him that some in his circle had told him that Müller was his “enemy,” a charge Müller denied as ridiculous for someone who had served the Church for 40 years
“There is a front of traditionalist groups, just as there is with the progressivists, that would like to see me as head of a movement against the Pope. But I will never do this… However, those who are complaining should be heard.” —Cardinal Müller, in the same interview, referring to concerned Catholics who have evidently asked Müller, as one of the Church’s leading theologians, to organize a sort of theological opposition to Pope Francis. Müller says he will not do this
“I believe, as Melchior Cano (image left) the 16th century theologian said, that the true friends are not those who flatter the Pope, but those who help him with the truth and with both theological and human competence.” —Cardinal Müller, in the same interview
Pope Francis and his “magic circle”
An astonishing, fascinating interview was published yesterday, November 26, in a major Italian newspaper with German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the former head of the Holy See’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and one of the leading theologians in the Church.
This interview with Müller, conducted by Italian journalist Massimo Franco in Corriere della Sera, shows that, at the highest levels of the Church, there is a dramatic struggle between two different ways of viewing the world, and two different ways of viewing theology.
Indeed, Müller goes so far as to propose that the signature theological-ecclesial metaphor of this pontificate — that the Church should be understood as a “field hospital,” taking care of wounded souls in a situation of confusion and chaos, as in a battle — should be changed.
Müller says that this metaphor was “a great intuition of the Pope” when he announced it in 2013, in the first weeks after his election.
“But perhaps now,” Müller says, “there is a need to go beyond the field hospital, and to bring an end to the war against the natural and supernatural good of the men and women of today that made this field hospital necessary.”
In these few words, Müller seems to be saying that the focus of the Church needs to shift from providing emergency care to the wounded on a battlefield (as in a “field hospital”) to combating the source of those wounds, which come from life in a society where the natural and supernatural good of people has been disregarded, distorted, rejected, opposed, denied.
One could perhaps say that Müller is calling on the Church to become more militant, to change out of the garments of field surgeons and nurses helping the wounded (that is, out of the garments of pastoral workers of all types) into the military fatigues and boots of soldiers in order to fight the battle itself, and in this way to diminish or end all the wounding that makes the “field hospitals” necessary.
The battle Müller sees is not an actual military combat.
It is almost the opposite: it is a cultural, philosophical, literary and artistic battle, a battle for the souls of men and women, where the weapons are not guns and cannons, but articles and talks and homilies and, perhaps, even internet newsletters.
“Today we need more a type of ‘Silicon Valley’ of the Church,” Müller says.
And in a striking, somewhat odd image, he suggests that “we must become the Steve Jobs [founder and head of the Apple computer company, now deceased] of the faith, and transmit a vision that is strong in terms of moral values and spiritual and theological truths.”
From the Church as “field hospital” to the Church as a type of “Silicon Valley” addressing the great issues of faith and human life?
Müller seems to be calling for a new engagement of the Church, at a different place on the battlefield of our time — to re-engage in a never-ending struggle over things like what is good and evil, what is the nature of man, what is the destiny of individual souls and of the human race, what is true happiness and blessedness. Bringing Christ to bear on all the great questions and issues of the day.
This seems to be Müller’s vision.
But is it compatible with the vision of Pope Francis?
Does having a vision like this make Müller — and those more “conservative” Catholics who may or may not agree with him — an “enemy” of Pope Francis, of his vision, of his special intuition about the role the Church needs to play in the world today?
Well, at least a few members of the Roman Curia seem to have reached this conclusion.
If Müller is accurately remembering and accurately telling what happened when Pope Francis met Müller in early July, he said to the German cardinal: “Some have told me anonymously that you are my enemy.”
Now, first, this is a rather strange phrase.
It is strange because of the word “anonymously.”
How could it have been “anonymously”?
Francis must (it would seem) have known who was speaking with him. So the accusers of Müller were not “anonymous” to the Pope. He knew the faces and names of those who told him the German cardinal was his “enemy.”
So how are these people “anonymous”?
They are anonymous, evidently, because the Pope has decided he will keep the names to himself, and not tell them to Müller. They are anonymous to Müller.
But this means that Müller has no way of knowing who his accusers are.
He must make an assumption: his accusers are in the “magic circle” of the Pope.
(Note: Müller uses this unusual phrase. A “magic circle” is a circle — or sphere, field — of space marked out by practitioners of many branches of ritual magic, which they generally believe will contain energy and form a sacred space, or will provide them a form of magical protection, or both.)
By recounting the words of the Pope in this Corriere della Sera interview, Müller is clearly suggesting that Pope Francis did not keep him as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith because of the charge that he, Müller, was the Pope’s “enemy.”
So here we begin to have an insight into the conflicts and tensions at the highest level of the Church, in the circles in and near Pope Francis.
And in this interview, Müller does sharply criticize at least some of the members of the “magic circle” of Francis, suggesting that they are not theologically competent, that they flatter the Pope, that they serve, not the Pope, but “only themselves.”
And already on the internet today, some theologians known to be close to Pope Francis, after reading the interview, were writing that Müller himself is not really much of a theologian.
So, in many ways, all of this is not very edifying.
But it is good to have clear, first-hand information regarding some of the great questions and great spiritual battles of our time: the modus agendi (“way of acting”) of some in the circle of advisors and counselors around Pope Francis as he seeks to carry out the mandate of St. Peter, which is therefore also his mandate, to preserve the unity of the Church while always remaining faithful to perennial Church teaching, the depositum fidei (“deposit of the faith”).
We know that it is important to preserve the unity of the Church.
We know that the true “enemy” of the Church would like the Church to be split into pieces.
We know that the confusion and rancor such a split, or splits, would cause, would be profound.
And it would only cause the “enemy” of the Church to rejoice.
So we know we must avoid such a division if at all possible.
At the same time, we know that the Church must preserve the true faith handed down, against all temptations to alter it.
The entire history of the Church is filled with efforts to discern, articulate and defend the truths of the faith against every heresy and every heretic.
And so, against all obstacles, against all “powers and principalities,” we must continue on the path upon which we have set out, always seeking to preserve unity in truth.
The Text of the Interview
Sunday, November 26, 2017
Corriere della Sera
Cardinal Gerhard Müller speaks with an even tone and a marked German accent. We are in the Piazza della Città Leonina apartment that was previously occupied by Joseph Ratzinger before he became Pope Benedict XVI, in a building inhabited by high-ranking prelates.
“There is a front of traditionalist groups, just as there is with the progressivists, that would like to see me as head of a movement against the Pope. But I will never do this. I have served the Church with love for 40 years as a priest, 16 years as a university professor of dogmatic theology and 10 years as a diocesan bishop. I believe in the unity of the Church and I will not allow anyone to exploit my negative experiences of these last few months.
“Church authorities, on the other hand, need to listen to those who have serious questions or justified complaints; not ignoring them, or worse, humiliating them. Otherwise, without desiring it, there can be an increase of the risk of a slow separation that might result in the schism of a part of the Catholic world, disorientated and disillusioned. The history of Martin Luther’s Protestant Schism of 500 years ago should teach us, above all, what errors to avoid.”
“The Pope confided to me: ‘Some have told me anonymously that you are my enemy’ without explaining in what way,” he recounts unhappily.
“After 40 years at the service of the Church, I had to hear this: an absurdity set up by prattlers who instead of instilling worry in the Pope they would do better visiting a ‘shrink.’ A Catholic bishop and cardinal of the Holy Roman Church is by nature with the Holy Father. But, I believe, as Melchior Cano, the 16th century theologian said, that the true friends are not those who flatter the Pope, but those who help him with the truth and with theological and human competence. In all the organizations of the world, deceivers of this type serve only themselves.”
“Tensions [in the Church] arise from the contrast between an extremist traditionalist front on some websites and an equally exaggerated progressive front, which today seeks to become accredited as ‘superpapal.’
“Look: if there is a perception of an injust act by the Roman Curia, almost due to inertia a schismatic dynamic might be set in motion, difficult to reverse.
“I believe that the cardinals who have voiced doubts about Amoris Laetitia, or the 62 signatories of a letter of criticism, which was excessive, to the Pope, should be heard, not dismissed as ‘Pharisees’ or grumbling people.
“The only way to get out of this situation is a clear and candid dialogue. Instead, I have the impression that in the ‘magic circle’ of the Pope there are some who are focused primarily on being spies against presumed adversaries, thus preventing an open and balanced discussion. Classifying all Catholics according to the categories of ‘friend’ or ‘enemy’ of the Pope is the worst harm that they cause to the Church.
“One remains perplexed if a well-known journalist [Note: probably referring to Eugenio Scalfari], is an atheist who boasts of being a Pope’s friend; and in parallel a Catholic and cardinal bishop like myself is being defamed as the opponent of the Holy Father. I don’t believe that these people can give me lessons in the theology of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff.
On the unprovoked dismissal of the Pope by some theologians of his Congregation: “People cannot be fired on a whim, without evidence or trial, just because someone has accused them anonymously of making vague criticism of the Pope…”
Müller does not see a more divided Church than it was in the years of Benedict XVI.
“But I see her weaker. Let us try to analyze the problems. Priests are growing more scarce and we give responses that are more organizational, political and diplomatic than theological and spiritual. The Church is not a political party with the party’s struggles for power. We need to discuss existential questions about life and death, about the family and religious vocations, and not permanently about ecclesial politics.
“Pope Francis is very popular, and that is a good. But many people no longer take part in the sacraments. And his popularity among non-Catholics who cite him with enthusiasm, unfortunately, does not change their false convictions. Emma Bonino, for example, praises the Pope but remains firm in a position in favor of abortion that the Pope condemns. We must be careful not to confuse the great popularity of Francis, which is also a huge asset for the Catholic world, with a true revival of faith: even if we all support the Pope in his mission.”
The image of the Church as a “field hospital,” an image Francis first used in his interview with Civilta Cattolica in the summer of 2013.
“It was a great insight of the Pope, but perhaps now it is necessary to go beyond the field hospital, and to bring an end the war against the natural and supernatural good of today’s men who made it (the field hospital) necessary,” he says.
“Today we need more a type of ‘Silicon Valley’ of the Church,” Müller says.
“We must become the Steve Jobs [founder and head of the Apple computer company, now deceased] of the faith, and transmit a vision that is strong in terms of moral values and spiritual and theological truths.”
“It is not enough,” he adds, “the popular theology of some monsignors or the too journalistic theology of others. We also need theology at the academic level.”
From his words it is clear that the criticisms are directed above all toward some collaborators of Pope Francis.
“It’s good to use language that people can understand. Francis tends rightly to speak against the arrogance of intellectuals. But sometimes, the intellectuals are not the only arrogant ones. The vice of pride pertains to the character, not to the intellect. I think of the humility of St. Thomas, the greatest Catholic intellectual. Faith and reason are in harmony. ”
In the perspective of the Cardinal, a model of the papacy that tends to emerge from time to time, “more like the sovereign of the Vatican State than like the supreme teacher of the faith,” can give rise to some reservations.
“I feel that Francis wants to listen to and integrate everyone. But the arguments of the decisions must be discussed first. John Paul II was more a philosopher than a theologian, but was assisted and advised by Cardinal Ratzinger in preparing the documents of the magisterium. The relationship between the Pope and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was and will always be the key to a fruitful pontificate. And I also remind even myself that the bishops are in communion with the Pope: brothers and not delegates of the Pope, as the Second Vatican Council reminded us.”
(to be continued)