Cardinal Müller in the Netherlands – On forced retirement (of sorts), the Church’s response to secularism and criticising the Pope

“I am now simply a cardinal without a specific assignment. That is somewhat unusual. Bishops normally remain active until they are 75. The Pope apparently has better advisors than me at his disposal. As priest, bishop and cardinal I can keep serving the Church as usual. I give lectures and write books.”

Words from Cardinal Gerhard Müller in a recent interview for Dutch newspaper Trouw. The 70-year-old German prelate has been Prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for almost 18 months now, but still looks with mild amazement at his letting go as the head of the premier Curia dicastery. He assumes that some of the pope’s “so-called friends” made him believe certain things, which let to his early retirement. Perhaps, the cardinal, wonders, his “attempts at interpreting the document Amoris laetitia in an orthodox way was not well received either”.

But Cardinal Müller is not a bitter man.

“My sense of self-worth and my identity do not depend on an office in the Church. I have achieved a few things theologically. Forty students received their doctorates with me. In total, 120 students graduated under me. I have written books. I don’t think that is all insignificant.”

CRK-dag_2018_Katholiek_Nieuwsblad_Jan_Peeters08Early last week, Cardinal Müller was in the Netherlands to speak at a congress about recently canonised Pope Paul VI and Vatican II. Katholiek Nieuwsblad (which, as an aside, has recently been expanding its media work abroad, providing translated articles to Crux) has published excerpts from the cardinal’s comments. One snippet, which was shared on social media, was taken by some as a critique on Pope Francis’ focus on certain issues. Reality is a but more nuanced, although Cardinal Müller, in the aforementioned Trouw interview, did not shy away from such criticism.

At the conference, organised in ‘s-Hertogenbosch by the CRK (Contact Rooms Katholieken), Cardinal Müller said:

“We can not make the mistake that, as the world becomes more secular, we only provide such answers. The Church is not just important because of her answers to social and environmental problems. Those are secondary matters. The first and foremost task of the Church is to bring people to God. He who is with God can contribute to the development of society from there. We can not replace the Church of Jesus Christ, the sacraments, with a social organisation.

And later:

“We can not make the mistake of responding to the secularisation  of the world with a secularisation of the Church. The Church must be a visible sign of a higher reality, and bear witness that man has a higher calling, to see God amidst the community of saints. That is the greatest calling of man.”

Returning to the issue of criticism, in the Trouw interview reporter Stijn Fens asked Cardinal Müller about the accusation, from among others Cardinal Wim Eijk, that the pope is causing confusion by refusing to offer clarity in the case of Communion for divorced and remarried faithful. Cardinal Müller answered:

“Yes, there is a great confusion in the Church at this time. The reason is that the relationship between the doctrine of the Church and the pastoral care for people in difficult situations is not clear. You can’t accompany and help faithful when you start from the wrong basis. We all know that there are people who are in a bad marriage through no fault of their own.

You see, a priest is like a doctor who cares for souls in the name of Jesus Christ. But a good doctor can only offer help when he prescribes the correct medication. You can’t comfort a patient and say, “Listen, you have broken a bone, so I’ll slap a band-aid on it.” You must use the right medication. That means, then, that a priest must explain doctrine in a clear way, whether people accept it or not.

What happens now is that those who are out to “improve” Catholic doctrine and partly falsify it, are not being disciplined. While others, who are clearly loyal to the Word of Christ, are being disregarded as “rigid” and “Pharisaic”. Is that a way to lead a Church?”

Whatever one may think of Pope Francis and his actions – and I do not consider myself to be among his detractors – it is hard to deny that the confusion described by Cardinal Müller – and others with him – exists. But, I wonder, is it up to the Pope alone to resolve this? Of course, when people are confused by his statements, it is not unreasonable to ask for clarification. But, as Cardinal Müller has asserted in the past, we must read papal statements in continuity with the teachings that came before. In that respect, it becomes an obligation to read them in an orthodox way, as the cardinal has tried with Amoris laetitia. Past doctrine does not suddenly become invalid just because the pope who promulgated it is no longer alive. So when we are faced with questions regarding communion, divorce, marriage or whatever matter of doctrine or pastoral care we like, we do ourselves and the persons involved a disservice if we look no further than one document or statement. The Code of Canon law, the social teachings of the Church, even, dare I say it, the Gospels (to name but a few sources) offer clarity and explanations and indications on how to interpret what we may not understand immediately. That is a duty for all Catholics, not just the Pope. 

In a more lengthy interview that was published in the printed version of Katholiek Nieuwsblad on Friday, Cardinal Müller also shared some thoughts about the Netherlands and the state of the Church there. Asked about the reasons for the extreme and rapid secularisation here, he said:

“The Netherlands is one of the countries which has understood the Council as a sort of liberalisation or secularisation of the Church. But in reality the Council had a further Christianisation of society as its goal.”

But hope always remains:

“There may still be a new flourishing. We must pray for it and bear good witness. I hope and pray that a new spring for the Church may perhaps begin in the Netherlands.”

Photo credit: Jan Peeters/Katholiek Nieuwsblad

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Lectures and meetings – baby bishops’ school in Rome

This past week, the bishops who have been appointed in the last year were in Rome for what has become known as ‘baby bishops’ school’, a series of lectures on things related to being a bishop. Among the participants was Bishop Ron van den Hout of Groningen-Leeuwarden, appointed in April of this year. The last time a Dutch bishop participated was in 2012. The week-long course has existed since 2001 and is jointly organised by the Congregations for Bishops and for the Oriental Churches.

20170908-_C817730.jpgBishop Ron van den Hout, at left, concelebrates the daily Mass during the course for newly-appointed bishops.

This year’s topic of the course was ‘Teachers in discernment’, and, according to a factual report on the website of Bishop van den Hout’s diocese, the bishops heard lectures on mutual collegiality, the relationships with the priests of the bishop’s new diocese, ecumenism, pastoral care for priests and their affective life, Church and media, the missionary Church, and the role of canon law in managing a diocese.

The German bishops were with six in Rome, among them Bishop Peter Kohlgraf of Mainz, who shared the photo below on his Facebook page, of bishops (and one priest) at dinner.

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From left to right: Franz Josef Gebert (auxiliary, Trier), Georg Bätzing (Limburg), Fr. Stefan Langer (Hamburg), Peter Kohlgraf (Mainz), Horst Eberlein (auxiliary, Hamburg), Dominicus Meier (auxiliary, Paderborn (albeit not a newly-ordained bishop)) and Rupert Graf zu Stolberg (auxiliary, München und Freising). Absent from the gathering were Bishops Mattäus Karrer (auxiliary of Rottenburg-Stuttgart) and Rolf Lohmann (auxiliary, Münster).

 

Next to the lectures, Bishop Kohlgraf identifies another important element of the week. “Another at least equally important part is formed by the conversations between the individual participants. It allowed me to get to know brothers who work in very sober and sometimes difficult situations and yet radiate great joy”. A participant in last year’s edition, Bishop Richard Umbers of Sydney, Australia (a bishop you should follow in Facebook or Twitter, by the way), said something similar in a recent conversation with Crux: “Make sure you organize a few lunches and dinners along the way. Make sure you make time to get to know some of those bishops in a more intimate setting. Build friendships there.”

The new bishops were received in audience by Pope Francis on Thursday afternoon. In his address, the Holy Father reminded them that “[t]he mission that awaits you is not to bring your own ideas and projects, nor solutions that are abstractly designed by those who consider the Church a home garden but humbly, without attention-seeking or narcissism , to offer your concrete witness of union with God, serving the Gospel that should be cultivated and helped to grow in that specific situation.” He spoke about discerning God in everything the bishops does and says. “Remember that God was already present in your dioceses when you arrived and will still be there when you are gone. And, in the end, we will all be measured not by counting our works but on the growth of God’s work in the heart of the flock that we keep in the name of the “Pastor and keeper of our souls” (cf. 1 Pt 2:25)”.

 

Closing the book on the Cardinals’ Letter

The letter of a number of cardinals to Pope Francis, which I wrote about yesterday, was a private piece of correspondence that was never meant to be made public, and the version that was made public is clearly not accurate. I have already added notes to treat all reporting about the letter with extreme care, but today’s statement from Fr. Lombardi should be enough to end speculation.

federico-lombardi“As we are aware, at least four of the Synod Fathers who were included in the list of signatories have denied their involvement (Cardinals Angelo Scola, Andre Vingt-Trois, Mauro Piacenza and Peter Erdo). [Add Wilfrid Napier and Norberto Rivera Carrera to that list]

Cardinal Pell has declared that a letter sent to the Pope was confidential and should have remained as such, and that neither the text published nor the signatories correspond to what was sent to the Pope.

I would add that, in terms of content, the difficulties included in the letter were mentioned on Monday evening in the Synod Hall, as I have previously said, although not covered extensively or in detail.

As we know, the General Secretary and the Pope responded clearly the following morning. Therefore, to provide this text and this list of signatories some days later constitutes a disruption that was not intended by the signatories (at least by the most authoritative). Therefore it would be inappropriate to allow it to have any influence.

That observations can be made regarding the methodology of the Synod is neither new nor surprising. However, once agreed upon, a commitment is made to put it into practice in the best way possible.

This is what is taking place. There is very extensive collaboration in the task of allowing the Synod to make good progress on its path. It may be observed that some of the “signatories” are elected Moderators of the Circuli Minori, and have been working intensively. The overall climate of the Assembly is without doubt positive.

Cardinal Napier has expressly asked me to clarify the comments published in an interview with “Crux”, which do not correspond to his opinion. With regard to the composition of the “Commission of the 10” for the final text, it was incorrectly written that “… Napier said, adding that he would actually challenge ‘Pope Francis’ right to choose that’”. Cardinal Napier has requested that this be corrected, affirming the exact opposite: “… no-one challenges Pope Francis’ right to choose that”.

I have no further observations to make.”

Many have been spouting conspiracy theories left and right, but it is my opinion (and policy on this blog) not to participate in that sort of thing. Discussion is necessary, both in the Synod and outside it, but it must be factual and about the topic at hand, not coloured by our own ideas of what does or does not happen behind the scenes, and certainly not about the people. We may disagree with ideas and thoughts, but is it really constructive or useful to then denounce those who came up with them as reactionaries, schismatics or even heretics? I hope that I don’t need to explain that the answer is no

In many reactions yesterday and today, it is clear that more than a few commentators still operate under an idea of Pope Francis. Under that idea, anyone seeming to disagree with the Pope, anyone emphasising the importance and unchangeability of doctrine for example, is attacking the Holy Father. That is nonsense, of course. The letter, if it exists in the form that was published yesterday, is not an attack or sign of opposition: it is the sharing of concerns and the asking of questions, which is and entirely valid and necessary part of any deliberation, meeting or, yes, Synod. It is not a rebellion or attack.