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Don't get your hopes too high, warns the Prefect of the Church's doctrine officeBut Archbishop Müller notes ‘Francis manages to turn doctrine into an encounter’26 September 2013, 9:00
KNA: Are you relieved that you've been able to keep your job, Archbishop?
Archbishop Müller: That's been clear for quite a long time now. I haven't been in Rome that long [Müller was appointed CDF Prefect in July 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI]. I was already appointed by Pope Benedict because as a professor of dogmatics I am well versed in this field and also because I'd had ten years' experience as a bishop. And Pope Francis, moreover, comes from Latin America, where I've spent a lot of time.
KNA: You speak Spanish like the Pope. Did that play a role?
Archbishop Müller: I don't know. When there is a change of Pope the prefects are generally always confirmed in office, with a few exceptions, that is, but in my case that was never under discussion.
KNA: Can former liberation theologians who have been reprimanded (by Rome) now hope to be rehabilitated?
Archbishop Müller: (laughing) I myself haven't reprimanded any! Contrary to widespread popular opinion, the two instructions of 1984 and 1986 were not a big 'No' to liberation theology. They merely discussed certain aspects of it. Its most important representatives have developed their thinking in a positive way. One should be glad if tensions are not exacerbated and perpetuated. It is also the task of our Congregation to contribute towards reconciliation. There must be no rival camps in the Church. When occasionally there is a hardening of attitudes, we must overcome them and lead everyone back to the fundamentals of the faith.
KNA: Your Congregation is often seen as a censor's office for undesirable theologians, especially in Germany. After the Pope's most recent interview (inCiviltà Cattolica) one could get the impression that Pope Francis wanted to change that image.
Archbishop Müller: The image exists but it is incorrect. Of the 4,000 or so bishops and theologians appointed, you get perhaps ten cases where the nihil obstat(nothing stands in the way) cannot be given. Then, of course, there's a huge echo and the positive things we do to promote the faith go under. Thus the International Theological Commission and the Pontifical Biblical Commission, both of which are assigned to our Congregation, do great deal of development work. False teachings, however, must be rejected. Whether Jesus is the Son of God or was just a good person who paved the way for today's party-political social programmes is not immaterial. Healthy doctrine, the correct practice and eternal salvation belong inextricably together.
KNA: Up to now the Pope has not proclaimed any new doctrine. He obviously wants to set different priorities as far as the way the Church approaches people is concerned. Less dogmatically and less moralising and more pastorally, instead. Would you say that that is what is at the heart of his concern or how do you interpret what he has said?
Archbishop Müller: It's not as if other bishops or Pope Benedict had constantly spoken about abortion, sexual morals or euthanasia. And pastoral work is not a therapeutic game. It wants to serve people with the Word of God. That is why juxtaposing doctrinal and moral teaching against pastoral work is not in the mind of the inventor. The former is the source of the latter.
KNA: What does that mean?
Archbishop Müller: If Jesus Christ is not the Son of God who became Man, then he cannot be the Good Shepherd. Pope Francis has that special charism of being able to translate the Church's doctrine of the faith, which he adheres to unconditionally as he never tires of emphasising, into a personal encounter with people. As Pope he behaves like a local pastor.
KNA: If I've understood Pope Francis correctly, then he wants national bishops' conferences to take on more responsibility - also in controversial issues, and Roman authorities to function in a more subsidiary way as service providers. Will this affect the CDF in your opinion?
Archbishop Müller: The CDF is responsible for the whole world in the interests of the papal Magisterium. Bishops lead local Churches. The papal and the episcopal office are legitimised by divine law. That is something that bishops' conferences are not. They are work groups but do not have a competence to teach of their own over and above that of an individual bishop's mandate. So they are not a third authority between the Pope and bishops. I don't think, therefore, that we'll see a sort of federalist reform similar to that in the Federal Republic [of Germany] where key competences are relayed from the central state to the individual [German] states. That is not how the Church is constituted. According to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, the Church consists in and of the local Churches.
KNA: You'll stay in Rome and get your red hat soon, that's a certainty. Or will the Pope perhaps also abolish the title of cardinal?
Archbishop Müller: (laughing) I don't think so, although we're only concerned with a man-made law here. Cardinals originated from priests in the Roman Church who advised the Pope. But they are not an intermediary authority between the Pope and the bishops either.
The German Catholic Press Agency, KNA, interviewed Archbishop Müller on 21 September 2013. Translation by Christa Pongratz-Lippitt.