Deafening silence on Müller confirms key insight on Francis papacy
- John L. Allen Jr.May 28, 2017
ROME - There’s an old philosophical head-scratcher about whether, if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a noise? In similar fashion, one might ask if an alleged Vatican heavyweight makes a stir and no one reacts, is he really that much of a heavyweight?
The question presents itself in light of a fascinating interview conducted on May 12 with German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, by Raymond Arroyo of EWTN and released last Thursday.
There are many interesting points in the conversation, but probably of most immediate news value are Müller’s comments on Amoris Laetitia, the pope’s document on the family that seemed to open a cautious door to Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, and on female deacons, which is relevant given Pope Francis’s decision to create a commission to ponder the idea.
On Amoris, Müller expressed frustration that some bishops and bishops’ conferences have put out contradictory interpretations of its provisions on Communion for the divorced and remarried.
“It is not good that the bishops’ conferences are making official interpretations of the pope,” Müller said. “That is not Catholic. We have this document of the pope, and it must be read in the context of the complete Catholic tradition.”
“We don’t have two magisteria, one of the pope and another one of the bishops,” Müller said. “I think it is a misunderstanding, a bad misunderstanding which causes damage, could cause damage for the Catholic Church.”
In general, the thrust of Müller’s commentary is to suggest that read in light of tradition, Amoris Laetitia does not actually authorize opening the sacrament to divorced and civilly remarried believers.
On the issue of female deacons, Müller didn’t “suggest” anything - he was about as blunt as humanly possible.
“No. Impossible. It will not come,” he said.
“Pope Francis denied the possibility of female deacons, but he said we could study the old documents for having some inspiration, so to promote the engagement of women in the Church of today,” he said.
“People outside of the Church don’t understand the mission of the Church. They are thinking the Church is an organization like others, and we have to promote in a generally abstract sense the emancipation of women, but this has nothing to do with it,” Müller said. “Everybody inside and outside of the Church has to respect that the Church is not a political or man-made organization, but is the Body of Christ.”
Here’s the thing: This interview has been in circulation for a full four days now, and almost no one has reacted to it. There’s no hubbub, no ferment, no rattle and hum of conflicting interpretations and analyses. For all intents and purposes, it’s as if it hadn’t happened.
Granted, some of that lack of response may be because Müller has made his positions clear already in a variety of venues, and some of it may be, too, because people are simply weary of the seemingly never-ending tussles unleashed by Amoris.
Nonetheless, the deafening silence also illustrates how much things have changed in the Pope Francis era.
Once upon a time, the earth shook when prefects of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith spoke. Historically, the congregation has been known as la suprema, the “supreme” department within the Vatican, because it had the final word on issues involving doctrine - and since there’s little the Catholic Church does that doesn’t involve doctrine in some form, that’s an awfully broad mandate.
When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger ran the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1981 to 2005 prior to becoming Pope Benedict XVI, for instance, his every utterance was perceived to carry enormous weight. Theological careers could rise or fall based on a mention by Ratzinger, and the universal sense was that when he spoke, the full weight of the Vatican and the papacy stood behind his words.
That’s simply not the case under Francis, who perhaps has not quite “sidelined” the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but who certainly does not rely on it as his primary touchstone for assessing the doctrinal implications of his decisions.
When Francis wants a theological assessment of something, it’s clear that he’ll rely more on informal advisers such as Argentine Archbishop Victor Fernandez than on Müller, part of this pope’s general strategy of preferring to work around people who aren’t quite in sync with his agenda than to formally replace them.
As a result, seasoned Vatican-watchers no longer assume that when the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith speaks, it’s a hint of looming papal policy. Instead, Müller has become another voice in the conversation, someone to be respected for his senior position and theological credentials, but certainly not a pipeline to what the pope may be thinking or planning.
Whether that’s good or bad lies in the eye of the beholder, but in any event, Müller and his most recent interview are Exhibit A for a key insight about the Francis papacy: Looking at Vatican organizational charts and knowing who’s theoretically supposed to be in charge of something, coupled with a Euro coin, may buy you a cappuccino at a Roman bar, but it certainly won’t tell you much about who’s actually making decisions.
Pope Francis makes himself very popular, but as for the mission of the Church--converting the world to the Catholic Faith--it's not clear to me how his anti-clericalism, doctrinal neutralism and liturgical minimalism can help with this. The pope has taken us to the vet to be spayed and neutered.
Pastoral accompaniment is more important than doctrine for this papacy, so Muller and his congregation are not particularly relevant for the Church at this time. This means that doctrine is left to the bishops' conferences which is a sure way to cause great division in the Church. I cannot believe how the incompetence of this papacy is just getting worse and worse.
Does this seem like the typical parish these days? The pastor is relegated to performing the Mass while the parish councils and liturgy committes do their own thing. The laity are confused as to what should be going on. He is the child of his times.
I often see an eldely person (in years and appearance) and expect them to behave in the same way the elderly people did when I was a child. They are not the same in views or experience and make decisions based on the era or their youth, which was the 1960's.
Agreed. I have trouble shaking my perception that old folks are survivors of the Great Depression and WWII, when in reality they are now mostly, at best, survivors of the Vietcong, and at worst, survivors of LSD.
My wife told me this variation on the “old philosophical head-scratcher”:
“If a man speaks in the forest and no woman is there to hear him, is he still wrong?”
Can you guess the answer?
Those who are disturbed and disillusioned by what is going on in Rome and elsewhere today need to read up on Church history and how she has managed to survive all manner of troubles.
The Western Schism for example.
In 1378, an Italian cardinal was elected pope and took the name Urban VI. His efforts at reform did not sit well with some French cardinals, who declared his election invalid and chose a different cardinal as pope, Clement VII. Interestingly, there was disagreement between two great saints of the Church over who was the valid Pontiff. St Vincent Ferrer favored Clement while St. Catherine of Siena was a devoted supporter of Urban. When Clement died, Cardinal de Luna was elected at Avignon and became Benedict XIII. To try and resolve the schism, a compromise pope was elected with the idea of bringing together the two factions (though now there were three instead of two claimants to the papal throne). The Council of Constance was called to deal with the three claimants to the papacy- Benedict XIII., John XXIII, and Gregory XII. At this crisis, another saint, Colette, together with St. Vincent Ferrer, wrote to the Fathers to depose Benedict XIII, who alone refused his consent to a new election. The understanding was that all three popes would resign and a new one be officially named.
This was done, and Martin V was elected. St Vincent, after concluding that Benedict wasn’t the real pope, publicly withdrew his support from him. Thus ended the Great Western Schism and 36 long years in which the Church had more than one head.
Anon 2, "If a man is speaking in the forest and a woman is there to hear him and a tree falls on the woman, is there a sound?"
If a man is speaking in the forest, and a woman is there to hear him, and a tree falls on him and smushes him, will the woman quit talking?
My response was to reply with another philosophical head-scratcher: “What if the man answers “yes” to the question? Is he still wrong?”
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