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Is the new Prefect of the CDF really not a man of ‘secure doctrine’? Some in Rome think so, and he does defend liberation theology: so what’s going on?

Archbishop Gerhard Müller is a friend, co-author, and defender of Gustavo Gutiérrez. But he’s also close to the pope, who knows what he is doing

By on Friday, 6 July 2012


What are we to make of the appointment of Bishop (now Archbishop) Gerhard Ludwig Müller as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith? It looks, at first sight, to be an obvious choice of a tough and orthodox bishop, close to the Holy Father. According to the renowned Vaticanologist Sandro Magister, he will be part of a “small nucleus” of cardinals in whom the pope can have complete confidence, including Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the French Canadian who is Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and Cardinal Kurt Koch, who is Swiss and is President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Archbishop Müller is an old friend of the pope, and is presently editing a 16-volume Collected Writings of Joseph Ratzinger.

So, what’s not to like? Well, he may be an old friend of the pope; but he’s also an old friend of the most renowned (or notorious) of liberation theologians, Gustavo Gutiérrez. He has written a book with him; and according to John Allen, every year since 1998 has travelled to Peru to “take a course” (What does that mean?) from Gutiérrez. In 2008, he accepted an honorary doctorate from the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, which is widely seen as a bastion of the progressive wing of the Peruvian church. On that occasion, he praised Gutiérrez and [ital] defended his theology.[end ital] “The theology of Gustavo Gutiérrez, independently of how you look at it, is orthodox because it is orthopractic,” he is on record as saying: “It teaches us the correct way of acting in a Christian fashion since it comes from true faith.” This Gutiérrez connection, it appears, among other issues, led to an unsuccessful attempt by Vatican conservatives to prevent the appointment, and you can see why it might.

Other issues raised by these Vatican conservatives—who sent out e-mails all over the place (don’t you love it? Vatican conspiracy in the digital age) suggesting that Archbishop Müller is not a man of “secure doctrine”—were his views on the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Eucharist (he has apparently suggested we shouldn’t use the term “body and blood of Christ” to describe the consecrated elements – so what DO we call them?), and ecumenism (last October, he apparently declared that Protestants are “already part of the Church” founded by Christ.)

What remains obscure to those of us who haven’t actually read the works in which he proposes these things is what he actually means by them. His defenders are arguing that in every one of these examples of his supposed “insecurity of doctrine” his words have either been taken out of context or are consistent with official teaching. I’m sure that must be true; quite simply, I trust the pope, who knows the difference between an orthodox theologian who is so solid in the faith that he can afford to speculate and a flaky liberal who thinks that speculation isn’t just a permissible intellectual activity within accepted boundaries but is itself the ultimate aim of all intellectual life and that there are no such boundaries.

So, I am sure that Archbishop, Cardinal-to-be Müller is doctrinally as solid as a rock. All the same, the Prefect of the CDF surely needs to be easily and unambiguously understood by the faithful. These speculative flights could lead to trouble, and I hope he will soon take steps to dispel the uncertainty by explaining himself in simple language. Already, for instance, there are signs of trouble from the SSPX, from the wing of the SSPX who are already giving Bishop Fellay problems over his attempts to bring the Society back into full communion with the Catholic Church. The issue is Archbishop Müller’s allegedly heterodox views on Our Lady’s perpetual virginity. “It is not acceptable that the leader of the congregation holds a heresy,” said Auxiliary Bishop Alfonso de Galarreta.

Well, no, absolutely—but does he? The Pope obviously thinks he doesn’t. But the Pope is a real theologian of theologians: what about simple people like me? His hermeneuticalness, Fr Tim Finegan says he is sitting on the fence over the appointment, over precisely the same issue, though he comes down on the opposite side of the fence from the SSPX over the issue of Our Lady’s perpetual virginity. “Essentially” he explains, Archbishop Müller has said that “the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary is not so much concerned with specific physiological proprieties in the natural process of birth (such as the birth canal not having been opened, the hymen not being broken, or the absence of birth pangs). He says that it is concerned rather “with the healing and saving influence of the grace of the Saviour on human nature”… The question of Our Lady’s physical integrity was discussed by Tertullian. Writing against the docetists and in favour of Christ’s true humanity he argued against physical integrity and in favour of a normal birth. In summary, Bishop Müller’s theological opinion on the relationship of physical integrity at birth to the doctrine of the virginity of Our Lady… is not heretical, even if most devout Catholics would want to go with the general teaching of the Fathers and St Thomas.”

All the same, Fr Finegan himself is, he says, “sitting on the fence at the moment” even after giving various examples of Archbishop Müller’s orthodox toughness, including a recent sermon—much attacked by the We Are Church mob—in which he said that “We should not allow any room for anti-Roman blabber… Any activities directed against the truth of the Faith and the unity of the Church will not be tolerated”.

Well, I’m not sitting on the fence. I trust the pope; when I’m a bit perplexed, that’s my default position. All the same, I have my fingers crossed. In the words of the song, “there may be trouble ahead”.

  • Maria

    The Ratzinger Report p76 by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger with Vittorio Messori

    “Every Catholic must have the courage to believe that his faith (in communion with that of the Church) surpasses every ‘new magisterium’ of the experts, of the intellectuals.  Their hypotheses can be helpful in providing a better understanding of the genesis of the biblical books, but it is a prejudice of evolutionistic  provenance if it is asserted that the text is understandable only if its origin and development are studied.  The rule of faith, yesterday and today, is not based of discoveries (be they true or hypothetical) of biblical sources and layers but on the Bible just as it is, as it has been read in the Church since the time  of the Fathers until now.  It is precisely the fidelity to this reading of the Bible that has given to us the saints, who were often uneducated and, at any rate, frequently knew nothing about exegitical contexts.  Yet they were the oness who understood it best.”

  • W Oddie

    No: to the question “the SSPX have just designated you again as a heretic, that is, as one who has fallen from the faith” he replied, as he was perfectly entitled to  “I must not give an answer to every stupidity”. 

  • W Oddie

    Also, he did NOT say that protestants are fully integrated into the Church or anything remotely like it. I doubt whether any other of your other accusations about what he has supposedly said about the SSPX are true, either. If they are, let us have chapter and verse.

  • Maria

    There is an objective Truth. If truth can change their meaning over time then it is not Truth. Examples are: The Blessed Trinity, Immaculate Conception & The Assumption.

  • Alan

    Of course there is objective truth, including the examples you give.  But there is also “development of doctrine”, as Newman wrote about, and doctrinal formulae can change their meaning over time (example: “ex ecclesiam non salus est” used to mean “no salvation outside the Church” but now it is taken to mean “no salvation without the Church”.  The Latin words are unchanged.

  • Lewispbuckingham

     I am not sure that the ‘Myth of Eden’ was ever a myth.It is clear that there were no possibility of days on the first day when God created the universe.
     From this OT reading it is possible to know that God exists, that what He made is good and that but for him we would not exist.
     We cannot derive that it all happened, complete with the paleontological record, about three and a half thousand years ago.
     It is in this context that I dodged the bullet.
     This whole area would be a great blog from Dr Oddie.
    This is a bit off song, but I am concerned at another level.
    Some years ago I had this sort of discussion with a couple of groups. One was the usual people that knock on the door. The other was from devout Catholics from South America. Both believed in Creationism.
    It would seem that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has its work cut out.
    I think Kevin’s intuition is right.

  • Charles Martel

    Hello Dr Oddie. Allow me to explain my comments.

    1. Your point was fair enough about the accusation of heresy. In fact, the interviewer may have been referring to Bishop Gallaretta’s use of the word ‘heresy’, while I assumed he was referring to Pater Matthias Gaudron’s press release of 5 July which holds a more official standing in the SSPX, as it was placed on the website of the SSPX in Germany. Bishop Müller must be well aware of this, so I assumed his talk of ‘stupidities’ referred to Gaudron’s statement. I may be wrong in this, but let’s see anyway if His Excellency replies to it.

    2. You say, ‘He did NOT say that protestants are fully integrated into the Church or anything remotely like it’ and you challenge me to cite chapter and verse.  Here goes:
    In a eulogy for the Protestant bishop Dr. Johannes Friedrich, Bishop Müller said on October 11, 2011: “We as catholic and protestant Christians are already united in what we call the visible Church. There are – to be precise – not several Churches existing side by side, there are only ruptures and divisions inside the one People of God and the one House of God. [...] Also the Christians that are not in full community with the Catholic Church regarding teaching, means of salvation and the apostolic episcopacy, are justified by faith and baptism and they are fully(!) incorporated/integrated into the Church of God, being the Body of Christ.”
    Here is the original German:
    “Wir sind als katholische und evangelische Christen also auch in dem schon vereint, was wir die sichtbare Kirche nennen. Es gibt daher – genau genommen – nicht mehrere Kirchen nebeneinander, sondern es handelt sich um Trennungen und Spaltungen innerhalb des einen Volkes und Hauses Gottes.“…”Auch die Christen, die nicht in voller Gemeinschaft der Lehre, der Heilsmittel und der apostolisch-bischöflichen Verfassung mit der katholischen Kirche stehen, sind durch Glaube und die Taufe gerechtfertigt und in die Kirche Gottes als Leib Christi voll eingegliedert.”

    These quotations can be validated from numerous news sources on the Internet. I hope now that you can understand why orthodox Catholics might be so concerned about this situation. In the old days, a theologian who wrote these words would have been summoned to the Holy Office and questioned as to his meaning and then ordered to retract. In the old days, Rome was serious about doctrine because we are enjoined to serve God in spirit and in truth; both, not just in spirit. Heterodoxy and heresy lead souls to damnation. Now, the man responsible for safeguarding the purity of doctrine (under the Pope, of course), himself seems to fall under the condemnation of Pius XI’s “Mortalium Animos” and Pius XII’s “Mystici Corporis”. This is why the SSPX has respectfully asked for a clarification: ‘The Society urgently appeals to Bishop Müller to comment on these controversial statements, or to correct them. The motivation for this attitude of the Society is not one of personal aversion, but only the wish for unadulterated proclamation of the doctrine.’
    Let’s hope His Excellency will respond in good faith and not by launching accusations of stupidity at anyone.
    You also say you don’t trust anything else I have written. I’m not sure what you are referring to, but if you mean the parts pertaining to Bishop Müller’s well-known antipathy towards the SSPX, please let me know, and I will dig up the necessary information for you.

  • daclamat

    Do Matthew and Luke give us an eyewitness account of the birth of Jesus? Who was the observer, and why are the two accounts contradictory

  • daclamat

    Gerhard Muller is tough going, in German.  I can’t find any translations, except for the odd press report.  Gustavo Gutierrez is translated into English, but the Spanish is straightforard enough, if you can read a Spanish restaurant menu. Hasta la vista. Buena suerte.

  • daclamat

    It’s sad to see Levada go.  A poacher turned gamekeeper.  He should stay behind the city walls in case he gets indicted for his crimes of covering up and shifting around paedophiles when still a simple crooked diocesan bishop. Bill, have you ever tasted Pata negra, the perfect consummation of acorn and pig? It’s not too clever to make up your own definition of reactionary and then go on to say that Ratzinger isn’t one of them! As regards his antipathy to SSPX, to  pursue the porcine allegory, they are getting through a lot of pearls before rushing on their Gadarene way.

  • daclamat

    Stretching infallibility a bit, aren’t we Squire? Couldn’t even choose a straight butler.  I always thought they gave that job to geriatric nuns. A much safer option. Some  popes are just plain daft – can’t think of one for the moment, but JP II  having the Virgin of Fatima strolling by at the time Ali was discharging his revolver does stretch credulity a bit.  I’d have thought she’d have had enough on her plate, what with Darfur and all that. Does she have an aversion to Moslems? She doesn’t seem concerned about Afghanistan, or even Syria for that matter. Even if she uses miracles sparingly, it does make you wonder…………….

  • Hopkins

     Charles, I appreciate your attempt to bring clarity to this vital point and a distinguished scholar’s view such as Dr. Oddie’s is also helpful. I have the impression that in the past the Catholic hierarchy believed that the Catholic church as an institution was the body of Christ and salvation was through it alone (my impression, I could be wrong).

    However, it is also my impression that many in the hierarchy now have a wider definition of body of Christ that may included non Catholic Christians and that they too can be saved even without practicing Catholicism. So I believe our confusion here is that we have received  different views over time from the hierarchy.

    I don’t pretend to know the answer to this philosophical question but my question here is what exactly was the Church’s official position on this matter in the past and what is its position now? If it has changed, then what is the reason for the change and if it has not changed then what is the evidence it has remained the same?

  • ubiamoribideus

    It’s not so much hilarious, disgusting and disgraceful as totally sad,and an almost complete distraction from the true work of living out the gospel.

  • Charles Martel

    Hello Mr Hopkins,
    I think you have hit the nail on the head when you say, ‘I believe our confusion here is that we have received different views over time from the hierarchy.’ The truth is that many bishops and Church leaders simply no longer believe in the claims of the Catholic Church, but this makes no difference to these doctrines which which always remain true regardless of how many people espouse them.
    If protestants are ‘fully integrated’ and “united” with us “in the visible Church”, what’s the problem with inter-communion? Why bother being a Catholic at all? This has been condemned as ‘indifferentism’ by the popes and is a serious doctrinal error.
    In England we used to pray: ‘Intercede for our separated brethren, that with us in the one true fold they may be united to the Chief Shepherd, the Vicar of your Son.’ You can’t be separated and fully integrated at the same time. Which one is true? Catholics are bound to the traditional teaching of the Church, and are bound to reject these novel doctrines that contradict them and that have been specifically condemned by the Church.

  • Charles Martel

    Dear Dr Oddie,
    Just in case you’re interested, here are my sources that demonstrate
    Bishop Müller’s antipathy towards the SSPX:

    ZEIT ONLINE: How will things proceed with the seminary at Zaitzkofen and
    the Fraternity of St. Pius X in Germany?

    Müller: The SSPX must fully return to the ground of the Catholic Church and
    recognise the authority of the Pope, the decisions of the Second Vatican Council
    and recognize existing canon law. If they do, they also accept that the seminary
    of Zaitzkofen falls under the supervision of the Diocese of Regensburg. The
    seminary should be closed and the students should go to seminaries in their home
    countries – if they are suited for it.

    Original German:

    ZEIT ONLINE : Wie wird es mit dem Priesterseminar Zaitzkofen und der
    Pius-Bruderschaft in Deutschland weitergehen?

    Müller: Die Pius-Bruderschaft muss voll und ganz auf den Boden der
    katholischen Kirche zurückkehren und die Autorität des Papstes, die Beschlüsse
    des Zweiten Vatikanischen Konzils und das geltende Kirchenrecht anerkennen. Wenn
    sie das tut, akzeptiert sie auch, dass das Priesterseminar Zaitzkofen unter die
    Aufsicht des Bistums Regensburg fällt. Das Seminar sollte geschlossen werden und
    die Studenten in ihren Heimatländern ein Priesterseminar besuchen – wenn sie
    dafür geeignet sind.


    ZEIT ONLINE: What do you expect now from the bishops of the SSPX?

    Müller: The four bishops of the SSPX should all resign and no longer
    comment on political issues or issues of ecclesiastical policy. They should lead
    exemplary lives as simple priests and chaplains as part of the reparation for
    the damage that the schism has caused.

    Original German:

    ZEIT ONLINE : Was erwarten Sie nun von den Bischöfen der Pius-Bruderschaft?

    Müller: Die vier Bischöfe der Pius-Bruderschaft sollten ihr Amt niederlegen
    und sich in politischen und kirchenpolitischen Fragen nicht mehr öffentlich
    äußern. Sie sollten ein vorbildliches Leben als einfacher Priester führen und
    als Seelsorger einen Teil des Schadens gutmachen, den das Schisma, die
    Kirchenspaltung, angerichtet hat.

    Interview with Zeit Online (Hauke Friederichs), 8 May 2009

    Full German text:

    Also, in 2009, a few months after the Holy Father lifted the
    excommunications from the 4 SSPX bishops, Bishop Müller threatened to reimpose
    them on an SSPX bishop and several new ordinands:

    In the end, Rome simply requested that the SSPX move the ordinations from
    Zaitzkofen to Ecône, which they did. Rome thereby clearly recognised the
    legitimacy of these ordinations and never forbade them. This shows that Bishop
    Müller’s stance was – and is – totally at variance with that of the Holy Father.
    The latter, nothing but charity and respect; the former, nothing but venom and

  • JabbaPapa

    Müller seems to have mistakenly used the adverb “fully” in a funeral homily — though of course, a funeral homily is NOT a doctrinal statement.

    Personally, I really can’t consider it as more than a plain and simple slip of the tongue, that we all of us are just as capable of.

  • JabbaPapa

    Having examined the two texts in question, with some focus and attention to this suggestion that they are “contradictory”, in FACT there is no material contradiction whatsoever between the one and the other.

    One of the texts does not mention the journey to Bethlehem — but it says nothing to either contradict that journey, or make that journey impossible within the framework of its own narrative.

  • JabbaPapa

    I am not sure that the ‘Myth of Eden’ was ever a myth.

    The text is very clearly written in the format of that literary genre.

    It is clear that
    there were no possibility of days on the first day when God created the

    God is not subjected to causality.

    The actual mechanics of the cosmogony are as utterly incomprehensible to us as they were to the authors of those first few chapters of Genesis.

  • Ade

    “if business is transacted with Christian integrity” That is the problem I am afraid to say. Generally bad business & management drives out good in the way it treats it’s workers unless the workers have the power to withstand – unions or the influence of professional bodies.
    A classic example was the way Heathrow Airport treated its cleaners. A good Scandinavian company (ISS?)won the contract – gave workers a decent wage & greater responsibility – when up for tender again lost to a company that put in a lower bid cos it reduced wages by about 20%.
    This is what is happening nationally & internationally  — the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. We see no country in the world able to withstand this.

  • Maria

    If one has a retirement/pension plan or savings or any form of investment, everyone wants return on investment – the higher the better. Stocks, bonds and mutual funds are intricately woven. Thus, most in the cycle of the business are involved. Businesses are driven by people who wants return, not just the rich and maybe a lot more. Business can be transacted with Christian integrity but it will not get you rich.  

  • Charles Martel

     Sorry, I don’t buy that. Bishop Müller is a well-known ecumenical enthusiast. Also, seen in its context (“We as catholic and protestant Christians are already united in what we call the visible Church”) it is clear that he meant what he said. 

  • Mark Han

    Thank you for requiring more precision Charles Martel. The issue here is whether or not it matters what religion one is. In the past, religions believed in the affirmative. Now according to many, the answer is no. If one’s religion doesn’t matter then how can any religion justify continued existence?

  • R_obby

    I am so glad that in all this, someone has gone back to the original documents – I was shocked when I first read them after reading so much gloss.

  • JabbaPapa

    Oh, I’m not saying he didn’t mean what he said — I’m saying that in a slip of the tongue, he said something that he should have refrained from, notwithstanding that it seems to have been a statement of his thoughts at the time.

    It’s *still* just a homily though …

  • Marcella Carmen C.

    Our Lady appeared in Egypt apparently in 2009 & the apparition was filmed – highly unusual to be able to film a heavenly being!  Haven’t the time to watch the clip myself, as I was looking for Zeitun when I came across it but God is free to use modern technology if that is His desire so I am open to the idea.  Here is the link.   A better known apparition is the one at Zeitun 1968 -1970, here is the link: 
    Apparently, it was possible to film that apparition also, and the events were witnessed by hundreds of thousands, mostly Muslims, including Nasser and the first miraculous healing was of a Muslim who thought she was a woman trying going to jump from the roof.  He shouted up at her, “No, woman, don’t jump!”  He had a gangrenous finger that was going to be amputated the next day, but when the bandages were removed to prepare the finger for surgery it was found to be absolutely healthy.  Not that these events made any difference to the treatment generally of Coptic Christians by their other countrymen.

    Re JPII shooting, as a person with an immortal body, the one all Christians hope to have one day, Mary can be anywhere she chooses to be and even in two places at once – by our human reckoning of time/space.

  • Charles Martel

     OK, I see what you’re saying. Now that this has been raised and debated so much since his appointment, I wish he would give the clarifications called for by the SSPX, so that we can move on.

  • Maria

    Thank you so much for posting this Marcella.  I was very upset by daclamat’s posting.  There was no respect at all to our Blessed Lady.   He was putting our Blessed Lady on his equal.  Our Blessed Lady also appeared in South Rwanda too.  She is called Our Lady of Kibeho.  The time and space is beyond our human comprehension unless he thinks he is better than Our Lady or better than the rest of us.  I always think that person who posts these kinds of remarks are either former Catholics who believe that they are superiorly brilliant that our belief in the apostle’s creed, in our tradition and in our magisterium are utterly disgusting or plainly do not know what we believe in as Catholics.  I think we should always remember this:
    1 Cor 1:19 - “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and set aside the understanding of the scholars.”
    1 Cor 1:25 – ” For what seems to be God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and what seems to be God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”
    He forgot to state why most of the time Our Blessed Lady appears to the children whose minds are pure and why not to him.
    God’s blessings of wisdom, peace and joy.

  • dove600

    So male gynaecologist is an aberration then, if I can infer.

  • Jean-Paul Mestrallet

    If Jesus arisen from the dead showed Himself as a “glorious body knowable by the touch” to the Eleven twice “the doors being shut”, why could He be unable as a utterly normal i.e.” not yet glorious body”  to come to this world’s light keeping Mary’s hymen skin intact? Just a confidential and undescriptible attention from the loving Son of God to his immaculate Mother! Which doesnot exclude the whole childbearing pangs for Mary as a beginning of all Passion pangs and shots through her heart!

  • Charles Martel

    Dr Oddie,
    Don’t you think you should admit it when you are proved wrong? I agree with  99% of what you write, and that’s why I find it immensely frustrating when you lash out at things I have written, accusing me of dishonesty, and when I prove my point, you totally ignore what I have said. I can see that it’s a very convenient approach, but it’s not intellectually honest. It’s not how conservative, loyal Catholics should behave. From a modernist it wouldn’t shock or disappoint me, but I hold you to higher standards.

  • No name Jane

    I wish the cardinals could vote to impeach him at any time they think they have a heretic on their hands.

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