By CHRISTOPHER MANION
“Bob was a hopeful man. Of course, he wasn’t an optimist” — Fr. Paul Scalia, presiding at the funeral of Judge Robert Bork (December 22, 2012).
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As prefect for the Congregation of the Faith, Gerhard Cardinal Müller bears the responsibility of defending the truths of the Magisterium from error. In recent years, that task has become more difficult, for reasons addressed in The Cardinal Müller Report (Ignatius Press, $17.95: visit www.ignatius.com, or call 1-800-651-1531), which appears this month.
First, some background. In 1985, Ignatius published the powerful Ratzinger Report, an extended interview by Vittorio Messori with the then-cardinal prefect of the same congregation. The Müller Report follows the same format, as an interview with Fr. Carlos Granados, director of the Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos (BAC), the highly respected publishing house known the world over for its critical editions of Catholic classics.
This marvelous book is the result of one weekend of conversations, for which Fr. Granados prepared for weeks. Clearly Cardinal Müller had been preparing for a lifetime. In fact, the German Cardinal knows Spanish so well that the interview was conducted entirely in that language in December 2015, after the Synod on the Family but before the publication of Amoris Laetitia in March of 2016.
While The Ratzinger Report focuses on faith, Cardinal Müller focuses on hope, “which reveals the future,” and stresses the importance of this theological virtue as opposed to its secular version (optimism is “just a guess”).
Cardinal Müller addresses several highly charged issues, but calmly and soundly. The book’s vital importance lies in its tightly interwoven character that develops unpopular truths with such patient clarity that they are impossible to deny without denying the faith itself.
We can turn briefly to some of those specifics, always mindful that they are developed painstakingly and lucidly as part of a whole. The text is so enjoyable because the cardinal confidently places critical issues of theology within easy reach, without apology or evasion.
Cardinal Müller first presents divorce and remarriage as a “serious obstacle” which introduces “emotional instability” and practical issues such as children born in the second relationship. In developing the issue further, after a careful examination in the light of Church teaching, however, he is firm: Sacramental marriage is indissoluble, period.
With regard to sodomy, he does not flinch. However popular “gender ideology” might be, it represents an “idolatry of the self,” like Adam and Eve deciding what is good and evil. In fact, this “totalitarian pretension” constitutes an attack on the Church and her authority, plain and simple.
But what about “Who am I to judge?” He is clear: “It is precisely those who before have shown no respect for the doctrine of the Church who now seize on a stray sentence of the Holy Father, taken out of context, to present deviant ideas about sexual morality in the guise of a presumed interpretation of the ‘authentic’ thought in merito of the Pope.”
He continues: “The concept of the intrinsic disorder of homosexual acts, because they do not proceed from a genuine emotional and sexual complementarity, stems from holy Scripture.”
But in the cases of “gender” and divorce and remarriage, shouldn’t the Eucharist be available? He cannot “conclude that anyone can come to receive the Eucharist even though he is not in grace and does not have the required state of mind, just because it is nourishment for the weak.”
But isn’t that “legalistic”? Not at all: “Certainly, any proposal to eliminate the law from Christian life or to regard it as an excessive burden would constitute a serious offense to Jews and would be especially an attack on the truth of Christianity.”
And speaking of legal, what about officeholders who celebrate sodomy and abortion? “We pay a high price” for “our refusal to hold politicians to an ethical exercise of power.”
Without chiding, Cardinal Müller has strong words for current and future priests, who “must take the most meticulous care of our spiritual life: assiduous confession, moments of intimacy with the Lord in silent adoration, praying the breviary for the whole church, and trusting ourselves to the maternal care of Mary, the hard work of spiritual exercises every year, and above all the devout celebration of Christ’s sacrifice and daily Mass. We, too, are enveloped in misery, and therefore we need a firm piety and continual forgiveness of God if we want to renew our Christian life and, specifically, the commitment we undertook one day to serve the church for life, out of love for Christ.”
Yes, he continues, there is a crisis in vocations, but that represents “a crisis of faith, which in turn is a result of a long secularization that has dried up what was once fertile soil and has scorched the earth.”
And what about bishops? They must preach the “full Gospel,” bearing in mind that bishops’ conferences “do not have any more authority than the sum of the authority of all the bishops who belong to them.”
Like Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Müller illuminates the problem of bishops hiding behind the cover of the faceless bureaucracy of “the conference” to avoid confronting dissent and outright error with their consecrated authority, however unpopular such truth-telling might be. In fact, one might conclude, if conferences were simply abolished, there would be no loss or dilution of episcopal authority, but it may well be sharpened by placing it squarely on the shoulders of individual successors of the apostles.
Specifically, Cardinal Müller does not share the timidity of many American bishops when it comes to defending the moral truths so scathingly attacked by our popular culture.
On Humanae Vitae: “The indiscriminate attacks to which it was subject from the outset caused it to be marginalized and forgotten, despite its richness and inventively and prophetically posing the reality of love, of marriage, and the beauty of married life. Today, almost 50 years later, we see much more clearly that Pope Paul VI was right in everything that at the time he had the courage to make clear. Ahead of his time, this humanist pope had the courage to offer this document to the Church and to society, denouncing with an accurate analysis what ended up happening.”
Regarding education, Cardinal Müller points out how the great tyrannies have always attempted to seize control of children from their parents. That temptation is universal: In the 1860s, John Swett, the anti-Catholic superintendent of education in California, insisted that children belong to the state, and not to the parents; hence parents should cede control over education to the superior authority of the state (Swett is honored today as the founder of California’s largest government school union).
And what about the Reformation, so popular in recent days as Luther’s 500th anniversary is celebrated? “The farther away an observer is from Christianity, the fewer differences he can see between the Catholic Church and the other Christian denominations. To an atheist, all religions look the same….Strictly speaking, we Catholics do not have any reason to celebrate October 31, 1517, the date that is considered to be the beginning of the Reformation that led to the rupture in Western Christianity.”
And religious liberty? It requires that the Church exercise “her complete independence” from the state. He does not address problems flowing from government funding of the Church, which reaches into the billions both in his native Germany and the United States.
And mercy?” This introduces the third theological virtue: “Mercy cannot consist in relativizing God’s Commandments, but must, rather, make possible the encounter with God’s love, which renews and changes our life.” Here, and throughout the interview, Cardinal Müller contrasts the theological virtues with the secular world’s versions. “Supernatural love is the intimate union of God with us: He lives in us, and we are His children,” he insists.
The Ratzinger Report focused on faith; The Cardinal Müller Report focuses on hope. Given the confusion that abounds among today’s bishops regarding “charity” as government-funded welfare programs, we look forward to a future volume that firmly restores charity — caritas, inseparable from God’s love — to its proper place in the life of the Church.
The particulars noted above are necessarily brief. We emphasize that they emerge from a marvelously coherent and masterful conversation that is indispensable to understanding their place in the teaching of the Church as it confronts the “vulgarity and frivolity” of today’s secular culture.
This very readable book deserves to be widely celebrated and appreciated.