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Gerard O’ConnellMarch 24, 2023
Cardinal Gerhard Muller appear against a grey backgroundCardinal Gerhard Muller, then-prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, attends a Vatican news conference in this Oct. 25, 2016, file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) 

Cardinal Gerhard Müller said Pope Francis should correct and, if necessary, punish the German bishops who have approved what he calls “heretical texts” and “proposals directly against the Catholic faith,” including offering church blessings to homosexual couples.

“There are German bishops who have voted for heretical texts, and according to me there should be a canonical process [against them],” he said. “Collegiality exists, but there is also the primacy [of the pope], and canonically the pope has the responsibility to ask for an explanation, to correct and—in extreme cases—to dismiss bishops for doctrinal questions. They say the understanding of doctrine can develop, but we cannot develop revelation,” the cardinal stated.

He dismissed the possibility that two persons of the same sex who love each other with fidelity could be blessed by God. “When we take the Word of God seriously, this is not possible,” he said. “To bless homosexual couples is blasphemy.”

Cardinal Gerhard Müller said Pope Francis should correct and, if necessary, punish the German bishops who have approved what he calls “heretical texts” and “proposals directly against the Catholic faith.” 

Cardinal Müller also struck out out against James Martin, S.J., the editor at large for America magazine whose pastoral ministry to L.G.B.T. persons has gained the pope’s support and approval. “Father James Martin says the pope has done much for L.G.B.T. persons, [but] the pope should tell him, ‘You must not instrumentalize me,’” the cardinal said. (Father Martin declined to comment.)

The German cardinal stated this and much more in an interview with Jacopo Scaramuzzi, the Vatican correspondent for La Repubblica, a leading Italian daily, ahead of the publication of his new book Il Papa: Ministero e Missione (The Pope: Ministry and Mission) on March 31. Cardinal Müller has had no official position in the Vatican since Francis decided not to renew his tenure as prefect of the then-Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith when his five-year term of office ended in 2017.

Cardinal Müller said he agreed with Pope Francis’ recent statement that the Petrine ministry is “for life.” He remarked that Francis “had a conversion” on this matter; earlier in his pontificate Francis had said that Benedict XVI had “opened the door” to popes resigning. The cardinal said he had told Francis several times that the papacy was for life. He also made clear that he did not agree with Benedict’s resignation.

“When we take the Word of God seriously, this is not possible,” he said. “To bless homosexual couples is blasphemy.”

Speaking about the Russian Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, whom he knows well, Cardinal Müller said: “He is a good theologian, but it is not possible to justify this war [against Ukraine] with the words of Jesus, as Putin has done. Furthermore, the idea of the Great Russia is absurd.”

Asked if Kirill should criticize Russian president Vladimir Putin, the cardinal said, “Yes, but that would be his end.” He recalled that “since Peter the Great, the Orthodox bishops [in Russia] have been subject to the state. Today the state helps to rebuild the churches, and they speak of synergy between the church and state, but as a church, we cannot justify evil.”

The cardinal said Pope Francis “is right to maintain contacts” with Russia “in this difficult moment,” but, he added, “the position of the church is not to justify what the emperors do.” He recalled that St. Ambrose criticized Emperor Theodosius after the massacre of Thessalonica.

Asked why in the past he had criticized Francis for causing doctrinal “confusion” with certain statements, the cardinal responded, “On principle, I would never criticize a pope publicly.” He said, “Francis has not changed, and cannot change, revealed doctrine, but the task of the Supreme Pontiff is not only to avoid causing confusion but also to deny such [things].” He cited the example when the well-known Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari said the pope told him hell does not exist. The cardinal felt the pope should have explained this “difficult doctrine.”

Responding to a question as to whether some popes who are saints today may have given up on holiness to some degree when it came to governing the church, the cardinal said: “I cannot judge those who have been already canonized because that is an act of infallibility, but the fame of sanctity comes from the people not from ecclesiastical authority.” Notwithstanding his earlier remark about never publicly criticizing a pope, Cardinal Müller appeared to do so when commenting on Pope Francis’ decision to dispense with the need for a miracle when it came to the canonization of John XXIII, saying that decision was “too political.”

Cardinal Müller concluded the interview with La Repubblica by denouncing the recent criticism of John Paul II in Poland for allegedly covering up the abuse of minors by priests. “These are defamatory accusations, with the political intent of damaging Catholicism in Poland by decapitating the most important figure.”

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