The Strange Case of Cardinal Muller
By Mike James
On 2 July 2012, then Pope Benedict XVI appointed a German Cardinal Gerhard Muller to be Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) one of the highest posts in the Vatican and one which Benedict himself occupied as Cardinal Ratzinger immediately prior to his election as Pope to succeed John Paul II who had appointed him to the post in which Ratzinger served for 24 years, with one of his major achievements the preparation, approval and publication of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) in 1992.
The appointment of Cardinal Muller was for 5 years, but the tradition in many Vatican appointments including the highest has been to extend appointments at least up the age of 75, normal retirement age for bishops.
On July 1 this year a Vatican statement announced that Cardinal Muller´s appointment would not be renewed and that he would be succeeded by the second highest official in the CDF its Secretary Spanish Bishop Luis Ladaria.
In a statement following the unexpected non-renewal of his appointment, Cardinal Muller said that the five-year term was over and that although it is customary to renew the term, in his case Francis decided not to do so.
“There were no differences between me and Pope Francis,” Cardinal Muller insisted, and questioned further about the non-renewal of his appointment the 69-year-old said smiling “It doesn’t bother me. Everyone has to retire at some point.”
The Cardinal made a very interesting disclosure that Pope Francis told him that it was his plan from now in general not to extend such terms, “and I was the first one for whom the plan was implemented.”
Shortly afterwards, however, Cardinal Muller gave a radically different view of his retirement.
“The Pope informed me within one minute of his decision not to prolong my mandate. He did not give a reason….. I cannot accept this way of doing things. As a bishop, one cannot treat people in this way. The Church’s social teaching must also be applied to the way employees are treated here in Rome”, Müller told the Bavarian daily newspaper ‘Passauer Neue Presse’ on 6 July.
The sharp criticism of Pope Francis by the Cardinal unleashed speculation on disagreements Cardinal Muller may have had with Pope Francis, including Muller´s attitute to the Vatican consultation on possibly extending the permanent diaconate to women, his opposition to any change in the attitude of the Church towards divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, and his opposition to any consideration allowing married priests in the Catholic Church.
Media outlets have since alleged that in a 30 June meeting Cardinal Muller was asked questions by Pope Francis on these and other issues and that after hearing the German cardinal’s answers, Francis then informed him his mandate was ending.
Reacting to speculation that he was the source of the leaks of the contents of his conversation with Pope Francis, Cardinal Muller has seen himself constrained to make another public statement and has been quoted by the Catholic News Agency (CNA)as declaring that none of the claims of the details of his meeting with Pope Francis are true. The cardinal was “flabbergasted to read this description of his meeting with the Pope“, CNA quoted Cardinal Müller as stating: “This is incorrect“.
However, what Cardinal Muller has not clarified or retracted has been his severe public criticism of Pope Francis for not renewing his expired 5-year appointment as a violation of his rights and his refusal to accept that Pope Francis has the authority to not reappoint him
“The Pope informed me within one minute of his decision not to prolong my mandate. He did not give a reason,….. I cannot accept this way of doing things. As a bishop, one cannot treat people in this way. The Church’s social teaching must also be applied to the way employees are treated here in Rome”,
If I have a 5-year contract, I do not have the right to demand a further extension as a human right or demand reasons for my contact not being renewed. Even if I am a Cabinet Minister, I cannot demand that the President not remove me in a cabinet reshuffle. As a senior cleric, a Cardinal as he remains, in the Roman Catholic Church Muller has no fear of poverty and destitution through unemployment. He has reportedly rejected offers from Francis for another post.
Behind his rejection of the leadership of Pope Francis is the deep-seated conviction that appointments to administrative positions in the Church should be for life and only at the discretion of the incumbent to decide when to retire. It is the opposite of the message and witness of Jesus, “I am among you as one who serves, not to be served”,
The wonderful change that we have in the Church with Pope Francis is that he has not silenced and will not silence the Cardinals Mullers and those who will serve only on their terms. He is striving to follow the example of Jesus who Peter was confident he could criticise “Lord, I cannot accept that the Cross is part of your Mission” knowing that the criticism would not eliminate him from being considered to as the one to “Feed my lambs, Feed my Sheep”.
Pope Francis has just placed a sign, gift from a psychologist with a sense of humour on the door of his room in the Vatican’s Domus Sanctae Marthae where he lives. “No whining” it reads, warning that offenders “are subject to developing a victim complex, resulting in a lowering … of their capacity to solve problems.”
“The penalty is doubled whenever the violation is committed in the presence of children,” the sign advises, adding: “To be your best you have to focus on your own potential and not on your limits, so stop whining and act to make your life better.”
Francis is committed to not whining at the criticisms. Cardinal Muller has done well for the Church. He should not spoil it now by Whining. Act to make your life better. So should we all. Especially when we are in the present of our children.