MANNHEIM, Germany (ChurchMilitant.com) - Cardinal Gerhard Müller is speaking out about the de-emphasis of sound theology under the pontificate of Pope Francis.
Speaking at Reiss-Engelholm Museum in Mannheim, the Vatican's former chief doctrinal watchdog, promoted his recent German-language book, Der Papst – Sendung und Auftrag (The Pope – Mission and Mandate), and celebrated the museum's new exhibit about the papacy.
In his speech, the cardinal noted the lack of proper theological training among Latin American theologians. His address also mentioned the modern Church's de-emphasis of sound theology in favor of politics and diplomacy. At one point, he recounted what St. Robert Bellarmine said to Pope Clement VIII about theology: "You do not understand that."
Some interpret the cardinal's remarks as a veiled criticism of Pope Francis, From Argentina and the first Latin-American pope.
Cardinal Müller is a former head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the Vatican's theological watchdog. He served as Prefect of the CDF from 2012 until this summer, when Pope Francis did not renew Cdl. Müller's contract.
In Müller's address in Mannheim, he lamented that the Vatican's Secretariat of State is considered more important in the Church than the CDF, which indicates an emphasis on diplomacy to the point of ignoring doctrine.
"Diplomacy and power issues have priority today, and that is a wrong strategic move, which must be corrected," the cardinal observed.
He argued that in the Church "belief in Jesus Christ should be center-stage, and the pope should be a 'servant of salvation.'"
The German cardinal also spoke about the lack of theological rigor among Catholic theologians in Latin America.
"In Europe," he explained, "theologians immediately have to have the exact council text ready when words like 'faith' or 'mercy' are used. This kind of theology with which we are familiar doesn't exist in Latin America. They look at a text without considering it as part of a whole."
Referring to the looser Latin American style, the 69-year-old prelate admitted, "We must somehow respect and accept this style." But he also insisted that "as far as teaching documents are concerned, clear theological preparation must take place."
Cardinal Müller was accompanied at the event by Abp. Georg Gänswein, formerly Pope Benedict XVI's personal secretary and currently Pope Francis' Prefect of the Papal Household. A discussion between the two prelates about the papacy was moderated by Protestant theologian Prof. Christoph Markschies who half-jokingly called himself a "heretic."
Speaking about Catholic-Protestant relations, Cdl. Müller said that while there is some "common ground" among all Christians, there are also many "relevant differences," a fact which some people "uncritically" dismiss.
This is on par with Cdl. Müller's previous critique of wrong-headed forms of ecumenism. He said in a 2016 interview, "Strictly speaking, we Catholics have no reason to celebrate October 31, 1517, the date that is considered the beginning of the Reformation that would lead to the rupture of Western Christianity."
The cardinal has a reputation for defending the immutability of Catholic doctrine. But his stance on the pope's encyclical Amoris Laetitia puzzled many faithful Catholics.
The 2016 papal encyclical sent shockwaves through the Catholic world, owing to ambiguous phrases about ministering to the divorced and civilly remarried. Liberal prelates have used the ambivalent statements to argue that people living in an objective state of mortal sin should be admitted to Holy Communion. Perennial Catholic practice is that such people must repent and cease engaging in the marital act — in some cases, simply until they obtain annulments for the previous marriages.
In a January interview, Cdl. Müller held that Amoris Laetitia "is not a danger to the Faith," arguing that there is no need to issue formal corrections of the document's ambiguities.
His claim stood in disagreement with the now-famous dubia, the questions submitted by four cardinals to the pope that raise theological questions about Amoris Laetitia. The pope has yet to respond to the dubia, and the confusion about the controversial encyclical remains unsettled. Two of the dubia signers, Italian Cdl. Carlo Caffarra and German Cdl. Joachim Meisner, have passed away. The two still alive are American Cdl. Raymond Burke and German Cdl. Walter Brandmüller. The five dubia were submitted to Pope Francis and the CDF on September 19, 2016 and were made available to the public in November of that year.
In the months that followed, Cdl. Müller clarified his position by repeatedly upholding perennial Catholic teaching on marriage, annulments, homosexuality and the reception of Holy Communion.
In an interview published on February 1, Cdl. Müller affirmed that the divorced and civilly remarried must strive to practice continence if they wish to receive the sacraments. He explained, "[N]o power in Heaven or on earth, neither an angel, nor the pope, nor a council, nor a law of the bishops, has the faculty to change it."
During another interview published in April, the cardinal said, "The pope has not, will not and cannot change [Divine] Revelation."