Gerhard Ludwig Müller is not going away quietly.
He has not stopped complaining in the public forum since June 30 when Pope Francis personally informed the sixty-nine-year-old cardinal that he would not be retained as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).
Recall how he immediately leaked the news of his dismissal to friends in the media even before the Holy See Press Office officially announced it the next day.
It was the reaction of a stunned and angry man.
One can sympathize. Not a single cardinal who has headed this 475-year-old office— formerly called the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition (and later the Holy Office)—has ever been let go so unceremoniously.
The pope did not publicly thank or acknowledge Müller for his five years of service; just let him go six years before the canonical retirement age. The cardinal claims he had no clue whatsoever that Francis was going to cashier him, even though almost everyone else saw it coming.
No clue, indeed. And apparently poor Cardinal Müller still hasn’t got one.
As Christa Pongratz-Lippitt—LCI special correspondent on church affairs in the German-speaking lands—has been chronicling, he keeps digging himself a bigger hole each time he gives another public interview.
The news agency Deutsche Presse Agentur (dpa) published one on Wednesday in which the cardinal even digs into Francis, insinuating that the Jesuit pontiff is allowing a papal personality cult to fester while surrounding himself with sycophants.
To be fair, the criticisms are veiled, but only slightly. Müller employs all the subtlety of a Schlittenhammer. (That’s “sledgehammer” auf Deutsch, by the way.)
If this is the sort of stuff the cardinal is telling us publicly, one can only wonder what he’s saying to others privately.
As of this writing, his most recent appearance in the spotlight was Friday in Italy’s leading socially and politically neo-conservative daily, Il Foglio.
The interview can be described as the self-defense of a man who believes his talents were overlooked and who was shafted for no clear reason.
“I’ve fulfilled all my duties—even more than required,” he said, pointing out that he tried to offer Francis the essential “theological counsel” on which a pope relies in order to ensure “the orthodoxy of the Church.”
It is clear that Müller believes the pope rejected his assistance. Thus he argues on.
“No one ever doubted my theological credentials,” the cardinal said.
“I have always been loyal to the pope, as is required of our Catholic faith and ecclesiology. This loyalty has always been accompanied by theological competence, and so it has never been about a loyalty reduced to pure adulation,” Müller insisted
It’s an interesting and revealing remark because later in the interview with Il Foglio, when quizzed about the differences between his classically restricted view of communion for the divorced and remarried compared to the more open stance of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna (which is aligned with the pope’s), Müller said:
“Maybe Cardinal Schönborn has a viewpoint opposed to mine, or maybe it’s opposed to what he himself once thought, seeing that he’s changed his position.”
(So much for John Henry Newman’s adage, “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”)
Some have said Pope Francis was not pleased with the high profile Cardinal Müller carved out for himself in the media through endless interviews and public lectures.
“I think I can say the media presence of Cardinal Ratzinger (when he was CDF prefect) was pretty evident… This is part of the prefect’s job, that it not be purely and simply bureaucratic work,” he said
But he could not stop there.
“Anyway, I was well known before (becoming CDF prefect) as a theologian because of my many writings. And, in any case, it seems to me that even the pope gives interviews,” he said.
Has your jaw dropped yet? It gets better. Or worse.
“The faith, the Church, and the bishops are not affirmed by the applause of the uninformed masses,” Cardinal Müller went on to say.
It’s another curious declaration, given that most people, with the exclusion of political conservatives and doctrinal rigorists, have generally praised the more flexible and less rigid positions that the pope and bishops like Christoph Schönborn, Karl Lehman, Walter Kasper, and Reinhard Marx have publicly offered to the “uninformed masses.”
Yes, Müller criticized all the men mentioned above in one way or another in this new Italian interview.