A few words about archbishop Müller

A reader wrote in to ask my opinion about Gerhard Ludwig Müller, who used to be the bishop of Regensburg and, a few days ago, was appointed prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The background is that people on the Internet are claiming he is himself a heretic who denies transubstantiation and  the perpetual virginity of Mary.

The first thing I must note is that, while I’m flattered to be asked about my opinion, I’m not really competent to answer the question. The way to tell if someones writings are heretic is presumably to read them and the truth is I haven’t read any of Müller’s works yet. The allegations are based on quotations from his textbook on dogmatics and a popular intro book on the mass.  I have ordered both books and will blog on them once I have a clue what they actually say, but by then the general interest will probably have passed. So for now I have to rely on more feeble heuristics.

That being said, I’m fairly sure the allegations are false.

The most obvious reason to think so is that pope Benedict knows all about heretics and wouldn’t appoint one of them as head of the CDF. Benedict has previously praised Müller’s dogmatics textbook (one of the two books the critics are quoting from) as “a masterpiece” and has entrusted him with editing his collected works. So this is not a snap decision, there is clearly a history of reliability and trust  here.

But there are also other reasons to be highly skeptical of these allegations.

One reason is their source. I know poisoning the well is a weak argument, but I think it is highly relevant that these allegations mainly come from SSPX circles and the SSPX has a previous conflict with bishop Müller. They have a seminar in his former diocese and, as he already was a member of the CDF, he also had business with them on a more global level. And he has taken a comparatively hard line, publicly calling the dialog with them “theological remedial instruction”, calling their priestly ordinations canonically illegal (which they are), emphasizing the accepting part more than the explaining part on the second Vatican council, stating that they are not fully Catholic, etc.  The CDF supervises the SSPX talks and as prefect of the CDF Müller will also chair the commission  Ecclesia Dei, which deals with the old mass more generally. Perhaps I’m diving too deep into tasseography, but I think there’s a good case to be made that this appointment means the pope no longer expects reconciliation with the SSPX. So basically the allegations come from people who have other issues with the archbishop and a history of making false allegations of heresy.

A second reason is that the usual suspects on the left are screaming just as loudly. If Hans Küng thinks Müller is a “bornierter Scharfmacher”  (“blinkered stirrer”) and the SSPX thinks he’s a heretic, well chances are he’s about right. And this isn’t just the automatic reflex either, Müller actually has more of a history of conflict with the “we are church” folks than other German bishops. For example, he revoked a few canonical missions, and reformed some lay representative institutions in a way they didn’t agree with. He also picked some fights with the disobedient society donum vitae (Right  now I can’t explain what they are about, but the short version is that it was founded specifically to continue a previous practice of the German Church that the pope had forbidden) and with some atheists, in the lattter case sometimes less diplomatically than  I would have thought wise. So the German MSM consensus is that he’s a conservative hardliner and now I’m a little surprised the critics suddenly seem to come from the other side of the spectrum. This isn’t absolute proof, because he could be pugilistically orthodox on some issues and wrong on others, but at the very least he doesn’t fit the stereotype of the modernist theologian trying to muddle theology.

A third point is that more moderately conservative German Catholics (think like me or even a bit further to the right) aren’t complaining. Mostly they seem to think the quotes are taken out of context.

So all in all I haven’t read the  stuff yet and I can’t tell you folks anything definitive. But from circumstantial evidence I think the allegations are very probably all bunk.

This post is the first of a series. Here’s an overview of everything posted in that series so far:

1. This post.

2. Archbishop Müller and the doctrine of the real presence.

3. …

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2 Responses to A few words about archbishop Müller

  1. Elliot says:

    During the summers I’m away from the Catholic news cycle so I hadn’t heard about this until just now.  The information about him on Wikipedia is kind of sparse and disconcerting (I imagine everyone’s freaking out about the Liberation Theology business).  What happened to Levada?

    • Gilbert says:

      I don’t think anything in particular happened to card. Levada, he’s just retiring. If I get it right his 76th birthday was a bit more than a month ago. So I guess he gave the obligatory note a year ago and either the Vatican bureaucracy is just that slow or, as per my speculative speculation, they didn’t want to slap the SSPXers when there still was reasonable hope for reconciliation.

      I haven’t heard much freaking out on Liberation Theology, but that might be because the usual suspects are busy freaking out over those quotes on transubstantiation and perpetual virginity.

      The Dogmatics textbook hasn’t arrived jet, so I don’t know about the perpetual virginity, but I have now read parts of the book on the mass and the Eucharistic theology is fully orthodox if formulated in a somewhat strange terminology. Post forthcoming real soon now (TM). So far it looks like the guy is not a Thomist, nor what Americans would call conservative, but he is an orthodox Catholic.

      Just now I also ordered his book  on Liberation Theology. So I guess this will be a bit of a series. I’m planning on mock-Potter titles. Next up “Archbishop Müller and the doctrine of the real presence”, then “Archbishop Müller and the moment of transsubstantiation”. Then something on perpetual virginity and in the end on Liberation Theology.  Though a my writing speed the latter parts of the series might be “Cardinal Müller and …”.

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