Cardinal Muller: An apostle’s duty calls

Cardinal Muller chats with the "active" member of the Petrine ministry

Cardinal Muller chats with the “active” member of the Petrine ministry

As promised, today we will look at Part II of Cardinal Gerhard Müller’s online series of essays posted by First Things.

In this installment, Cardinal Müller writes at length about “the pope’s Magisterium and the Tradition of the Church” and how the two relate.

In doing so, it is perfectly plain that he is not only speaking about, but also, in a sense, lecturing, Francis.

Yes, I too would like to see him and other timid churchmen identify the wolf by name for the good of the sheep. Even so, no doubt exists as to what and to whom he is addressing when he writes:

Now, the fullness of apostolic authority does not imply an unlimited fullness of power in the secular sense. Rather, this power is strictly limited by its purpose: It stands at the service of the preservation of the Church’s unity in her faith in God’s Son who came in “the fullness of time” (Gal 4:4–6) … It is, then, clear that the pope’s words are at the service of the whole Tradition of the Church, and not the other way around.

In other words, Francis has it exactly backwards. By “suggesting that sacramental absolution can be given to penitents who, on account of mitigating circumstances, can be said to be free of subjective culpability before God, despite the fact that they continue living in an objective state of grave sin” (see Part I), he is behaving as if he is the master, rather than the servant, of the whole Tradition of the Church.

Cardinal Müller then makes it plain (at least to me) that under discussion here is not just a pastoral mistake, but rather heresy.

He writes:

When the Council of Trent defines that there are three acts of the penitent that form part of the sacrament of penance (repentance with the resolve not to sin again, confession, and satisfaction), then the popes and bishops of subsequent ages, too, are bound by this declaration.

The operative words here are “define” and “bind.”

As such, Francis is clearly guilty, at the very least, of doubting (though more appropriately, denying) a truth defined via a binding declaration made by an ecumenical council – otherwise understood as that which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith.

This is the very definition of heresy. (cf 1983 Code of Canon Law – 751)

Does Cardinal Müller believe that Francis is so guilty? Apparently not, but we’ll get to that.

In any event, what must be done about Francis?

Cardinal Müller states:

When private opinions or spiritual and moral limitations enter into the exercise of ecclesiastical authority, then sober and objective criticism as well as personal correction are called for, especially from the brothers in the episcopal office.

As I wrote yesterday, Cardinal Müller’s public commentary from the time Amoris Laetitia was published to present has been all over the place.

For instance, it was just over a year ago that he appeared on an Italian television program and criticized the Dubia Brothers, even going so far as to say:

At this moment, a correction of the Pope is not possible because there is no danger to the faith.

Today, he obviously believes otherwise (which is not to say that he has the wherewithal to act on it).

At one point in his essay, Cardinal Müller states:

One must keep in mind that doctrinal statements have varying degrees of authority. They require varying degrees of consent, as expressed by the so-called “theological notes.” The acceptance of a teaching with “divine and Catholic faith” is required only for dogmatic definitions. It is also clear that the pope or bishops must never ask anyone to act or teach against the natural moral law.

Here, it would seem that Cardinal Müller is suggesting that Francis’ errors do not constitute a rejection of that which must be held with “divine and Catholic faith.”

And he’s not the only one.

In response to the above statement from Cardinal Müller, Fr. Z wrote on his blog:

The controversial bits of Amoris are nowhere near that level. Nor are innovative interpretations of those controversial bits.

Yes, I know… Fr. Z isn’t exactly Cardinal Pie, but “nowhere near”? As if considerable distance exists between the utter garbage proposed in Amoris Laetitia and outright heresy?

Herein lies the solitary gift to the Church delivered by the hand of Francis, in particular as it concerns Amoris Laetitia: namely, a litmus test for revealing who can be taken seriously and who cannot.

To be clear, those who even now insist that nothing plainly heretical exists in the text (like Fr. Z, and Mr. Matt of Remnant fame) are firmly entrenched in the latter camp. By contrast, men like Christopher Ferrara (a signatory to the Filial Correction that identified no less than seven propositions in Amoris Laetitia that “contradict truths that are divinely revealed, and that Catholics must believe with the assent of divine faith”), in spite of any other disagreements we may have, are among the former.

I’ll limit myself to just one example demonstrating just how absurd this “nowhere near”comment is.

In Amoris Laetitia, Francis states:

“Conscience can … recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it [ADULTERY!] is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits.” (cf Paragraph 303)

Sacred Scripture, by stark contrast, tells us:

“Let no man, when he is tempted, say that he is tempted by God. For God is not a tempter of evils: and he tempteth no man.” (James 13:1)

The Council of Trent states:

“If any one saith … that the works that are evil God worketh as well as those that are good, not permissively only, but properly, and of Himself… let him be anathema.” (cf Session VI, Chapter XVI, Canon VI)

Now, you tell me: Are we required to believe with divine and Catholic faith that God never wills evil, or not?

No need to answer; not here anyway, but do feel free to let Fr. Z and Mr. Matt know what you think.

I digress…

Cardinal Müller, toward the end of his essay, states:

According to Aquinas, the event [Paul’s public correction of Peter (Gal 2:11)] teaches us that under certain circumstances an apostle may have the right and even the duty to correct another apostle in a fraternal way, that even an inferior may have the right and duty to criticize the superior (cf. Commentary on Galatians, Chap. II, lecture 3).

The question that remains is whether or not Cardinal Müller, or any of the “apostles” of today for that matter, are willing to uphold their sacred duty.

It wouldn’t appear so, but we must continue to pray and to fast for this intention just the same.


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