Archbishop Müller on Faith, the Curia and His Own Upbringing

New Prefect of Doctrinal Congregation Speaks With L’Osservatore Romano

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 25, 2012 ( L’Osservatore Romano today ran an interview by Astrid Haas with Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The 64-year-old prelate, who had been serving as the bishop of Regensburg, Germany, was appointed to the Vatican post July 2. 

Here is a ZENIT translation of the L’Osservatore Romano interview, which was published in Italian.

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«Faith is characterized by the greatest openness. It is a personal relationship with God, which has within it all the treasures of wisdom. Because of this our finite reason is always in movement toward the infinite God. We can always learn something anew and understand with ever greater profundity the richness of Revelation. We will never be able to exhaust it,» said the new prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, in a long talk with this correspondent and with the director of our newspaper. During the meeting in the old palace of the Holy Office, Archbishop Müller also spoke of his arrival in the Roman Curia, of his decision to become a priest, of the time spent as docent of theology and as bishop, of his repeated sojourns in Latin America. And he explained that he learned to know and appreciate Joseph Ratzinger from his Introduction to Christianity, which already in 1968 was a best-seller.

Q: Can you tell us your first impressions of the post you have just taken up of prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in an environment that you already knew well as a member for years of different offices of the Roman Curia.

Archbishop Müller: For five years, as a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I was able to take part in the meetings of cardinals and bishops, admiring the conscientious and collegial way of working. Hence, the tasks of this dicastery are not unknown to me. For many years I was also part of the International Theological Commission and I was also able to collaborate with other dicasteries. Altogether, however, many things are new and unheard of for me. I will need a bit of time before I am able to find my way in the complex structure of the Curia. Of course new for me, above all, is the role of prefect. As a member I studied the documents prepared by the Congregation and participated in the consultations. Now, instead, I must carry out and guide the work every day with those who work in the dicastery, preparing and acting on the decisions correctly. I am grateful to the Holy Father for having given me his trust and for having entrusted this task to me. 

The problems that are foreseen are very great if we look at the universal Church, with many challenges that must be addressed and in face of a certain downheartedness that is spreading in some environments but which we must overcome. We also have the problem of groups — of the right and the left, as is usually said — which take up much of our time and our attention. Here the danger easily arises of losing sight of our main task, which is to proclaim the Gospel and to explain concretely the doctrine of the Church. We are convinced that there is no alternative to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Revelation responds to the great questions of men of all times. What is the meaning of my life? How can I face suffering? Is there hope that goes beyond death, given that life is brief and difficult? 

We are fundamentally convinced that the secular and immanentistic vision is not enough. We cannot find a convincing answer on our own. Because of this, Revelation is a relief, given that we must not seek answers at all costs. However, our capacities are so great as to render the human being capax infiniti. The infinite God has manifested himself to us in Christ. Christ is the answer to our most profound questions. Because of this we are willing to face the future with joy and strength.

Q: Much has been written about the new prefect. Instead, would you like to tell us something about yourself, about your family, your studies, your choice to become a priest, your experience as a scholar and docent of theology, as bishop?

Archbishop Müller: For almost 40 years my father was a simple worker of Opel at Russelsheim. We lived close by, at Mainz-Finthen, a small locality founded by the Romans and still today there are ruins of an aqueduct built by them. From this point of view, our fundamental stamp is Roman. At Mainz we are still very aware of this legacy, and we are proud of it. To have a Roman horizon at the heart of Germany has left a sign. And when one is a Catholic the two realities are linked automatically. My mother was a homemaker. I am grateful to my parents for having educated me in the normal way from the human point of view, without exaggerating in one or another direction. Thus we grew in the Catholic faith and its practice, in the right balance between freedom and ties, with clear principles. Still today I agree fully with my parents. 

Then the theological studies followed from which I acquired a more profound dimension of the faith. Important for my choice to become a priest was having continued to meet priests who led an exemplary spiritual life, with intellectual exigency. From this point of view, for me there were never contradictions between being a priest and study. I was always convinced that the Catholic faith corresponds to the highest intellectual exigencies and that we must not hide ourselves. The Church can boast of many great figures in the history of culture. Because of this we can respond with security to the great challenges of the natural sciences, of history, of sociology and of politics. Faith is characterized by the greatest openness. It is a personal relationship with God, which bears within it all the treasures of wisdom. Because of this our finite reason is always in movement toward the infinite God. We can always learn something anew and understand with ever greater profundity the richness of Revelation. We will never be able to exhaust it. 

As bishop I continued to stress to seminarians that the identity of the vocation to the priesthood is in need of an encounter with genuine priests. Faith begins with personal meetings, beginning with parents, priests, friends, the parish, the diocese, in that great family which is the universal Church. We must never fear intellectual confrontation; we don’t have a blind faith, but faith cannot be reduced in a rationalistic way. I hope that everyone will have an experience similar to mine: that of identifying themselves in a simple way and without problems with the Catholic faith and of practicing it. It is most beautiful.

Q: Pope Benedict has entrusted to you the care of his «Gesammelte Schriften.» Leaving also to you his Roman apartment, where Cardinal Ratzinger lived until the conclave of 2005 and where there are still many of his books. How did you meet Joseph Ratzinger?

Archbishop Müller: As a young student I read his book Introduction to Christianity. It was published in 1968, and we absorbed it practically as a sponge. In those years, in fact, there was uncertainty in the seminaries. In the book, the profession of the faith of the Church is explained in a convincing manner, analyzed with the help of reason and explained with mastery. It is an important subject that characterizes the whole theological work of Joseph Ratzinger: fides et ratio, faith and reason. Then I met and learned to appreciate Ratzinger also as a person. In my commitment as docent and as bishop he was a support for me and a clear point of reference. I will describe him as a paternal friend, being older than me by a generation. And I hold that the reason for my coming to Rome is certainly not to burden him with various questions. My task is to relieve him of part of the work and not to present problems to him which can be resolved at our level. The Holy Father has the important mission to proclaim the Gospel and to confirm brothers and sisters in the faith. It is for us to address all the questio
ns that are less pleasing, so that he is not burdened with too many things, although always being informed, of course, of the most essential issues.

Q: Shortly before the end of the Council, Paul VI transformed the Holy Office into the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. What do you think of this change and of the role of the dicastery today?

Archbishop Müller: The Church is first of all a community of faith; hence the revealed faith is the most important good, which we must transmit, proclaim and protect. Jesus entrusted to Peter and to his Successors the universal magisterium, and it is this that the dicastery must serve. Hence the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has the responsibility for what concerns the whole Church in profundity: the faith that leads us to salvation and to communion with God and among ourselves. 

I think that the most important aspect of the transformation of the dicastery was not the relationship with the other institutions of the Holy See, but rather the main orientation of its work. Pope Paul VI wanted the positive aspect to be at the forefront: the Congregation must first of all promote the faith and render it comprehensible, and this is the decisive factor. To this is added the fact that the faith must be defended against errors and devaluations. In fact at present we are in need of hope and signs to begin again. If we look at the world, especially at our European countries, which, naturally, are the ones I know best, we see many politicians and economists who do extraordinary things; but they are not the first to be looked at when it is a question of transmitting hope and trust. It is here that I see one of the great tasks of the Congregation and of the Church in general: We must rediscover the faith and make it shine anew as positive power, as force of hope and as potential to overcome conflicts and tensions, and continue to meet in the common profession of the One and Triune God.

Q: The Pope’s concern for the proclamation of the faith is notable. This is expressed also in the institution of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization and in the proclamation of a «Year of Faith.» What are the plans of your dicastery?

Archbishop Müller: The faith is realized in the Holy Mass, in Christian life, in families. In reality we can do no more than give support. There are already many valid texts for children, young people and adults, in addition to theological studies and documents of the magisterium. The forthcoming Synod of Bishops must give the participants and the whole Church a new thrust for the transmission of the faith. I consider it my personal task to encourage bishops and theologians in this sense. We must reinforce one another. The Lord himself said to Peter: confirm your brothers and sisters. This is true in particular for the Pope, but not only for him. In fact, for those who proclaim it is important to be on the terrain of faith, to access its sources, holy Scripture, the Fathers of the Church, documents of Councils and of Pontiffs, the great theologians and spiritual writers. Where this doesn’t happen, everything is arid and empty. When, instead, the faith is accepted with joy and determination, life is born. 

Scripture proposes to us some beautiful images: the light on the candelabrum, the salt that gives flavor to everything, the Gospel as leaven in the world. As a bishop of a diocese, as a priest caring for souls, we see real people. There we see them concretely in their situation of life. We cannot proclaim the Gospel to them if we don’t love them and don’t see that each one of them is a mystery, image and likeness of God. We must continue to repeat that Christ died on the cross for us all. We are aware that our vocation is to be friends of God and thus discover to what hope, in reality, we are destined. This makes doubts disappear from the heart. Atheists and enemies of the Church should ask themselves, perhaps, with a spirit of self-criticism if they themselves have means of salvation to offer the men of today.

Q: You have many contacts with Latin America: How did this relation begin?

Archbishop Müller: I went often to Latin America, to Peru, but also to other countries. In 1988 I was invited to take part in a seminar with Gustavo Gutierrez. I went with a certain reservation as a German theologian, also because I knew well the two statements of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on liberation theology published in 1984 and in 1986. However, I was able to see that it is necessary to distinguish between a mistaken liberation theology and a correct one. I believe that every good theology has to do with the freedom and glory of the children of God. However, certainly a mixture of the doctrine of Marxist self-redemption with the salvation given by God must be rejected. On the other hand we must ask ourselves sincerely: How can we speak of the love and mercy of God in face of the suffering of so many people who don’t have food, water, health care, who don’t know how to offer a future to their children, where human dignity is truly lacking, where human rights are ignored by the powerful? In the last analysis this is possible only if we are also willing to be with the people, to accept them as brothers and sisters, without paternalism from on high. If we consider ourselves as God’s family, then we can contribute to make these situations that are unworthy of man change and improve. 

In Europe, after World War II and the dictatorships, we built a new democratic society thanks also to Catholic Social Doctrine. As Christians we must stress that it is from Christianity that the values of justice, solidarity and dignity of the person were introduced into our Constitutions. I myself come from Mainz. There, at the beginning of the 19th century, there was a great bishop, Baron Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler, who was at the beginning of the social doctrine and encyclicals. A Catholic child of Mainz has social passion in his blood, and I am proud of it. This was certainly the horizon with which I arrived in the countries of Latin America. For 15 years I always spent two or three months of the year [there], living in very simple conditions. In the beginning, for a citizen of central Europe, this implies a great effort. However, when one learns to know the people in person and one sees how they live, then one can accept it. I also went to South Africa with our Domspatzen, the famous choir that the Pope’s brother directed for 30 years. I was able to hold conferences in several seminaries and universities, not only in Latin America but also in Europe and in North America. And this is what I was able to experience: You are at home everywhere; where there is an altar, Christ is present; wherever you are, you are part of the great family of God.

Q: What do you think of the discussions with the Lefebvrists and with the religious sisters of the United States?

Archbishop Müller: It is important for the future of the Church to overcome ideological clashes no matter where they come from. There is only one revelation of God in Jesus Christ which was entrusted to the whole Church. This is why there are no negotiations on the Word of God and one cannot believe and not believe at the same time. One cannot pronounce the three religious vows and then not take them seriously. I cannot make reference to the tradition of the Church and then accept it only in some of its parts. The path of the Church leads ahead and all are invited not to enclose themselves in a self-referential way of thinking, but rather to accept the full life and the full faith of the Church. 

For the Catholic Church it is altogether evident that man and woman have the same value: It is stated already in the account of creation and confirmed in the order of salvation. The human being does not need to emancipate himself, or to create and invent himself; he is already emancipated and liberated through the grace of God. Many statements regarding the admission of women to the sacrament of Holy Orders ignore an important aspect of the
priestly ministry. To be a priest does not mean to create a position for oneself. One cannot consider the priestly ministry as a sort of position of earthly power and think that emancipation will only exist when all can occupy it. The Catholic faith knows that it is not up to us to dictate the conditions for admission to the priestly ministry and that behind one’s being a priest there is always the will and call of Christ. I invite [all] to give up the controversies and the ideologies and to immerse oneself in the doctrine of the Church. In fact in America women and men religious have done extraordinary things for the Church, for education and for the formation of young people. Christ is in need of young people who follow this path and who identify themselves with their own fundamental choice. The Second Vatican Council affirmed wonderful things for the renewal of religious life, as also for the common vocation to sanctity. It is important to reinforce mutual trust rather than to work against one another.

Q: Apart from Merry del Val from 1914 to 1930, the dicastery was always led by Italians. After 1968, Seper, Ratzinger, Levada and now you have been appointed. What does this new tendency manifest?

Archbishop Müller: At first the possibility of frequent trips didn’t exist, so the persons of the Curia came from around Rome and Italy. Today, modern technical means help us to live in a more concrete way the catholicity of the Church. Because the primacy of the Pope is, however, linked to the Church of Rome, it is obvious that in the Curia there are still many Italians. The internationalization has to do, however, with the catholicity of the Church. Already at the time of the Empire, there were many Christians in Rome and even Popes originating from other places, for example from the East. Today, as then, we are, in the Church, members of one family and we must, so to speak, be the engine of humanity’s genuine progress. No other organization, in fact, has this international dimension, which embraces humanity and is so committed to the unity of persons and of peoples. Wherever we celebrate the Eucharist, we share the most intimate part of our conviction and we have the same communion of life with Christ, even if the culture and language are different. We feel immediately that we are one thing, that we are members of one body and that we build together the temple of God. It is, in a certain sense, the follow-up of the experience of Pentecost: we come from all countries and we can render praise to God all together, we can hear in our language the one Word of God. The Holy Spirit speaks to us in the language of love, which unites us all in God, our Father.

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