Saturday, July 01, 2017

The Francis Inquisition – Amid Tumult on Amoris and Abuse, Pope Switches Hands at CDF

Capping a week of shockwaves at the topmost levels of the Roman Curia, at Roman Noon this Saturday, the Pope declined to reconfirm Cardinal Gerhard Müller as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the close of the German's first five-year mandate, and handed the reins of the "Holy Office" to its longtime #2 official, Archbishop Luis Ladaria SJ.

Despite the delicacy of the formal language, the move can indeed be viewed as Francis' ouster of the 69 year-old German, who brought a combination of firmness on moral teaching and affinity for liberation theology to the Doctrine office upon his appointment by then-Pope Benedict XVI five years ago tomorrow.

Under normal circumstances, a pontiff's renewal of a Curial prefect for successive quinquennial terms is a pro forma act done without public notification.

Himself a veteran collaborator of Joseph Ratzinger over the latter's quarter-century at the CDF's helm, Ladaria, 73, has served as the congregation's secretary since 2008. With his ascent to the top post, the Spanish Jesuit takes on the additional duties linked to the role: the presidencies of the International Theological Commission, the Pontifical Biblical Commission and the Ecclesia Dei Commission, the lead liaison for the church's relations with traditionalist groups and questions on the use of the pre-Conciliar "Extraordinary Form" of the Roman rite.

On a related front, Ecclesia Dei is the Curial organ responsible for the ongoing reconciliation talks with the Society of St Pius X, which have notched multiple major inroads through the last year, paving the way to the Swiss-based group's potential return to communion with the Catholic church. Yet another major item in the main congregation's portfolio – of particular interest in the English-speaking world – is its complete jurisdiction over the Personal Ordinariates for former Anglicans, which were established in England, North America and Australia by Benedict following 2009's Anglicanorum coetibus.

The historic successor to the "Holy Office of the Inquisition" – rechristened after Vatican II – the congregation's founding dates to 1542. The principal Congregation of the Curia, amid Francis' ongoing reform CDF (its Sant'Uffizio headquarters seen below) is now viewed as ranking third among the dicasteries, after the Secretariats of State and for the Economy.

In making the shift official roughly 18 hours after reports began to swirl – yet could not be independently verified – that Müller was told of his departure in an audience yesterday with the Pope, the Holy See gave no indication of the 69 year-old cardinal's next assignment. While some speculation has tipped the theological heavyweight for the role of Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, as of late Friday Whispers ops close to that post's current holder, Cardinal Edwin O'Brien, were blindsided on learning of said rumors, and relayed that the 78 year-old New Yorker – who was en route to the US for this holiday weekend – had not been informed of any move.

As for Müller's potential landing spots, it's worth noting that no major posts in his homeland – where he served as bishop of B16's adopted base of Regensburg until his transfer to Rome – are currently open. Closing out a recent flurry of top-level moves in Germany, the last key post to go was Mainz, where Francis named Peter Kohlgraf – a 50 year-old pastoral theologian – in April as successor to Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the progressive titan who chaired the country's formidable bishops' conference for two decades.

While the now-former CDF chief had drawn considerable attention for staking out a skeptical position on Francis' potential openings in Amoris Laetitia toward the civilly remarried and others in difficult situations vis a vis church teaching, it bears no less recalling that Müller had come in for ferocious criticism by survivors of clergy sex-abuse and their advocates given the office's role as the church's global clearinghouse of those cases. Above all, the cardinal was roundly blasted by the prominent Irish survivor Marie Collins, who resigned her seat on the Pope's new Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM) in April over the congregation's refusal to comply with Francis' directive that they reply to inquiries sent by victims, then continued to rap Müller for not changing course after the fact.

Among other related issues was the CDF's ostensible resistance to the pontiff's 2015 push to establish a tribunal to hear cases of abuse of office by bishops, a block that forced Francis to devise a workaround in norms issued last year. In a move that was taken as a sign of papal frustration on the accountability front, in mid-January the Pope conspicuously named the head of the PCPM, Boston's Cardinal Seán O'Malley OFM Cap., to the congregation's membership despite the Capuchin's lack of an advanced background in theology.

Along the way, too, Francis had gradually undercut Müller's standing by openly highlighting other figures on theological questions, most prominently Cardinals Walter Kasper and Christoph Schönborn, and the Argentine Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernández, the pontiff's longtime confidant, widely reputed to be the "ghostwriter" of Papa Bergoglio's major texts.

Developing... you were told there was "more to come," eh?