The universal nature of the Church (“Here comes everybody,” as James Joyce said) brings about some unusual friendships and allegiances. Here is one: two weeks ago in Mannheim, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the precise theologian who formerly served as the Vatican’s doctrinal chief, was the guest of Her Serene Highness Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis, an aristocrat once known as the “punk princess”.
The cardinal was speaking at the Reiss-Engelhorn museum, at the invitation of the princess, to help publicise the museum’s exhibition on “The Popes and the Unity of the Latin World”. The title has an unintentional irony, at a time when Catholics are increasingly divided over the present pontificate.
What the prelate and the princess have in common is their Catholicism, which would generally be described as “conservative”, and their connection to Benedict XVI – both of which put them in an uncomfortable position under a very different kind of pope. Both have to face the question: what do you do when your ideas are suddenly out of favour?
Cardinal Müller was appointed by Benedict in 2012 as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He expected to serve until retirement age, like all his modern predecessors. Instead he was removed earlier this year by Pope Francis. The cardinal told Passauer Neue Presse that he was given no reason, which he regards as “unacceptable”.
Until then Cardinal Müller had been a consistent defender of Pope Francis – though perhaps the wrong kind of defender: he opposed the introduction of women deacons, and said that Church teaching against Communion for the remarried was a matter of unchangeable divine law.
But since his sacking he has been more outspoken. For the first time, he named his opponents in the Communion debate – “Cardinals Schönborn, Kasper and others” – and said that their attempts to justify a new approach on Communion “are simply not convincing”.
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