Edward Pentin began reporting on the Pope and the Vatican with Vatican Radio before moving on to become the Rome correspondent for EWTN’s National Catholic Register. He has also reported on the Holy See and the Catholic Church for a number of other publications including Newsweek, Newsmax, Zenit, The Catholic Herald, and The Holy Land Review, a Franciscan publication specializing in the Church and the Middle East. Edward is the author of The Next Pope: The Leading Cardinal Candidates (Sophia Institute Press, 2020) and The Rigging of a Vatican Synod? An Investigation into Alleged Manipulation at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family (Ignatius Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter at @edwardpentin.
In an exclusive interview with the Register, the prefect emeritus of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith castigated the state of the Church in Germany and its ‘Synodal Way’ process.
VATICAN CITY — Faithful Catholics are today facing a period of persecution, tribulation, and “psychological terror” that, in an unprecedented way, is coming from within their own countries that have ancient Christian traditions, Cardinal Gerhard Müller has observed.
The German cardinal made the observation in an exclusive Feb. 5 interview with the Register, during which he issued a blistering attack on the state of the Church in Germany and the “Synodal Way,” a controversial multi-year reform process that grew out of the clergy sexual-abuse crisis.
The prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) said these attacks on the faithful from within are coming from “secularized” parts of the Church and frequently occur in the workplace or in schools.
Now is a “time of tribulation and psychological terror,” and orthodox Catholics are being “persecuted; and in some countries, this is culminating in martyrdom,” Cardinal Müller noted. “Usually this has come from the outside, but now it’s from the inside, in our countries that have old Christian traditions. It’s a new situation.”
The cardinal’s words came as a plenary meeting of the “Synodal Way” was concluding last weekend.
The participants voted at that meeting for a raft of dissenting notions that included same-sex union blessings; changes to the Catechism on homosexuality; the ordination of women priests; priestly celibacy to be optional in the Latin Church; and for lay involvement in the election of new bishops.
His comments also follow a spate of controversial statements from German and European prelates in recent weeks. They include Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich saying on Feb. 3 that priests should be allowed to marry “not just for sexual reasons,” but so they “wouldn’t be so lonely,” and Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg arguing that the Church’s teaching on homosexuality is “false” and needed revision.
Last month, more than 120 homosexual Church employees in Germany demanded the blessing of same-sex unions and a change in the Church’s labor rules — an initiative welcomed by the German bishops’ conference.
Cardinal Müller, 74, who was bishop of Regensburg, Germany, from 2002 to 2012, said many of those promoting such dissenting views are “secularized people” who “want to keep the name ‘Catholic,’ to stay in the institution and take the money, but they won’t accept the teaching of the word of God.”
“They relativize the Catholic faith, but remain with their titles: cardinals, bishops, theology professors — but in reality they don’t believe what the Church is saying,” he noted, and he described such people as “materialists” whose basis of belief is not in creation and Revelation but in pseudo-sciences.
Similarly, he said the “LGBT” agenda that many of them support “is totally idiotic because its Neo-Gnostic mythology is absolutely against human nature, not only in a biological sense but also in a philosophical one.”
Cardinal Müller, who was CDF prefect from 2012 to 2017, warned that the blessing of same-sex couples promoted by the German bishops is “absolutely a blasphemy” because it is a “negation of the constitution of human beings as man and woman, and there can be no blessing there.” He also decried the idea, proposed by some in the German Church, that a priest should have sexual relations with women so that “then they won’t take boys” as “scandalous argumentation!”
Upholding the teaching of previous popes, he also firmly ruled out a women’s diaconate, saying the “sacramental diaconate is one degree of an indivisible threefold order that cannot be transferred to women according to the permanent apostolic tradition.”
And yet he noted that this is “what they’re voting for” in the German “Synodal Way,” in reference to the Feb. 4 vote by the members of the German synodal assembly in favor of women’s ordination, even though “they cannot vote against the revealed truth and its infallible definition by the ecclesial magistery.”
More generally, Cardinal Müller warned of determined attacks against the sacraments, especially the Blessed Sacrament and holy orders.
“Not a few are denying the sacrificial character of the Eucharist and the Real Presence,” he observed. “The role of the priest and the substance of the faith is in danger.”
He added that those pushing for these changes have no “supernatural understanding,” and what they are calling for is, in fact, a “major anti-Vatican II movement” that goes against Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council’s dogmatic constitution on the Church, and the Council’s decree on the ministry and life of priests, Presbyterorum Ordinis, on the dignity of the “priestly vocation and service in the understanding of priestly celibacy.”
‘Social Worker’ Priesthood
These are the same people, he said, who want to “destroy the sacramental priesthood, firstly by being against celibacy and then denying the supernatural institution of this sacrament.” They would like to relativize the sacramental priesthood, he added, so that what is left is a “social worker,” leaving the identity of the priest “hollowed out” and vulnerable to breaking down. On Feb 4, the German “Synodal Way” also backed an appeal to relax the celibacy requirement for priests in the Latin Church, urging that the topic be taken up in a future ecumenical council.
Church leaders and lay Catholics pushing these anti-Catholic views do not believe in the Last Judgment, Cardinal Müller contended.
“To them, God has to justify himself.” But he warned that their judgment will be harsher, given that they have apostatized. “As an apostate, that person has more guilt than someone who has never heard of the Catholic faith.”
He further noted that these dissenters within the Church won’t criticize the decadence of the world, nor do they “dare” say “abortion is child-murder,” because then “they will be brutally attacked.”
Instead, they focus on sexual abuse of children but exploit it to advance their own agenda, without examining the causes or insisting on ordaining priests who can live in abstinence. “They say they’re ashamed of sexual abuse, but they don’t say what damage has been inflicted on the souls of those abused and the abuser, and the damage caused to the Body of Christ,” he said. “They’re instrumentalizing human beings; they have no respect for people. They manipulate young people, shed tears for abuse victims; but for others, they have no interest.”
In sum, he said he believes those advocating changes such as those in the “Synodal Way” “are not reformers” but are pushing for “a deformation of the Church, a secularization of the house of the Triune God.”
And he said a key problem is the desire to compromise with the world, an unwillingness to live with the tension of living the faith in today’s highly secularized society.
The aim of many bishops is to be loved and respected by society, as they were in the 19th century, but he said they know they cannot change the faith, so they call their efforts to do this “development of doctrine” and thereby “destroy and contradict the revealed faith.”
Attacks on Faithful Prelates
Asked about the relentless attacks on prelates such as Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne, Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg, and most recently, Pope Benedict XVI (over accusations of mishandling abuse cases more than 40 years ago, for which the pope emeritus denies wrongdoing), Cardinal Müller stressed that all of these bishops “took the most action against these abuses,” while other bishops, general vicars and others responsible for handling abuse cases “made big mistakes, but they’re not criticized because they belong to this ideological group of self-secularization.”
Cardinal Müller said that he and other prelates are on another “theological level” to their dissenting detractors, who “don’t have any argumentation, only personal attacks, and defamation.”
He contended that Cardinal Woelki, for example, “can in no way be blamed” for mishandling abuse cases, “but the most furious slanderers among his German bishop-brothers can escape only because the anti-Catholic mass media is on their side, along with secularized Catholics inside.”
Many of these attacks are whipped up by a highly secularized and anti-Catholic media whose biases, Cardinal Müller contended, date back to the Kulturkampf, the 1872-1878 conflict between Otto von Bismarck’s Prussian government and the Catholic Church, led by Pope Pius IX.
“They take positions against the natural law, and what they ultimately don’t accept is a supernatural standpoint: that the highest authority is the personal and loving God, not us,” he said.
Further, he said that someone such as Cardinal Marx is often favored by the press because “he’s the best promoter of the aims they want — to neutralize the Church” and prevent it from giving “answers to deep existential questions.”
Looking forward, the cardinal said it is up to Pope Francis and the College of Cardinals to step in and discipline these prelates and the “Synodal Way” before it’s too late.
He also called for the Pope to have more German consultants to explain to him exactly what is happening. More broadly, he said correcting these wrong teachings “can only be done by promoting a better, theologically informed episcopate,” as has happened “in the time of the Reformation in Germany and in other countries.”
Meanwhile, for faithful Catholics enduring continual attacks on account of the faith, he encouraged them with Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:11):
“Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven; this is how they persecuted the prophets before me.”